Italo-Greek Church History with Fr. Francis Vivona

By | September 1, 2019


This is Catherine Alexander with your Word from the Wise Today I’m talking with Fr. Francis Vivona of Our Lady of Wisdom Italo-Greek Catholic Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can find Our Lady of Wisdom on the web at OurLadyOfWisdom.net (Catherine: Father, will you please tell us about your church’s history?) The Italo-Greek history? The first immigration in America came in 1903. They came from three dioceses: Lungro Reggio Calabria and uh… Piana dei Greci in Sicily. The Italo-Greek Church was the Greek church until the seventh century. The… The church of the Italo-Greeks,
the language was Siculu and then in the seventh centuries when
the Moslems invaded Albania
and so on and so forth The Albanians ran across from Albania to Italy and they settled in those areas that we now call Piana dei Greci, Reggio Calabria and Piana uh… Pianal Benassi (?). Then it became known as the Italo-Greek-Albanian Church, but that’s how the church developed into a larger amount,
from three dioceses. Now when the immigration came to America, the immigration came in 1903 and the first priest that came,
his name was Cyril Panola. Now he came, he was a celibate priest and
ultimately archimandrita, but another priest came who was married
and in those days they didn’t want married priests here in America
so they sent him home. The cardinal in New York sent him home
so Ignatius Panola was our pastor until he died in 1943. Uhm… the history of the church started with
a building in New York City. It was a small building,
smaller than this church and it was given to the Italo-Greeks by uh… Cardinal Spellman, of all people. But it was Cardinal Spellman who gave it and the people from there had quite a large congregation so they had the processions, the feast days,
so on and so forth. As the children began to grow
and they began to lose the language they spread all over the place and of course
there was a large immigration in the city of Philadelphia. Most of the Italians in Philadelphia that
they call Italians are really Italo-Greeks but they had no priests, so they got
absorbed into the Latin Church. And the other, the other large
immigration went to Chicago A lot of them went to, of all places, Missouri. So… and also in Louisiana uh… in uh… the French Quarter,
outside the French Quarter, there’s a church: it’s an Italo-Greek Church of the Sacred Heart,
it’s still there and still functioning. There’s a deacon Delacono, I think his last name is, who still runs the church and gets priests to come
celebrate the liturgy. But there is no resident pastor. (Catherine: OK) The only church of the Italo-Greeks
that has a resident pastor is me. I was… I had uh… served the diocese of New York City for thirteen years when I got my lung disease.
That’s why I wound up out here. So what happened? OK. Once the uh… Italo-Greeks were taken up into the Latin Church,
they practically lost their heritage It was not ’til 1993 when
Bishop George Kuzma of the Ruthenians became bishop of the Eparchy of Van Nuys that he met me and I was judicial vicar for Bishop Dolinay, Bishop George, Bishop Skurla, and ultimately now, Bishop Dino. All the bishops,
I’ve been their judicial vicar from its inception of the eparchy. That’s where he met me
and that’s when he wanted to know why is it that I
was in the Latin Church, not the Eastern Church where I belong. He says, “You’ve always served two churches,
you always helped us…” I, at first I used to help the Melkites
when I was in New York and then when I came west it was the Ruthenian Church. But the point is, he couldn’t understand
why the Italo-Greek Church hadn’t been raised if there were Italo-Greeks. So he asked me to take a uh… census in the state of Nevada. And, sure enough,
we found all these people. Quite, quite a bit of them. However, the problem was that most of them, the young ones were 80 years old. Because from what had happened in New York, after Archimandrite died, there was no
immigration after that out west. And so most of the people, their grandchildren
and great-grandchildren were here, but they were 80 years old. So, Bishop George asked the Holy Father–
I have the picture of the bola– when he asked the Holy Father
to raise the Italo-Greek Church
here in Las Vegas. He asked permission of the Latin bishop
to create the diocese. The eparchy stretches the whole state of Nevada and the jezel (?) was given for jurisdiction
of the whole state of Nevada. So, I’m… I’m sorta my own thing. That’s kind of strange, but I’m my own thing. And that and then… that’s when we gathered the people,
we had the first liturgy, 1994 at St. Joseph Husband of Mary Church, which is today, I don’t know if you’ve seen it…
(Catherine: Right up the road.)
Right up the road. And that liturgy is what
brought back to life the Italo-Greek Church
and that night I was consecrated archimandrite. And from there we started to gather funds
in order to buy the land to build a church on. So the church has been functioning from ’89 but there was no “parish” until ’93. There was no
head of church ’til ’93 ’til he created the head of church, and that’s [Knock, knock]
how it came to be. (Joe: May I just get my shirt?
Father: Sure!) And so, since ’93,
the Italo-Greek Church here came to life. The uh… the jurisdictions of Staten Island, uh…
(Joe: I know that place! Excuse me.) Baton Rouge, Sacramento, and L.A. Those are the five places where we have people at.
And as I told you, in St. Louis a large community. The St. Louis community, they still bring
the priests over from Grottaferrata, which is the monastery outside of Rome. It’s 1,200…
(Joe, leave the door open. Joe: I got it. I got it.) (Father: It gets awfully dark. Joe: Yup.) The monastery is 1,200 years old. That’s where the Church comes from.
(Catherine: And then the other parishes:
how often do they have liturgies?) Sacramento: once a month. Uh… St. Louis: once a month.
But Baton Rouge: every Sunday, I told you. But we have no resident priest, as I said. (Catherine: And then New York?) Once a month. When they can get a priest.
New York is the hardest of all of them.
(Catherine: Do you travel to all of these?) No. I have visited them, but I, no, I don’t travel.
No, thank you. (Catherine: Were you born in the Unites States?)
Yeah. My parents weren’t.
Well, I actually wasn’t in the strict sense, but, I was, and at 19, I had to give up… in those days you couldn’t have dual citizenship.
(Catherine: OK.) (Catherine: So your parents had immigrated here?)
Yes. Yes, exactly. So, the whole house you had you had, five of us were baptized Italo-Greek,
one was baptized a Latin because there was no Eastern church.
Exactly. (Catherine: Your parish has quite a mix of people in it.) You name it, we have it. (Catherine: How did they all come here?
What is it that brings them to you?)
Well, you’ll see like uhm… some of the women are married to Italo-Greeks, some of them are grandchildren of Italo-Greeks. So what happens, the Italo-Greeks marry with the Russians,
they marry with the Assyrians, they married with the Ruthenians, so it’s… that’s what I explained to you before: they had gotten lost and so what happens is also we have quite a mix of people because you don’t have to be Italian or Greek to come to the Italo-Greek Church. You have to understand, the language is Greek or Italian and that’s
what makes it the Italo-Greek Church. What makes the Russian Church?
The Russians will say you have to be Russian. No, it’s because you use Slavonic. It’s a Slavic Church. What makes Armenian Church?
You use the Armenian language. So the church is dictated by the language used.
What made the Latin Rite Latin? They use Latin in the liturgy. Exactly. So the mix here is because a lot of the Italo-Greeks,
males and females, have married somebody who’s not Italo-Greek. So their children and grandchildren are now
coming here, who had no idea that this was their
heritage, find their heritage and they stick like glue. As you saw. You only saw part of the parish today because
they’re all away because of Thanksgiving. Those little children,
you have about thirty five of them as you saw, there’s a lot more than that!
But anyway, that’s who today was there.

4 thoughts on “Italo-Greek Church History with Fr. Francis Vivona

  1. MaxMarieOFS Post author

    Thank you for these, Catherine! I am a parishioner at Our Lady of Wisdom. We all scramble for 5 or 10 minutes with Fr. Vivona just to learn. So many of us are what he calls his Roman Refugees. Others like myself fled the Novus Ordo. I shouldn't leave church with tinitus because the drums and electric guitar are SO loud! I love the peace and serenity of the Byzantine Church.

    Reply
  2. Michael Leggett Post author

    I too am discovering the Byzantine Rite of The Catholic Church via the Byzantine Ukrainians.
    The Byzantine Rite Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, with all the Litanies and Antiphons, chanted, the Incense, Iconostasis and the Eastward Orientation of Worship.
    Lectors/Cantors face East and perform their roles from the Nave and not the Sanctuary.
    The Divine Liturgy has aided me in the Understanding of both the Novus Ordo Missae and the Tridentine Latin Mass.

    M

    Reply
  3. Michael Leggett Post author

    I too am discovering the Byzantine Rite of The Catholic Church via the Byzantine Ukrainians.
    The Byzantine Rite Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, with all the Litanies and Antiphons, chanted, the Incense, Iconostasis and the Eastward Orientation of Worship.
    Lectors/Cantors face East and perform their roles from the Nave and not the Sanctuary.
    The Divine Liturgy has aided me in the Understanding of both the Novus Ordo Missae and the Tridentine Latin Mass.

    M

    Reply

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