Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A surprising connection with the past found at Sunday mass in San Salvatore

Sunday, March 18
I took a dozen photos, and though this is hard to read,
it is the best I could get without bringing it portable
My second Sunday in the San Salvatore church is much like the first, though more people—about 60—attend, and I find a pleasant surprise after everyone leaves. This time I sit in the very front, and everyone has to pass by me when they leave, but nobody says anything to me. I leave and ride around the town for a 15 minutes. When I pass by again, the church door is still open but nobody is inside.

During the service, I had noticed that names were engraved in various places on the pillars and walls of the church. It seems that the interior of the church was refinished around 1960, because most of the names are dated a few years before or after that date. I assume the names are of people who donated towards the work. I have remembered that some years ago, my cousin Al told me that when he visited here in the 1970s, he talked to a priest who told him that one of the inscriptions is from a Seghieri family who had contributed. Now I am in search of that inscription.

Most of the inscriptions are on dark green marble on the walls that extends from the floor up about four feet. The lower parts of the walls are not well lit, and the inscriptions are a bit hard to find in the dimness, but I do find the Seghieri name near the front, beside an old freestanding confessional. I get down to look at the inscription up close, and what a surprise! The donation, in 1959, was from my dad’s uncle, Seghiero “Jim” Segheiri, along with his wife Leona and Leona’s sister Renata. It reads:
Spouses Seghiero & Leona Seghieri
Sister-in-law Renata Walter

I knew that Uncle Jim and Aunt Leona had made trips to Italy, but I had never talked to them about the trips. In fact, I was only 6 years old in 1959, and even when I was older, I didn’t know Jim and Leona well, though what I would give now to be able to sit down and pepper them with questions! I would especially like to know for sure where the old Seghieri house is, or was, although a half dozen other questions spring to mind in just a few seconds of thought. What became of the house when the last of Jim’s siblings moved to America? How did Nonno meet Nonna Anita Seghieri, Jim’s sister? What Seghieri relatives did Jim meet on his trips to Italy? What can he tell me about his mother and father, my great grandparents?

I head home and dash off e-mails to cousins Gloria and Lita Dawn. Cousin Al is deceased, but I want to know what Gloria remembers about the church in San Salvatore. She writes back that she doesn’t think Al actually saw the inscription up close, and neither do I, because I’m sure he would have said more about it. It is a real pity he didn’t see it up close, because the Renata Walter listed was his mother! Gloria doesn’t think that Renata made a return visit to Italy, but I assume that Jim and Leona came back from a trip, told Renata that they planned to donate to the church remodeling, and Renata contributed as well.

Leona and Renata Donati first came to America in 1909 from San Romano, about 100 miles north of San Salvatore, when they were 8 and 6 years old, respectively. In 1924, Renata married Alfredo Spadoni, the father of Al, so I have ties to the Donati family on both the Spadoni and Seghieri sides. When Alfredo passed away in 1944, Renata remarried Ralph Walter, which explains the way she is listed on the inscription.
Seghiero "Jim" Seghieri is probably
about 15 when this photo was
taken in Italy.

I also hear back from Dawn, Jim’s granddaughter, who writes that she has a lot of photos that Jim took on his trips back to Italy: “He was the family photographer and made us sit through many slide shows after their trips to Italy. At the time, they were terribly boring. With your familiarity and experiences in Italy, you might recognize many of the images photographed.”

Dawn is my age—actually I am two days older—so of course she would have had trouble sitting through the slide shows, but we are both excited about getting together and looking at them now, perhaps during the coming summer or fall. She also sends me copies of an old photo of her nonno and a letter that he received from San Salvatore, written by his mother not long before her death in 1910.

I have come here in part to explore my roots, and it is moments like today that make me feel that the connection, though distant in years, is still strong.

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