Since its founding a century ago, St. Vito’s in Mamaroneck has been known as “the Italian parish.”
The parish still retains that moniker as well as the traditions and culture of the Italian people who built it. “When one thinks of Mamaroneck, one thinks of St. Vito’s. Mamaroneck is overwhelmingly Italian, and the church is important to the area,” said Msgr. James E. White, pastor of St. Vito’s since last year.
St. Vito’s had its beginnings as St. Anthony of Padua Chapel of nearby Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in White Plains. As more Italian immigrants arrived in the area, a permanent church was constructed to meet the needs of the growing community. St. Vito’s was founded as an Italian national parish and formally incorporated in 1911.
About 80 percent of parishioners are of Italian descent. Many parishioners also hail from Spanish-speaking countries, while a number are of European descent, including Irish. Some 20 nationalities are represented at St. Vito’s. “We open our doors to anyone who wants to worship with us,” Msgr. White said.
There are 1,100 families registered in the parish.
Five Masses are celebrated each weekend, with one well-attended Sunday Mass offered in Spanish. Three Masses are offered on weekdays. Once a month, Mass is celebrated in Italian.
Serving at the parish with Msgr. White are Father Edward M. O’Neill, Father David DeSimone and Father Amiro L. Jimènez.
Italian culture and traditions remain very much a part of the church community. An Italian festa, including a procession with a statue of St. Vito, which was long an annual tradition, was reintroduced in June after a four- or five-year hiatus in honor of the centennial anniversary. “We will probably continue to have the festa since it was such a success,” Msgr. White said. “That was the high point. Everyone in the community remembers it,” the pastor said.
The centennial year began with a Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Dominick Lagonegro, episcopal vicar of Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster and Northern Westchester and Putnam counties, who previously served at the parish as a priest and deacon.
Other anniversary events include a dinner-dance and an alumni dinner in which the Sparkill Dominican Sisters who taught at the parish school were honored. Archbishop Dolan celebrated a Mass closing the centennial on Sept. 25.
The parish school was founded in 1962 and staffed by the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill. Although the parish school closed in the 1980s, the gymnasium is still used for an active CYO sports program. The school building is now leased to the French American School.
There are nearly 300 students in the religious education program under the direction of Carlos Camacho, coordinator of religious education. Classes meet in the Parish Center.
The center also hosts a youth night every Friday. The room in which the young people gather features a flat screen television and a pool table. There are other wholesome youth activities throughout the year such as field trips to baseball games.
“I think the youth are looking for some type of stability and this parish has provided that stability,” Msgr. White said.
Pax Christi Sisters, who speak English, Spanish and Italian, are an integral part of the community at St. Vito’s. Along with teaching religious education, the sisters visit some 15 or 20 elderly homebound parishioners each week.
“These are people who laid the foundation for the church, and we don’t want to forget their legacy,” Msgr. White said. “They are just as much part of the church now as their families were for all these years. We don’t want them to be forgotten.”
In describing his parishioners, Msgr. White said with joy and admiration, “They are always open to assisting in whatever they can do to help this parish grow.
“The warmth of the people and their acceptance of others stands out in my mind,” he said. “They are a very warm and welcoming and dedicated congregation.”