On a cold wintry January night in 1912, Elder O.A. Olson, General Conference Secretary for Foreign work, anxiously stood at the railroad depot awaiting the arrival of a young man just out of a Roman Catholic Seminary in Italy who had landed in New York This young man had prepared for the priesthood, and had officiated as sub-deacon on High Masses and other church ceremonies. His name was Rosario Calderone. Progressive work among the Italians was not, however, undertaken until after the year 1900, mainly because of lack of workers in the Italian language. His was to be a long wait, however, that night Chicago was hit by one of the worst storms in its history. Disembarking from the five hour late train, former priest, Rosario Calderone, was greeted by Elder Olson and taken to the Seventh Day Adventist mission home at 33rd and Cottage Grove Avenue where he was given temporary lodging.
Rosario’s burning ambition was to win Italian prople to the faith and he set about doing so with zeal and enthusiasm, immediately throwing himself into the work, he started to give bible studies to the Romeo family and the Joseph Pisciotta family. The young intern found the going difficult as there was no Italian literature available. He then had 5000 hand bills printed inviting everyone to as series of lectures that he was going to conduct at the old Swedish S.D.A. Church at 213 W. Oak Street.
After handing out all of these hand bills by himself, Rosario’s first night’s audience included young Anthony Catalano, Vincenzo Messina and a few others. In order to obtain better success, the location of the meeting was changed from that church to the Norwegian S.D.A. church at 1222 W Erie Street. Progress was slow, but Dominico Timpano and family and Giacano Scropo and family joined with Anthony Catalano and Vincenzo Messina in forming the nucleus about which Elder Calderone was to build the Italian S.D.A church. Some of the group accepted the Sabbath, etc., but the most zealous and faithful member of this early band was Anthony Catalano. At many of the lectures, the only people attending would be the speaker, Elder Calderone and the one and only member of the audience, Anthony Catalano. The two would sing hymns for an hour and one half and then go home.
Elder Calderone’s first baptismal candidate was Mary LaPaglia. A short while Later, Brother Anthony Rizzo was baptized. September 20th, 1913, was a day of triumph and glory. On that day, eight souls were baptized, Anthony Catalano, Vincenzo Messina, Giacano Scroppo, Dominick Timpano and his wife Nicolina., Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Rizzo, Vincenzo and Rosalia La Brasca. On this date the Italian S,D.A. Church was organized, with 12 charter members and dedicated by Elder Olson, and it was on this date that Rosario Calderone was ordained as the first minister in the Italian foreign work.
After that, the church grew rapidly and its growth necessitated the services of a Bible worker. It was difficult to find a qualified person for this position until, finally, Elder Olson decided to ask his beautiful niece, Vesta Cash to accept the call. As she could not speak Italian and understand Italian customs, and because she had no experience in this line, Ms. Cash decided that she would not accept the call.
But all of her determination was no match for Elder Olsons prayers and insistence. After accepting the call, Ms. Cash threw herself into the work and dedicated her youth, her love, and her all to the cause of God in serving the first Italian SDA Church of Chicago.
In 1914, the church decided that, because of its many children, they had to have a church school. Elder Olson, Elder Calderone and the church members got out their picks and shovels and dug out a room in what should have been a basement. When it was finished, the school room was short on looks but it served its purpose. The 22 children who attended the new school were taught by Ms. Hulda Berg.
As the church membership grew, the Erie Street location became too small and in 1917 the members moved to a 2 story building at 1213 Gilpin Place. The first floor served as the church auditorium and the two upstairs rooms were used for the church school. In 1920 Elder Calderone left his ministry in Chicago to continue his work in New York. Because of the seed sown by Rosario Calderone, many of the sons and daughters of the Italian Church decided to dedicate their lives to the denominational work, Giusto Vitrano and his son Steven Vitrano, Anthony Catalano, Rose DeBenedetto, James Terzo, Helen Arrabito, Frank Amato, Anthony Castelbuono and others. Replacing Elder Calderone in 1920 was Giusto Vitrano, one of the converts. During his fifteen year tenure, the church saw constant growth. Their church property had to be sold to make room for a building project, and the members had to find another location. They found a desirable one indeed at 717 S. Francisco Avenue. A beautiful German Lutheran Church with a pipe organ, stained glass windows, etc., however, the asking price was $40,000, which they could not afford. After negotiating for two years they purchased the building for $9000 in 1932. It was a blessing indeed and our many prayers were answered.
Just prior to his departure in 1935, Giusto Vitrano officiated at one of the most memorable baptisms in the history of the Italian Church. Eighteen souls were baptized and included among them were Carmela Caporale, Emil DeBenedetto, Anthony Castelbuono and Frank Amato.
Elder Ralph Valerio served the church as minister from 1935 to 1941. In 1941 Anthony Catalano, the first charter member, who had been ordained as a minister in New York, returned to the church as its new minister. In 1951, Elder Caesar Bufano contributed his services in helping the Italian Church to grow and when he departed in 1957, another native son, Elder Anthony Castelbuono took the leadership of the church followed by John Valcarenghi and others.
The Italian SDA Church of Chicago is now called the SDA Church of Elmhurst, a western suburb of Chicago. Thirty years ago we were blessed with the privilege of building our own church with a seating capacity of 350 people.
This history of the Chicago SDA Italian Church was compiled by Mrs. Mary Palumbo, Elizabeth and Frank Macri Sr. and Phillip Scopelite, and revised by Mrs Mary Puccio in 1996.