In the 1880’s, Italian immigrants began to arrive in Texas in large groups fleeing grinding rural poverty in Southern Italy and Sicily.
Mostly farmers settled in the Brazos Valley around Bryan, Texas and mainland Galveston County. Brazos Valley Italians came from impoverished Sicily specifically from 3 villages of Poggioreale, Corleone, and Salaparuta. My grandparents came from Poggioreale.
In 1894 going to Mass was very difficult for a small rural Texas community of Italian immigrants as there was not a reliable bridge to cross the Brazos River and go into Bryan where the nearest Catholic Church was. They depended on a priest to come to them when he could to celebrate Mass in someone’s home.
As the story goes, a 12 yr. old girl (a distant cousin) had 3 different visions of a lady from heaven asking her why there was no church in this place. “There needs to be a Church here .” The parents took the young girl to a priest in Bryan. The community discerned that they should and could do as the Lady from Heaven (understood to have been Mother Mary) had asked.
Each family gave their first crops, another family donated land and the Church was built in 6 weeks. My grandfather was one who helped build the church named for the patrons feast of Cefala, Sicily, a feast they call San Salvador, “Holy Savior” which is Aug. 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. First Mass celebrated at its altar in Oct. 1908. San Salvador,a Mission of St. Anthony Catholic Church, Bryan, Texas. A Historical Marker was erected in 1974. It is still in use today. My son , Matt was baptized there Dec. 26, 1975. Mass is still celebrated on the first Saturday evening of each month. Growing up, I remember going to Mass at the small beautiful church in the middle of cotton fields.
My mother, Rosie Loria had 6 siblings and my daddy, Pete Scarmardo had 8 brothers and 1 sister. Most of them were cotton farmers in the Brazos Bottom as it was called.
We were a close family. Growing up, I remember the Sunday spaghetti dinners at our house always with aunts, uncles and cousins. My parents had little education not much money, but I thought my daddy was the smartest man who ever lived with the biggest heart! My Mom was a sweet , kind soul who loved the Lord.
Their foundation in life was Faith in God, Family, and Hard work!
I remember celebrating St. Joseph’s Day. My twin sister, Matilda and I were asked to represent saints at the Altars at the homes of our cousins. We never had an altar at our house, but we would
cook, bake and help others with theirs. It was another chance to be with relatives praying, working and eating together (we did a lot of eating!)
In my immediate family, I had two older brothers, an older sister and my twin sister. No one knew I was coming! (Remember this was back in the stone ages) - no ultra sound machines!
My oldest brother died suddenly of a heart attack in 1978 at the age of 48, six weeks later my 18 yr. old nephew died (my sister’s only son) and then the next year, my daddy died - he had throat cancer and heart problems. Those were some rough days for our family, but our faith in God and love for each other got us through.
Today my family is still very close. They continue to give me their love, prayers and support which is a blessing that I am truly grateful and thank God every day.
We love because He first loved us 91 John. 4:19.)