On Sunday, April 27th, I attended the ninth annual breakfast of the St. Mark Society, held at St. John School. The St. Mark Society — or more properly, Società Cattolica Italiana di San Marco — was founded in 1884 by Italian immigrants from Genoa.
The sole purpose of the society was to “purchase a building to establish a church” (to quote from their program). That building turned out to be the famous Revered Edward Thompson Taylor’s Seamen’s Bethel at North Square, which became the Sacred Heart Italian Church in 1888. The church was entrusted to the Scalabrini Fathers, whose order was established in 1887 to serve Catholic migrants, in this case the Italian immigrants in the North End of Boston.
The St. Mark Society purchased the building that became St. John’s Catholic School in 1900, and the building adjacent to the church was purchased as the clergy’s residence in 1912.
The society was active outside the North End, establishing a hospital in East Boston in 1920 (now the Don Orione Home) and the St. Lazarus Church in 1926 (also in East Boston), and assisting in the establishment of St. Anthony Church in Revere in 1924. (The final structured was completed in 1943). The society also provided financial support to other parishes in the Boston area.
In 1976, the society formed the San Marco Housing Corp in order to develop nonprofit condominiums to provide housing to North Enders at below-market prices. Today, the members of the society continue to be active with Sacred Heart Italian Church.
As this brief history shows, the members of the St. Mark Society has served the North End and the Catholic Church in the spirit of Christian Caritas. I was introduced to the work of St. Mark’s Society by two men who need no introduction, Bennett and Richard Molinari.
They arranged for a meeting between me and Mike Gilardi, the current president and a longtime member of the society, and Mrs Josephine Vignolo, wife of the society’s past president, Armando “Eddie” Vignolo. Also present at the meeting was Rosemarie Romano London who does volunteer work for the society.
They told me the history of the society and especially the efforts of the San Marco Housing Corp. They then invited me to their breakfast, which I first attended in 2012.
Breakfast followed the 9 a.m. Mass, which this year was dedicated to the deceased members of the society. The meal was a feast of good food, while the ceremony was simple. After the meal a few announcements were made and special guest John Romano was introduced. The purpose of the gathering was to bring the members of the society together to celebrate their work.
The St. Mark Society is a perfect example what has made the North End the great neighborhood it was and still remains: selfless work by humble and dedicated members. While it is typically unsung, I want to sing my own praise for their work. And to thank them for it.