St. Peter Parish and the
magnificent church in downtown Torrington stand tall as monuments to
the many Italian immigrants who settled here over the past, almost
hundred years. They laid the foundations, and to the many who came after
them St. Peter Parish became a welcoming spiritual and cultural home
away from home. They
them not only the skills which would help them forge a new and better
life for themselves and their families but also their faith.
They felt that strong need to have a place where they could
worship together as a community where their faith could be nourished
while English was still an unfamiliar tongue.
Cultural organizations were formed and their skills as artisans
contributed greatly towards the growth and expansion of the economy
in the city. We,
parishioners at the end of the century and millennium pay tribute to
those who did the groundwork, bringing a dream to reality and leaving a
wonderful spiritual heritage to those who would come after them.
Those early years were not easy ones but they were undaunted by
disappointments and setbacks and it was a glorious day when the ground
was broken for St. Peter Church on East Main Street.
Between 1901 and 1906 five
prominent Italian men were engaged to petition the Bishop of Hartford
to send to Torrington an Italian priest who would assist them in
establishing an Italian parish. John
DeMichiel, Louis Longhi, Joseph Mascetti, Caesar Rossi, and John Sullo
were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the second Catholic church in
Torrington, St. Peter's. Due
to the rapid increase of the Italian population in Torrington, these
men realized that the Italian people had outgrown the use of the
chapel at St. Francis Church. They probably did not realize the long, uphill struggle they
would face to erect a church of their own.
The building of St. Peter Church was a
twenty-one year endeavor, beginning in April, 1907 and ending in May,
1928. The process was
slow and required numerous meetings between Italian citizens and the
Reverend Joachim T. Martinez y Cabrea, who arrived in Torrington on
April 28, 1907. Father
Martinez was educated in Italy and spoke the Italian language.
He immediately formed a committee and established the
“Societa Catholica Italiana di San Pietro” to enable the Italian
immigrants to build a church. “...committee
meetings were held at the homes of the late Paul Telesca, Frank
Giordano, Tony Rinaldi, and myself.
Temporary officers were nominated as follows: Chairman, Rev.
Martinez; Secretary, Paul Telesca; Treasurers, Tony Rinaldi and
Ambrose Robiati.”1 Other
members of the committee, John De Michiel and Joseph Mascetti, became
the first Trustees of St. Peter Church.
Both men were road contractors who had achieved much success in
their careers and who provided employment for many of the Italian
immigrants to Torrington. Numerous
organizational meetings were held during the winter months when the
contractors' work was slow. Approval
from the Diocese of Hartford was needed for just about everything in
the lengthy process of establishing a new church.
Land was purchased on Center Street and
a contract awarded to Louis Longhi and Brothers on April 28, 1908.
At this time, only a basement with a temporary roof would be
built. An official
ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone was held on August 9, 1908.
The Right Reverend Bishop Michael Tierney, D.D., of the Diocese
of Hartford, officiated. August
9, 1908 was a Sunday and crowds gathered for the procession to Center
Street. There were only
five thousand people who witnessed the lying of the cornerstone
according to The Evening Register news articles.
The parade procession started at 2:45
p.m. headed by Marshal William A. Gleason and the American Band.
The procession marched down Main Street, onto East Main Street,
and down Center Street. Bishop
Tierney led the delegation of priests to the rear of the church site
where the Sanctuary was to be built.
After laying the cornerstone he sprinkled the foundation with
holy water. Visiting
clergymen from throughout Connecticut assisted Bishop Tierney at the
ceremony. This was a
magnificent day for the Italian community and a long day, once the
The Reverend Patrick Duggan, Rector of
the Cathedral in Hartford, spoke most eloquently about the new church
and the struggle of the Italian immigrants whom he came to know well.
In most stirring words he said: “America is under a great obligation
to the happy sons of Italy. The
work demanded by the rapid and constant increase of our steam and
electric roads so necessary for the expansion, growth, and development
of our vast industries and the comfort and convenience of social life,
depends mainly on the sinew and muscle of the Italian laborer.
Other races follow lines of work which bring them into
immediate contact with cities, towns, and villages, where they enjoy the
consolations of their religion. With
the Italian, it is different. The dam, the watercourse, the sewer, the
railroad, and the bridge are far removed from religious influences and
are not propitious to the communion of man with his Lord and Redeemer.
Their treatment in those remote places is sometimes severe,
harsh, and often cruel. It
would not be tolerated in cities and large towns.
The people would indignantly protest against members of the
human family being subjected to such hardships.
They are generally obliged to work not only on six days of the
week, but also on Sundays. Passing
through Waterville two weeks ago today, about six o'clock in the
evening, one could see hundreds of those people, after sweltering
during the day under the rays of blazing sun, rudely and pitilessly
marched off tottering and staggering from the railroad bed to the
gravel pit to work until eight o'clock.” 2
This was truly a most stirring account
of Italian immigrant workers, our grandfathers, fathers, and uncles
on their daily toil to establish a new life in a new country.
Evening Register described the contents of the cornerstone:
“Deposited in the cornerstone was a
bronze box containing the following paper written in English, Latin,
and Italian: That it may rebound to the greater honor and glory of the
Catholic religion and the American Republic and for the good and
welfare of Torrington, Right Rev. Michael Tierney, D.D., Bishop of
Hartford, Pius the Tenth, Pope of that name, happily and gloriously
reigning, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, Rollin
S. Woodruff being Governor of Connecticut, William Dayton being Warden
of Torrington, in the presence of a large multitude of clergy and
people, laid according to the rite of the Holy Catholic Church, the
cornerstone of St. Peter's Church, Torrington, County of Litchfield,
State of Connecticut, this ninth day of August in the Year of Our
Lord, one thousand nine hundred and eight.”3
of Louis Longhi and Brothers completed the foundation and placed a
temporary structure above ground.
The final two-story structure was to be added when financial
conditions allowed. At
that time it was expected to be completed in a few years.
months later on Saturday, November 14, 1908, the Right Reverend
Monsignor Synnott, Administrator of the Diocese of Hartford, conducted
the dedication service. Bishop
Michael Tierney had recently died.
The Reverend Murray of Hartford and Father Ricci of Meriden
assisted Monsignor Synnott. Miss
Rose Negri, organist, was accompanied by a choir of Italian singers.
The Evening Register of October 14,
1912 reported the transfer of Father Martinez to St. Michael Church,
Patterson, New Jersey. Father
Martinez was St. Peter's first pastor.
His efforts and achievements on behalf of Torrington's Italian
citizens were duly noted and recognized in The Evening Register news
article. It was through
the efforts of Father Martinez that St. Peter Church was established.
His immense contributions to St. Peter Church cannot be
St. Peter's second pastor
was Father Anthony Rizzo. Father
Rizzo was the nephew of the Very Reverend Leo da Saracena, who had
been an important person in the religious life of the early Italian
immigrants to Torrington. Father Rizzo was a diligent pastor and tended to an
ever-increasing number of Italian immigrants.
After less than two years as pastor, Father Rizzo was
transferred in August, 1914 to Holy Rosary Church, Bridgeport, CT.
For unknown reasons,
Bishop John J. Nilan closed St. Peter Church to services upon the
transfer of Father Rizzo. Most
naturally, the Italian community did not like this and the Bishop had
to know that this would not be taken lightly.
A meeting was held by the parishioners to discuss the matter.
It was agreed that a committee would be appointed to petition
Bishop Nilan to reopen the church and appoint a permanent pastor to
succeed Father Rizzo. A
request to appear before the Bishop was made.
The committee was composed of Nicholas Calabrese, Nicholas
Guerrieri, John Sullo, and Paul Telesca and presented its case to
Bishop Nilan on September 11, 1914.
Evidently the Bishop was impressed with the committee's
presentation, because he appointed a temporary pastor by the
On September 24, 1914,
Bishop John J. Nilan appointed the Reverend Salvatore Bonforti to the
pastorate of St. Peter Church. Father
Bonforti said his first Mass at St. Peter Church on Sunday, September
27, 1914. Father
Salvatore Bonforti served as the pastor of St. Peter's for almost
sixteen years, leaving on January 13, 1930.
However, at the beginning of 1919 Father Bonforti returned to
Italy for two years. During his absence Father Louis Robotti served as
administrator of St. Peter Church.
During his sixteen years as pastor of St. Peter Church, Father
Bonforti had the responsibility of coordinating the construction of
the church edifice. He very ably oversaw the entire building process: the
decision to relocate St. Peter Church to East Main Street, the
of the edifice in September, 1926, and the dedication of the new
church on May 13, 1928.
Italian Catholics in
Torrington continued to worship in their basement church on Center
Street. An effort was
made in September, 1922 to change the location of the church, but was
unsuccessful. So, plans
for the superstructure on the Center Street site were submitted by
architect Daniel Guerriero and approved in December, 1925. The completion of the church was long overdue.
A much larger facility was needed for the growing Italian
population. To administer
the building of the new church a building committee was formed
comprised of the two trustees, John DeMichiel, Joseph Mascetti, and
John Sanzone, Anselmo Negri, and Paul Telesca.
“However, from the time
services were first held in the basement church, considerable trouble
was experienced from flooding during heavy rainstorms, because of its
low level. Many members
of the parish felt that a more suitable site should be selected for
the erection of the church. So,
in September 1926 an opportunity to purchase the property of Nicholas
Ostrofsky on East Main Street as a site for a new church was accepted.
With this, purchase plans for a superstructure on Center Street
were abandoned and plans were formulated for the erection of a new
church on East Main Street and for a campaign to raise $100,000 for
its construction. In
January 1927 the contract for the erection of the new church was
awarded to Charles Longhi and Son.
The plans called for a church of Gothic design made of local
granite with cast stone trim, a red slate roof, and a simple central
spire. On February 20, 1927 work was begun on the new site with the
removal of two elm trees reputed to be one hundred years old. Ground
was broken on March 1, 1927 and the work of laying the foundation
began on March 16, 1927. Two
months later the Most Reverend Maurice F. McAuliffe, D.D., Auxiliary
Bishop of Hartford, officiated at the laying of the cornerstone on May
“The cornerstone for the
new church is 25 inches by 34 inches and was carved from local
granite, with rock frame and dressed panel, personally by John
DeMichiel of the firm, John DeMichiel and Brothers, who furnished all
of the granite for the church.
The trowel used for the
occasion by the bishop was engraved with the following: “This
trowel, donated by Charles Longhi and Sons, builders, was used at the
laying of the cornerstone of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church,
Torrington, Connecticut, May 22, 1927, by the Right Reverend John J.
Nilan, D.D., Bishop of Hartford, Rev. S. Bonforti, Pastor, Daniel A.
The new church was
completed on March 1, 1928.
On Sunday, May 13, the
Right Rev. John J. Nilan, D.D. solemnly dedicated the fine new St.
Peter's Church, on East Main Street, Torrington.
Assisting the Bishop at the ceremonies were the pastor of St.
Peter's, Rev. Salvatore Bonforti, under whose direction the
beautiful new structure was erected, Rev. William J. Fanning, pastor
of St. Francis’, Torrington, the Rev. Philip Robotti of the
Dominican Order, New York City, and the Rev. Silvio Sartori, pastor of
St. Anthony's Church, New Haven.
Following the ceremony of
dedication, a solemn High Mass, the first in the new church, was
celebrated at 10:30 by Father Bonforti, assisted by Father Robotti as
deacon, Father Sartori as sub-deacon, and Father Fanning as master
of ceremonies. Father
Robotti delivered the sermon during the Mass.
At the conclusion of the Mass Bishop Nilan, who took occasion
to congratulate the congregation upon the erection of its fine, new
edifice, addressed the congregation.
Those who have cooperated
with the pastor during his administration and have served as trustees
are John DeMichiel, John Sanzone, the late Joseph Mascetti, Anselmo
Negri, and Paul Telesca.”5
“On January 13, 1930
Father Bonforti was granted a leave of absence to visit his native
Italy and the Reverend William P. Botticelli, then a curate at Our
Lady of Lourdes in Waterbury, was appointed to administer the affairs
of the parish in his absence. Subsequently, Father Bonforti decided to remain in Italy and
Father Botticelli was appointed the fourth pastor of St. Peter's.
Hard and lean years greeted Father Botticelli with the
depression and heavy debt on the parish in the early thirties.
With grim determination and enthusiasm he organized the
parish to accept its duties and to fulfill them to the best of their
ability. During the next
few years a new organ and the beautiful stained glass windows were
installed and the grounds beautified.
The parish continued to make
remarkable progress - a testimony to the leadership of Father
“Bill”, as he came to be affectionately known, and to the spirit
of good will among the parishioners.
In July 1942, the resonant carillon bells were installed in the
spire of the church - bells that can be controlled by a special
keyboard on the organ. In
1943 the Rialto Hall adjacent to the rectory was purchased.
Extensive alterations then and in succeeding years has made St.
Peter's Hall the finest in Torrington where programs of both a
parochial and community nature are held.
With the religious formation of
the youth of the parish uppermost in mind Father “Bill” arranged
in 1942 for the Religious Teachers Filippini to come to St. Peter's to
assist him in this obligation. And
so, a sixteen-room convent was constructed then for the sisters -
large enough to accommodate the sisters necessary to staff a school
that would be built in the future.
A memorable event in the history
of the parish and a cause of great exultation occurred on February 6,
1949 when in a formal ceremony Father Botticelli burned the last
remaining note of $60,000. For
the first time in its history the parish was free of debt.
The people of Torrington rejoiced with
the parishioners of St. Peter's on March 11, 1954 when the Most
Reverend Henry J. O'Brien, Archbishop of Hartford, announced that Pope
Pius XII had appointed Father “Bill” a Domestic Prelate with the
title of Right Reverend Monsignor.
Only the year before he had been appointed a Diocesan
Through Father Bill's
generous hospitality, a unique link was established between Bishop
Constantino Luna of Guatemala and the people of St. Peter Church in
Torrington. This unique
link began in 1951 when Bishop Luna returned to the United States
following fifteen years as a missionary in China.
He visited his sister, Brigida Luna Bertoldi, in Torrington
where he enjoyed a much-needed rest, helped out at St. Peter's and
taught catechism to the local children. In 1956 Bishop Luna was assigned to Zacapa, Guatemala.
Bishop Luna continued his annual visits to his Torrington
relatives until he ascended to his eternal reward on September 1,
1997. St. Peter Church
continues to sponsor a sister parish in Guatemala, St. Cecilia’s.
“The progress for the
parish was interrupted on August 19, 1955 when a disastrous flood
inundated all the properties of the parish causing extensive damage to
the church, rectory, convent, hall, and community house - damage to
the tune of about $55,000. With
head bowed but spirit undaunted the parishioners under the leadership
of Monsignor “Bill” met the challenge of frustration and conquered
it. In a short time
repairs and improvements of the church properties were completed and
sights were raised to a new project.
On January 8, 1956 St.
Peter's inaugurated a campaign for funds to build a parochial school
and rectory. The minimum
goal was set at $150,000 but when the campaign closed two months
later a total of $252,000 in cash and pledges had been received. Once
again the parishioners of St. Peter's manifested their faith, courage,
and spirit of sacrifice, qualities that make a parish pleasing to
Almighty God. The
contract for the construction of the school was awarded to Julius
Bonvicini and Company. Ground was broken on February 20, 1956. The school was completely finished in record time by the
contractor, Julius Bonvicini. His
cooperation enabled the opening of the school for classes on September
A total of 91 children
registered for the first, second, and third grades.
The Kindergarten was opened on Monday, September 10, 1956 with
40 children attending. Each
year an additional class will be added until the full compliment of
eight grades is attained.
The principal, Superior
Mary Patti, M.P.F., had for her teaching corps Sister Sebastian
Favara, Sister Judith Serra, and Mrs. Roland Calabrese.
On Sunday, September 23, 1956, the most
Reverend Henry J. O'Brien, Archbishop of Hartford laid the cornerstone
and blessed the school building.
The Reverend John J. Castellani preached the dedication sermon.
And thus another significant milestone in the history of St.
Peter's Parish came to a happy fulfillment.”7
“The first graduation was held
in June of 1962 with thirty-seven students receiving diplomas.
Since its beginning, thirty-five classes have graduated
creating alumni of approximately 950 students.
1982 Sacred Heart School in Torrington closed its doors and in 1984,
St. Mary School also closed, changing the ethnic population of the
school. Many students
from those two schools enrolled at St. Peter School at that time.
Changes in enrollment numbers and ethnicity of the school
During the late 1980’s, the
predominately Italian population living near the church and school
decreased. Since this
time, the school body has become more culturally diverse.
Today, in 1999, St. Peter's
School has an enrollment of 180 students and serves not only St. Peter
parish and families of Torrington, but also many other parishes and
surrounding towns as well.
Our mission and purpose has never
wavered throughout all of its years in existence.
We strive to educate students who will be Christ-like leaders
with a background rooted in Catholic truth and tradition.
Integrating the knowledge of the Catholic tradition and blending
these truths with academic, social and personal growth, we aim to
provide an atmosphere in St. Peter School that is intellectually,
socially, and spiritually alive.”8
The following Principals have served at St. Peter Parochial School: