The more things change, the more they stay the same. Welcome to Wilmington’s own slice of the Old Country.
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Having come from parishes in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Allentown, Pennsylvania, McGinley has been privileged to be pastor of a church and a leader of schools built by the hands of its parishioners, though he acknowledges the original ethnic focus of the parish has changed.
“We are neither ethnically limited to parishioners of Italian descent, nor are we territorial,” McGinley says. “For instance, we have one parishioner who keeps a candle lit here who lives in Baltimore. We’re holding steady at about 900 families now, and for 2011, we’re seeing the first increase in school enrollment over the past years.” He attributes the growth to the reputation of the parish schools—St. Anthony’s Elementary and Padua Academy—as well as other ministries, such as the Antonian Highrise Senior Center. “Every Meal on Wheels that is distributed throughout New Castle County passes through the Antonian,” McGinley says. The parish also operates St. Anthony in the Hills, a youth and family center in Toughkenamon, Pennsylvania.
The parish remains a magnet for Italians, and its annual festival serves as a homecoming for parishioners who moved out of the neighborhood. Another magnet is the Little Shop on the Hill, a traditional “tonsorial parlor” at Ninth and DuPont. The place is run by old friends Gus Perodi and Ernie Delle Donne.
“Many of our customers are the people who grew up here,” says Perodi. “But there are young people who are coming in wanting to hear the stories of their uncles and fathers who lived here before them.”
Like longtime resident Christine Serio, who grew up on Lincoln Street and recalls the large Italian families whose children were both cousins and playmates. Perodi and Delle Donne talk of a time when “your neighbors were your brothers and sisters.”
“We knew when someone was born and when someone died,” says Delle Donne. “Today most people don’t know who their neighbors are.”
The two say the advent of television and air conditioning killed the “stoop sitting” era, when neighbors socialized outside. “My mother’s family lived on one block, and my father’s lived on the one behind it,” says Delle Donne. “People walked everywhere, too.” The Little Shop is adorned with photographs of those days. One customer was prompted to say that, with all that history at their fingertips, Perodi and Delle Donne should make a documentary.
Page 5: Ciao, Italia, continues...