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Father Antonino Marcantonio

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The tenacity, determination and courage in pursuing a dream

Antonino Marcantonio

A life dedicated to others, the poorest

He is remembered in Bronte for his tenacity, determi­nation, and, we have to say it, also the courage to pursue his dream; the construction of a Home for old people with no relatives, for poor people, outcast and generally needy.

He has enriched his native town of a prestigious, socially useful institute that meritoriously is called with his name: “Rest Home S. Vincenzo de’ Paoli - Father Antonino Marcantonio”.

Born in Bronte from Nunzio and Antonina Catania on the 16th of January 1906, when he was fourteen, in 1920, while he was already engaged in some work (he used to tell that was working as a carter) he meets father Giuseppe Salanitri that a year before had started the Little Seminary, and decided to become a priest.

In the house school of father Salanitri he had his first years of study the Little Seminary; in 1924 entered Catania’s Archiepiscopal Seminary and on the 10th of July 1934 was ordered priest by Mons. Carmelo Patanè. His first pastoral experiences were in Catania.

Then from 1936 until 1943, he was the parish priest of a nearby country town S. Pietro Clarenza, where, defending the freedom of the church, he found himself at odds with the Fascism and, during the war, did his outmost to help the needy.

In 1943 goes back to Catania, as parish priest of the Santa Maria della Salute church at Picanello and participates actively with the Dioceses for the post war reconstruction; was part of the diocesan group that through the P.O.A. (Papal Opus Assistance) made available to the needy, the help coming from America.

In 1948, during the first political elections, he did as much as he could to impede the advance of commu­nism and favor the success of the catholic party; in the same time he was part of the “Movimento Mondo Migliore” (Movement for a better world), founded by the Jesuit father Lombardo for the renewal of the church’s pastoral life.

On the 18th of May 1954 comes back to Bronte. The then Catania’s Archbishop Mons. Guido Luigi Bentivoglio, nominates him parish archpriest of the SS. Trinity’s church (La Matrice) and external (Fora­neo) Vicar for the pastoral district of Bronte, Maletto and Maniace.

In Bronte father Marcantonio plays a leading part in the life not only religious but also social and cultural of the country town, continuing his struggle for the success of the catholic group in the political life and for the revival of religious life in Bronte.

He tried to help them any way he could, pointed out the most urgent cases to the only two welfare centers operating in Bronte (the one for men “ San Biagio’s Con­ference”, formed in 1926, and that for women “Dame di carità di San Vincenzo”, founded in 1940) but this didn’t amount to much.

«Some medicine, few kilos of pasta and bread, some discarded garments, natu­rally could not resolve the problems requested by some cases.»

To meet the needs and the requirements of this mass of poor and neglected people then he prefigured a courageous and challenging solution: to found a house for lonely or needy old people.

He launched the idea to the two charity associations in July 1959.

«The difficulty - he wrote - facing us was when there were elderly of both sexes, poor and needy…. some­time also sick and above all abandoned, induced us to formulate our particular idea, to start a challenging but necessary work, to realize some social institution that Bronte did not have but particularly needed.»

To realize "his dream" he worked with tenacity and perseverance among economic difficulties, ostracism and obstacles of every kind, but he realized it only six years after: in 1965 the construction works were, in fact, completed.

In 1967, with the admission of the first seven elderly, was inaugurated the first unit of the Home dedicated to “San Vincenzo de’ Paoli” and, in subsequent years, with decision and tireless dedication, he brings it to the actual impressive and functional structure.

In 1984 his tireless social commitment obtains a small recognition: Giovanni Paolo II, in gratitude of his long and fecund apostolate at the Church’ service, nominates him his domestic prelate with the title of Monsignor.
At eighty three years of age, in 1989, he retired from his office of parish and archpriest and went to live for good in the Rest Home that he had founded. He chose to dedicate to the elderly the last years of his life.

He dies during the morning of the 14th of July 1997 struck by a heart attack.

Father Antonino Marcantonio (called “father archpriest”) and his prestigious realization: The Home for the elderly, poor ed in need of everything.

In 1986 he was awarded the Premio XXIV Casali with the following motivation: «heart and mind of the nursing home» S. Vincenzo de 'Paoli «for old and invalid, created in Bronte from nothing with great spirit of sacrifice, charity and love, for material and spiritual assistance to the needy».

The solemn funeral was celebrated in the Main Church with a great participation of Bronte’s inhabitants; the function was presided by the archbishop Bommarito and attended by all Bronte’s clergy and many priests of Catania’s Dioceses. He was buried in Bronte in the clergy’s cemetery Chapel.

With the decree of the 22nd of June 1997, mons. Bommarito de­cided to call the Rest Home “Casa di riposo Vincenzo de' Paoli - Padre Antonino Marcantonio".

On the 29th of June 2004, in the Rest Home’s garden, in the pre­sence of institutional authorities, Catania’s metropolitan archbishop, Mons.Salvatore Cristina, shall unveil an artistic and imposing monument in his memory.

The stages of the Home construction

19th of July 1959: father Marcantonio, years since he had been back in Bronte, on the occasion of San Vincenzo de’ Paoli‘s feast, launched the idea of realizing a house for the needy elderly.
His initial project was very simple: find “some well off family who would offer a house”, with his own commitment "to find what was necessary to furnish it and maintain all the daily needs”.

But the proposal fell on deaf ears, nobody offered a house. He thought then to raise funds for the purchase of a plot whe­re to build it, pressing for the collaboration and solida­rity of everybody with a clever and very simple idea: The “Fio­re che non marcisce” (non decaying flower).

A simple printed card (the "cartella") with which, on occa­sion of funerals, would be possible to donate a small amount for the construction of the Rest Home “instead of the traditional and costly wreaths".

His idea was well recei­ved and had success: very few the funerals with flowers and wreaths (to the point of dismissing its use), many in­stead the offers that relatives and friend of the defunct paid in favour of this initiative.

18th of July, 1962: There comes an occasion to purchase a plot in Colla-Zottofondo district, belonging to the late priest Giuseppe Margaglio.

At the price of L. 2.700.000, all the money raised in precedent years, selling funeral cards. Predisposed a Statute’s draft, approved by the diocesan clerical authorities, the name chosen for the structure was: “Casa di riposo per anziani ed inabili al lavoro “ (Rest Home for the elderly and the disabled).

One month later, after having paid what was due to the sharecropper who was hol­ding the property (L. 50.000), father Marcantonio gets possession of the land.

The 22nd of October, in the Zottofondo’s steep and stony land, a bulldozer starts to work.
There wasn’t enough money for the job and even among the clergy there were cla­shes, jalousies and concealed ostracisms. “They wanted to impose - writes father Marcantonio - the abandonment, as some­body was saying, of a dangerous project”. "….but they found on their hand a rather hard bone to nibble and one that they couldn’t easily digest”.

Father Marcantonio got a project drawn by the surveyor Luigi Catania and, on the 5th of January, 1963 applied for a contribute from the Region.

"On our own, - he writes – and against the prote­ster’s will, without a penny on hand we decided to start the construction….

Once he had in his hands the Decree related to the contribute of L. 10.000.000, the 1st of July, 1963 the work started.”
"… We had to fight on a double front: on one side we had to look for the necessary money from banks and private donors, to be able to pay the workers , on the other we had to face the malicious gossip and the wickedness of the people hurled against us”.

Mons. Antonino Marcantonio. busto in bronzo
istituto S. Vincenzo de' Paoli Padre Marcantonio, uno dei cortili

The bronze bust placed on the en­trance and glimpses of the inte­rior, (one of the court-yards, the dining hall and the church).

istituto S. Vincenzo de' Paoli Padre Marcantonio, interno della chiesa
istituto S. Vincenzo de' Paoli Padre Marcantonio, sala da pranzo

The painting by Father Marcantonio (bottom right) is the work of the Brontese painter Rosetta Zingale. It is kept in the sacristy of the Mother church (its parish).

At the end of 1965, at the cost of about 27 millions lire the works, (containing 20 beds), were completed. After the test, the Region supplied the promised sum of L. 9.980.000. But remained the debts, and the Home couldn’t start operating yet as heating and all the neces­sary equipment were not available.

The work wasn’t yet finished. “Father archpriest”, (as the people called father Marcantonio), kept on raising funds and sell burial cards.

At the end of 1966 he sends to Bronte’s families a copy of the books he had kept: income L. 20.096.015, expenditure L. 26.402.205, debit balance L. 6.306.190 (of which L. 3.260.105 bank interest!). The tireless archpriest get to work again: he wants the Home to be operating soon.

He creates a Committee and, on the 4th of May 1967, launches an “Appeal –Pro­clamation” to all the people of Bronte, addressing a warm and urgent invitation «to the generous souls so that everybody, according to each’s means, could give his contribute, large and generous, for purchasing whatever needed…,  …subscriptions in money or in things necessary to furnishing».

In the meantime, with courage and tenacity, continues to work for the Home: The beds are increased to thirty, the lighting and heating systems are completed, some furniture has been bought.

«During May, June and July, - writes father Marcantonio - the work is proceeding orga­nically, with no stops, always with the same method:  “First do the work and pay for it, then ask for contributions and pay the debts”». «… Not having money on hand, we had to approach the banks, ...and private donors to borrow some money and nobody ever ventilated any refusal».

Only the Archpriest Marcantonio took all the responsibility related to borrowings; to the other members of the Committee he had assured «that they would, never, or for any reason», be involved in economic matters. There were four months of hard work and collections from the generous people of Bronte.

With the comprehension, the solidarity and the liking of all the people, that grew day by day.

The 15th of October 1967, in the presence of Catania’s Archbishop Mons. Benti­voglio, The Home was finally inaugurated. The dream of  “father archpriest” was final­ly realized, the courageous work was all done and the social and welfare activity began with the admission of the first seven elderly people: Pecorino Nunzia of 87 years of age, Cristoforo Russo of 62 years.
The Home was built with the contribution of all the people from Bronte’s and other benefactors, the donations at the end reached nearly 90% of the total expenditure.

During the same month, with the usual bulletin sent to the families, father Marcan­tonio, while summarily remaking the “history of the Home”, addressed to the people his «hearth felt thanks», urging them again «not to forget the needy old people on occasion of feasts, as name days, christenings, weddings…»  and also on sad circumstances « to buy and urging friends and acquaintances to buy the funeral cards distributed by the “Rest Home” itself».

In only three months , by Christmas 1967, the number of the admitted reached twenty and, soon after, the foreseen thirty beds were all occupied.

Ten years later the available beds were increased to sixty.

Reports of all contributions and gifts

In the posters and “proclamations” that father Marcantonio used to spread in order to press for the traditional generosity of Bronte’s people, he often spoke of what had been done in the past by other benefactors: Ignazio Capizzi, mrs. Maria Scafiti, the priest Luigi Mancani, the baron Castiglione-Pace and the priest Giuseppe Prestianni.

Important social institutions undertaken by the courage and ini­tiative of one person but brought to completion by everybody’ solidarity: the Collegio Capizzi, the Collegio Maria, the Hospital were important stages of the cultural, civil and social progress of Bronte.

To these institutions has to be surely added The Rest Home, who­se 90% construction cost was raised with contributions of the Bronte’s citizens.

Father Marcantonio used to give, with a regular periodic caden­ce, an analytic statement account of all the contributions and gifts in kind received from the people and the various bodies.

It was a nearly periodic bulletin sent to people, (during few years he sent nearly two hundred “circulars”, …as a «... public testimony of your generous collaboration»), with detailed and exhaustive statement accounts, news about undertaken activi­ties, the state of the works and the work program.
In 1986 he distributed also a small book entitled “Chronicle of a social institution”, where, with abundance of detail, he narrated the courageous action undertaken by him, wanted, cost what it may, and realized among difficulties and some ostracism.

The "Hospice of the old" today

Today the Fund “Institute S. Vincenzo de’ Paoli – Padre Antonino Marcantonio” is a flower to Bron­te’s buttonhole, a small autonomous village, with a church, infirmary, kitchen and dining hall, laundry, ge­nerator, ample tree lined spaces, court-yards and terraces, living and reception rooms, double rooms with internal toilets, storerooms with refrigerators, garage, barber’s room, mortuary and …many elderly living together, less lonely and lovingly assisted.

The elderly inmates are 74 (equal to the number of beds), assisted day and night by 27 employees (nur­ses, physiotherapist, animators and other staff regu­larly engaged and three voluntary Indian sisters.

Finished the time of “voluntary service” with which operated “father archpriest”, the Home is now an Ecclesiastical Fund legally recognised. It is managed by an administration Counsel consi­sting of 5 counsellors and a president (father Nino Longhitano)
November 2012

"Antonino di Bronte sulla via di Mascalucia", a memory of Father Marcantonio by Nicola Lupo

Translated by Sam Di BellaITALIAN VERSION


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