'A Very Dear Place in the Hearts of Italians'

Article excerpt

Holy Rosary Parish in Osborne Village the community's spiritual centre

A tidal wave of emigrants left Italy between 1880 and 1920 to escape starvation, malaria and never-ending poverty.

Hundreds of thousands streamed across the ocean. Sailing for several weeks on ships carrying hundreds of passengers herded together like cattle, many became ill from the stormy waters of the Atlantic.

A few were headed for Canada. Smaller numbers still were bound for Winnipeg. But by 1901, 147 people of Italian origin lived in Winnipeg, according to Stanislao Carbone, author of Italians in Winnipeg, and by 1921, 1,311 Italians lived here.

Before 1923, Winnipeg Italians worshipped at St. Mary's Cathedral and other parishes until eventually they found a place they could call their own.

"The most important institution in the early years of Winnipeg Italian history... was the Holy Rosary Church, which opened its doors in October of 1923," notes Carbone.

The former Lutheran church was ideally located in the West End, at Sherbrook and Bannatyne, the original Little Italy where many Italian immigrants first settled.

In the mid-1960s, the Winnipeg Children's Hospital purchased the property, and the parish had to find a new home.

The new site, at 510 River Ave., was closer to the Fort Rouge neighbourhood where many of Winnipeg's estimated 1,200 Italian families were then settling. The church opened in 1967.

Now an oasis of serenity in bustling, trendy Osborne Village, the attractive Tyndall stone structure is the spiritual home to about 800 families.

"October 2013 will be the 90th anniversary of the parish," says Fr. Sam Argenziano, pastor of Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church for 17 years.

W.R. MacDuff of Green, Blankstein, Russell Associates designed the 500-seat church -- which also houses an administration centre, rectory and parish hall -- at a cost of $390,000.

The details of the church reflect the Italian community. In the piazza outside Holy Rosary Church, Argenziano explains the bronze statue of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.

"He was a Franciscan monk who lived in a monastery in the town of San Giovanni Rotundo, noted for his great sanctity and charity towards the poor." The Italian saint was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.

High above the piazza, on a tower, is a statue of the Madonna holding the baby Jesus, sculpted by Italian artist George Barone.

Parishioners come from the surrounding area as well as the north and south of the city, says Argenziano, whom many simply know as Father Sam.

"Most are Italian-born and of Italian ancestry," and they range in age "from cradle to crypt."

The parish serves the Italian community primarily, he says, but "the ethnicity is changing with the arrival of new immigrants from Africa and Asia who live downtown and close by. …