Sunday, September 6, 2020

Italians in Denver, Colorado


Three years ago my husband and I visited his home town in Italy, where he lived until he was seven years old before emigrating to the United States with his parents and siblings. One of the joyous things we experienced in his town was the Feast of Saint Rocco procession--click here--to read that post.  Saint Rocco (also referred to as St. Roch) was born around 1340 in Montpellier, France, and performed many healing miracles throughout his life. Saint Rocco is venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as the protector against plague and contagious diseases. He helped to take care of, and cure, many suffering of the plague in Southern Italy during the 14th century and is venerated as a patron saint by many Southern Italians. Last summer, I read that Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church located at 3549 Navajo Street in Denver, Colorado, also had a St Rocco procession, which my husband and I decided to attend.  The church was very beautiful and is in a neighborhood of Denver that was once considered a "Little Italy."



Italians started settling in Colorado in the late 1850s, and, by 1922, roughly one in five people living in Colorado was Italian American. Many lived in the North Denver area and being of the Roman Catholic faith they founded the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1894, and this brick and motor church replaced it in 1899.  If you click on the photo above it will enlarge, and you can read the interesting history of the parish and church.  The plaque is located on a wall outside of the church. In 2017 the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register of Historic Places.  More of the interesting background history of the church's history can be read on the church's website at this link.



The inside of the church is very beautiful. Its architecture is  Romanesque Revival Style.   Before the Saint Rocco procession was to begin a Mass was held inside the church.






A statue of Saint Rocco, that is usually in an area inside the church, was then carried outside on a platform. Some donations were already pinned to ribbons hanging from the statue.  The procession. and festival held afterward, is a fundraising event for both the church's and Potenza Lodge's charitable work. Parishioners and visitors have a chance to join an auction where the highest bidders have the honor of carrying the statue in the procession. The lodge supports many charities--click here--for a list.





The oldest Italian Organization in Colorado is the Societa Nativi di Potenza Basilicata, more commonly known as the Potenza Lodge.  It was founded in Denver, October 14, 1899.  The Society was founded to help other Italian immigrants from the Basilicata region in southern Italy (Potenza is the capital city of that region) become familiar with America while socializing with their fellow countrymen. They also helped find employment and housing.  The lodge took over the annual Feast of Saint Rocco procession seven years after it was founded, and for over 120 years the organization has been promoting Italian culture through various social events, as well as hosting weddings and other special occasions for the community.

Italian immigrants at the early times were very poor and in fact, most of the hardest work at the time of building Denver and the American West was, as Mother Cabrini stated: "reserved for the Italian worker."   My husband and I visited a very fascinating special exhibit in 2007 that was displayed in the History Colorado Center in Denver that was called "Italians in Denver," about the early Italian immigrants to the present. From that exhibit, we learned that, sadly, Italian Americans faced discrimination as Catholics in Denver, along with Jews and Blacks, by the Klu Klux Klan in the early 1920s.  Most of the discrimination in Denver was directed to those of Italian and Mexican heritage, as they were the largest populations with the Catholic faith.  The KKK lost popularity in the later '20s and the city has become much more tolerant of all faiths and ethnic nationalities over time.  
A book was eventually published from the History Colorado exhibit called  "Italy in Colorado: Family Histories from Denver and Beyond."  Information about the book through an interview with the author, Alisa DiGiacomo, can be read on the "We the Italians" website on this link.



A local Catholic high school band played and the parish priest said an invocation prayer as Potenza Lodge Members prepared for the procession.  We were told that at one time the procession was attended by hundreds, if not thousands, including local politicians and prominent people in Denver.  Over the years, the Italian population in the area has moved away to the suburbs, and the procession has become much smaller. Sadly, the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 canceled the Saint Rocco procession this summer, as well as many of the other fundraiser events and ceremonial uses of Potenza Lodge, which has created a great financial hardship for the organization and the many charities it supports.



Last summer, we were happy to join in with the rest of the faithful and parade behind the statute during its procession around the block. It was a much smaller procession than what we participated in Italy, but it was equally reverent and joyous in its own way.  The procession ended with the statue being returned inside the Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Later in the day, a large festival bazaar would be held at the Potenza Lodge backyard with food, games, music, and entertainment.  We were not able to stay for that event as we were babysitting that evening back at our home. The bazaar was also canceled this year.



As you can see from the photos above this part of Denver still retains some of it's historic older cottage homes, but there is also quite a bit of push to replace them with multifamily apartments and condos (lower left) as Denver grows in size. 

Italians have contributed much over the years to Denver and Colorado.  The History Colorado center has a compilation of some of those contributions in an interesting article called "7 things you didn't know about Italian Coloradans and their contributions"--click here--to read it.  

Eighteen years ago History Colorado founded the Colorado Italian American Preservation Association or CIAPA. A volunteer organization, CIAPA’s mission was (and is) to collaborate with History Colorado and other organizations to develop, support, and coordinate projects that preserve, promote, and celebrate Italian American culture and heritage. The organization has carried out its mission by meeting with people from the Colorado Italian American community—recording their stories and creating an archive that now holds more than 200 oral histories, 6,000 photographs, 4,000 research files, and 600 artifacts. You can read more about it on this link.

That is the wonderful part of the USA--we are people whose ancestors came from everywhere around the world to make a better life for themselves and their descendants. We each have our own wonderful heritage and history and we can all honor the past contributions made to the greater good of our nation. 

Stay happy, safe, and healthy!

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29 comments:

Angie said...

Pat - your post is very timely. I think at times it is conveniently forgotten that immigrants were the backbone of this country. Over time, as you point out, attitudes change and become more tolerant, which is as it should be. But that doesn't mean we should forget people's contributions! I hope some of those historic homes are maintained! Thanks for sharing this very special event with everyone at Mosaic Monday!

eileeninmd said...

Hello Pat,

The church is beautiful. The Saint Rocco procession parade and festival sound like a wonderful event. It is true all our ancestors came to the USA from around the world. They have made many great contributions and they have served and protected our country. Beautiful post and photos. Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy new week!

Laura | Everyday Edits said...

HI Pat! I love your Denver posts! laura in Colorado!

Jeanie said...

This is fascinating, Pat, and the photos are terrific. I am shocked to realize about the discrimination faced. I am so glad that you could share last year's festivities and sorry that they had to cancel this year. Probably a good thing, but still, sad. thanks for this. I love learning on blogs!

EricaSta said...

Yes, I know about the history... my brother in law is an Italian too.

Have a good week.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

This is wonderful Pat! I didn’t know the history and haven’t visited the neighborhood. Loved learning it all. It really is too bad the Parish had to cancel the parade and bazaar, of course for their charities and the important tradition, but also it seems like St Rocco should definitely be prayed to right now! We’re in the middle of a plague aren’t we? .... The history of Italians in Colorado was so interesting and last paragraph of your post is so true. And why are people still not understanding that! All of us, unless we are Native Americans, came from Immigrants...it really is what made our country great. ....... Thanks for sharing this! And stay warn this week...I just read that you are getting a big cold front!

Linda W. said...

I had no idea Colorado had such a large Italian population. Very informative post! Too bad the celebration had to be cancelled this year.

NCSue said...

We've been to that church on a visit years ago. Thanks for the memories, and for sharing at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2020/09/tufted-titmouse.html

Ruth Hiebert said...

It is good to see people from various cultures living together . We used not have much of that around here, but in the last several years that has changed.

Lowcarb team member said...

What a wonderful post and such lovely photographs.
Have a great week ahead.

All the best Jan

Life Of 2 Snowbirds said...

What a beautiful church. The altar is amazing! I am making a note of this church just in case I am in this area.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

That is so interesting and I love seeing the photos of the church. I'm always learning new things...I'm glad you shared all of this with us. We need to know more about what's happened in the past and what makes this country great...which of course is the people that have lived and worked here to make it great. Hugs, Diane

Lady Fi said...

Lovely shots! Diversity is what enriches us.

Little Wandering Wren said...

I think everyone and every place should celebrate their rich heritage I mean honestly where would be today without pizza, pasta and Tiramasu? I have enjoyed my wander with you around your Little Italy in Denver - thank you Pat.

stevebethere said...

Loved this and the photos very informative :-)

Have a bolognesetastic safe week 😷😷😷

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

I'm not familiar with the saint nor procession and loved your informative and beautiful post. Thank you!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Great post, Pat, highlighting the discrimination felt by Italians in years past, something most people are unaware of. Sadly, the discrimination continues across other immigrants. The feast of San Rocco made me smile - it seems like so many Italian towns have San Rocco as their patron saint.I have actually marched in one procession to San rocco in a small town in Molise, years ago. Hope you and your family stay well.

Joanne said...

That seems so ironic that this year's procession had to be canceled since it seems like more prayers to Saint Rocco might be just what we need!

Crafty Green Poet said...

Very interesting post, lots of italians have settled here in Scotland too over the years

MarilynsTreats said...

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Thank you so much for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn
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Magical Mystical Teacher said...

Processions. Will we ever see them again? The pandemic has wreaked havoc with so many traditions.

betty-NZ said...

A gorgeous church! The artwork is just stunning!

How great to see you at 'My Corner of the World' this week!! Thanks for linking.

diane b said...

It was interesting reading about the Italian influence in Denver. It is a shame the procession was cancelled this year. I hope that some of those historical homes are kept.

likeschocolate said...

One wouldn't think of Colorado having a strong Italian influence. Thanks for sharing!

Dawn said...

Interesting. I had no idea that Italians settled in Colorado. Beautiful church.
Dawn aka Spatulas On Parade

Spare Parts and Pics said...

Really interesting history that I wasn't aware of. My dad, uncles and grandparents all grew up in Colorado.

Mandy said...

Thanks for sharing! What a neat festival! I ad no idea there were (or used to be?) so many Italians in Colorado.

With Love,
Mandy

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

This is very interesting. I love it when people celebrate their heritage and culture in such a positive manner.
Oklahoma used to have a thriving coal industry with lots of people from Italy proving the labor. In the southeast Oklahoma town of McAlester there are several Italian food businesses owned in just a few blocks that are still owned by the descendants of the original immigrants from Italy.

Rambling Woods said...

I didn't know the history. My paternal grandmother's family settled in Colorado and then moved to Canada and then some came to near Buffalo NY...