About Our Church
At the beginning of the last century about 9000 Italian immigrants had settled in Rhode Island according to the Italian American Historical Society. Within 30 years that population rose above 100,000. Though the first Italians
in Rhode Island settled in Federal Hill, almost from the start they began moving to other parts of the state, including Thornton, where there was a large enough community to warrant a church. It was established by
the bishop of Providence in 1903 and placed under the care of the Missionaries of St. Charles/Scalabrinians.
The parish was given the name of St. Rocco, the patron saint of the town in Italy where a number of those
then living in Thornton came from.
The first St. Rocco Church was a wooden structure built at Clemence and Transit Streets. It served the Italian community for 48 years with daily religious services, the conferral of the sacraments, and catechetical instructions led by a group of sisters, now known as the Apostles of the Sacred Heart, who arrived in the
parish in 1942.
As the number of Italians continued to grow in Thornton and the surrounding areas, it was necessary to find another piece of land to build a bigger church and eventually include with it, a parochial school and a rectory. This land was found in Johnston, Rhode Island, on Atwood Avenue, about two hundred feet from Plainfield Street, in an area surrounded by wetlands. The new church was built and dedicated by Bishop Russell McVinney on
June 17, 1951. The school was built next to the new church a decade later and opened its doors on 1963.
When the liturgical reforms were promulgated in Rome after the Second Vatican Council, St. Rocco Church made the necessary changes in the church without detracting in any way from the original design of the sanctuary.
A new reconciliation room was added in the former baptistery and a side entrance was built with bathroom facilities to make the church accessible to the handicapped. Some years later, the church was made fully
air-conditioned and beautifully redecorated. And when the new fire code legislated by the state went into
effect, over a period of time the entire parish plant was made fully in compliance with it.
When the parish began in 1903, its main concern was to assist the new Italians immigrants who were moving
into the Cranston-Johnston area. For well over a hundred years, the Scalabrini Fathers faithfully served first the Italians, and then the Catholic population in the area. Recently, at the request of the diocese, the parish opened its doors to the Hispanics. These new immigrants continue to arrive in ever greater numbers into the state and into our area. As the pastoral ministry of St. Rocco Church began with one migrant group and added to it the Catholic population in the area, it continues its work with the more recent migrants, adding them to the others that are always being faithfully served. Thus the words of Jesus “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” are forever a living voice at St. Rocco Church.
The Life of Saint Rocco
Saint Rocco was born of noble parentage about 1340 A.D. in Montpelier, France. At birth, it was noted that he had a red cross-shaped birthmark on the left side of his chest. As a young child, St. Rocco showed great devotion to God and the Blessed Mother. At an early age, his parents died leaving him an orphan under the care of his uncle, the Duke of Montpelier. Soon after, St. Rocco distributed his wealth among the poor and took a vow of poverty.
St. Rocco dressed in the clothes of a pilgrim and departed for Rome. At that time, Italy was stricken with a rampant disease. St. Rocco cured many with this dreaded disease by praying for them and making the sign of the cross.
During his travels, he too contracted the plague which was evident by an open sore on his leg. St. Rocco was banished from the city and took refuge in a cove. Miraculously, a dog that refused to eat faithfully brought him bread from the table of a neighboring nobleman. The nobleman had pity on St. Rocco and brought him to his castle where St. Rocco was cured.
St. Rocco traveled through northern Italy for two or three more years before returning to his birthplace in France. So weak and sick from suffering, the townspeople did not recognize him and he was thrown into jail as a spy without any proof. But yet, he was kept in prison for five years. On August 16, 1378, a guard entered his cell and found St. Rocco near death. The dungeon was illuminated with a blue light radiating from his body. Upon hearing this, the Governor demanded to know St. Rocco’s identity.
St. Rocco faintly replied, “I am your nephew Rocco.” Only one thing could prove that, so he had him disrobed and the red cross-like mark was visible on the left side of his chest. The Governor and the townspeople present in the cell then believed. A voice from paradise was heard announcing that St. Rocco’s soul had merited immortal glory in Heaven. Even after death, St. Rocco performed many miracles.
St. Rocco is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as the protector against the plague and all contagious diseases. The statue of St. Rocco is considered unique among theologians because of his pose. It is most unusual because it depicts him with his left hand pointing to an open sore on his left leg. Few images of saints expose any afflictions or handicaps. His body is enclosed in a glass tomb in the church of St. Rocco in Venice, Italy. St. Rocco is remembered on August 16th of each year.
Missionaries of Saint Charles
The Missionaries of St. Charles, also known as Scalabrinians, are a Roman Catholic Community of priests and brothers founded in 1887 by Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini. They share in the mission of the Church through their unique service to migrant and refugee peoples. Their concerns bring them in contact with the marginalized in society, as well as those in political authority and academia. They labor on the “grass roots” level with those who suffer the trauma of migration and on the level of government and scholarship to sensitize society to the needs of those displaced and uprooted.
Because of the large number of Italians coming to the shores of North America from the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century, the bishops of the United States ask the help of Blessed Scalabrini, then bishop of the northern city of Piacenza, to send his missionary priests and brothers to serve the newly arrived Italians into their dioceses. Among them was also the bishop of Providence who received the first missionaries in 1889, where they established Holy Ghost Church in Federal Hill. Other missionaries followed, and among the churches they established in the Diocese of Providence was St. Rocco in Thornton in 1903.
The latest statistics, according to the 2010 Annuario Scalabrinaino, number the religious community as having 699 members, serving in 31 countries and divided into 9 provinces.
Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini
John Scalabrini was born in Fino Mornasco (Como) Italy on July 8, 1839. After his ordination to the priesthood in1863, he was a professor at the seminary of Como, followed by the rector from 1867 to 1870. Appointed then pastor of one of the largest parishes in Como, he was distinguished for his forward thinking on political, social, and economic matters, and for the solicitude he had towards the working class. His published conferences on Vatican Council brought him to the attention of Pius IX, who named him bishop of Piacenza in 1875.
As bishop he distinguished himself by frequent parish visitations and diocesan synods. In his eagerness to reorganize catechetical teaching throughout Italy, he instituted the first National Catechetical Congress in Piacenza. Pius IX referred to him at the “Apostle of the Catechism.” At Leo XIII’s request he outlined possible approaches and solutions to the unification of Italy with respect to the presence of the pope in Rome.
To assist the huge number of Italians emigrating to various parts of the world he founded the Missionaries of St. Charles (later referred also as Scalabrinians) on November 28, 1887, and promoted their work by journeying in 1901 and 1904 to North and South America. He founded also, with the same purpose, the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles and cofounded together with the Mother Clelia Merloni, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He was also instrumental in encouraging St. Francis Xavier Cabrini and her sisters to work among the Italian immigrants in the Americas. He established the Society of St. Raphael among the laity to provide material and social aid to the arriving immigrants.
Bishop Scalabrini died on June 1, 1905. The ordinary diocesan process for his beatification and canonization began in 1936. He was declared venerable in 1987 and beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 9, 1997 in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Pastors Who Have Served Saint Rocco Parish
The first pastor of St. Rocco Church was Father Domenico Billiotti, who arrived in 1903 and served until 1907.
His beginnings were very humble. He boarded at a parishioner’s house and said Mass where he found space.
He eventually bought land on Clemence and Transit Streets to build the first wooden church. The second
pastor was Father Joseph Gotti, who served from 1907 to 1918. He saw the gradual growth of the parish,
especially in Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations, and Marriages. He was also able to pay off the
original debt of the parish and build the rectory next to the church. The third pastor was Father Francesco Berti who served from 1918 to 1921.
The fourth pastor was Father Davide Angeli who served from 1921 to 1924. The fifth pastor was Father Silvio Sartori who served from 1924 to 1925. The sixth pastor was Father Bartolomeo Marenchini who served from 1925 to 1939, the longest serving to date. He bought the ground where the present church, school, and rectory now stand.
The seventh pastor was Father Raphael Larcher who served from 1939 to 1949. He began the major campaign to fund the construction of the new church. However, he was unable to build the church, because he was abruptly called to Rome to assume higher duties for his religious community. The eighth pastor was Father Angelo Susin who served from 1949 to 1957. It was he who was able to finally carry out the long awaited dream of building the new church. The ninth pastor was Father James Viero who served from 1957 to 1968. He was given the task of building the school.
With the completion of the school building, the parish had succeeded in creating a total environment in which the Catholic faith would be sustained. Thus the focus which the following pastors had before them was one of developing of the spiritual, educational, and social life of the parish. The tenth pastor was Father Mario Albanesi who served from 1968 to 1978. The eleventh pastor was Father Joseph Scopa from 1978 to 1988. The twelfth
pastor was Father Alfred Almonte who served from 1988 to 2001. The thirteenth pastor was Father Ralph Bove
who served from 2001 to 2005. The fourteenth pastor was Father Charles Zanoni from 2006 to 2012.
Father Angelo Carusi has been St. Rocco's pastor since 2012.
Each of these pastors was also involved in the upkeep of the entire physical plant. Today, we have beautiful
and well-kept premises, thanks to the leadership and abilities of all the above pastors.
Through the years the pastoral work of a parish was made possible with the help of faithful and dedicated
priests and deacon who assisted the pastor in many and various ways. Throughout its history, St. Rocco has
been blessed by many such ministers who served and continue to serve the parish. The people remember
dearly these co-workers and are indebted to their services.
Reverend Angelo N. Carusi - Pastor
Office Location: Parish Rectory
Deacon Robert P. Troia - Deacon Assistant
Sr. Mary Antoinette, FMH - Director of Religious Education
Mrs. Stephanie C. Fava
Office of Religious Education
Sr. Mary Antoinette Capelli, FMH
St. Rocco School Principal
Ms. Regina M. Hand
St. Rocco School Assistant Principal
Mrs. Marcia Montecalvo
Hours of Operation: Monday through Thursday from 9:00-3:00 pm