Italian Elders Keep Traditions Alive in Downtown Manhattan

The 2010 Census failed to find a single resident of Manhattan’s Little Italy who was actually born in Italy, and many now see the the neighborhood as little more than an Italian-American tourist trap. The area, south of SoHo and north of Chinatown, is now best known for its boutique shopping and restaurants.

Yet even as downtown Manhattan has gentrified over the years, a group of Italian-American seniors connected to the Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua on Sullivan Street has kept old traditions alive, Our Town Downtown reported.

During a recent festival, Ellie, a parish member at the Shrine of St. Anthony of Padua, was responsible for the medals and the prayer books. (Via Our Town Downtown)

Now in their eighties and nineties, the seniors have outlived parents, siblings and spouses and have endured a variety of changes in the neighborhood, the continual infringement of [New York University’s] expansion and the profound scars of 9/11. But they have each other and… they are not going anywhere.

“My daughter lives on 82nd Street in Queens and she wanted to fix me a room,” said Frances Ciotta. “But I said no! I’m going from here to the cemetery!”

The parish still honors its namesake over a week-long celebration that once rivaled the San Gennaro festival. Following a statue of St. Anthony, a procession loops up Bleecker Street and down to Broome Street before returning to the church. Over 1,200 people are reported to have filled the church’s pews last month for the 62nd anniversary of St. Anthony’s feast day.

As Dotty Zullo walks the procession route, she gives a bit of an historical tour from her perspective. “I grew up right there on the second floor…That place used to be a restaurant and, when he was a little boy, my son took a picture there with Marilyn Monroe. That place [The Dutch] used to be a club with pool tables. And that laundromat, that was Virginia’s, where we all got our sandwiches.”

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