A 'providential' discovery
As local church celebrates 100 years, original blueprints find their way home
Everything happens for a reason. At least, that is what Monsignor Carlo Montecalvo believes. He has to, after a series of events returned the original blueprints for his parish, Our Lady of Grace, back to its rightful owner.
“It’s almost providential,” he said.
The discovery started with Mayor Joseph Polisena, who instructed Director of Public Works Arnie Vecchione to send over a few workers to clean out the eaves of Town Hall. The building needs new insulation, and the clutter in the attic was proving dangerous for anyone walking up there. Anything older than 40 or 50 years was to be disposed of.
Vecchione sent over Building Inspector Ben Nascenzi and a few guys from the office, and didn’t think twice about it. Later that day, however, Vecchione just happened to be walking out of his office when he overheard his secretary mention plans for Our Lady of Grace Church – Vecchione’s longtime parish.
“This is the week of the 100th anniversary of our church, and we just happened to find those plans,” Vecchione said. “It’s just amazing; it gave me the chills.”
Had he not overheard the conversation, those plans would have ended up in the trash. Instead, Vecchione drove them right over to Monsignor Montecalvo.
Montecalvo was speechless.
“Can you imagine finding those original plans? We were ecstatic,” he said.
The timing couldn’t be better. Our Lady of Grace is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. A series of special events are planned for the milestone, including a one-day mission on March 17 with former actor Frank Runyeon. The day ends with a spaghetti dinner, and tickets are $10, or $5 for Runyeon’s Lenten production only. The celebrations culminate in a 100th anniversary dinner on Sunday, April 28 at Quidnesset Country Club.
The event has been years in the making, and the parish has done extensive fundraising in order to make it accessible for parishioners. Tickets to the dinner are $35 per person, and are already on sale.
“For the last three years, the 100th Anniversary Committee has been working to make this event affordable for anyone who wants to come,” Rev. Montecalvo said. “We have lots of elderly and we don’t want people on fixed incomes to not be able to come because they can’t afford it.”
The blueprints now factor in to the anniversary celebrations. Montecalvo is looking for a carpenter to donate his or her services in order to build a display case for the plans.
“I want to build a place where we can enclose them. Once we get the display up, people will be very interested in this,” he said.
The plans will also help the parish for practical reasons. Construction on the current church buildings was completed in 1969. With facilities more than 40 years old, the heating and cooling systems are in need of updating. The original blueprints will make that work easier.
“These plans are really very detailed,” Montecalvo said. “To find all the duct work now, we have the means to do that.”
Our Lady of Grace Church was established in 1913, as an offshoot of St. Ann’s in Providence, which opened its doors in 1902. Then, as is true now, Our Lady of Grace has always been considered a primarily Italian parish.
“A lot of the Italian parishes were being established because the immigrants were facing poverty in Italy,” Montecalvo recalled of the church’s beginnings.
Today, the parish includes 850 families. Though there are few first generation Italians left, he says the values of the culture remain strong at Our Lady of Grace.
“We have very few family names that don’t end in an ‘o’ or an ‘i’,” he joked. “They hold onto those same things – family values, church values – that their grandparents taught them.”
That spirit is what attracted Montecalvo to the parish, or back to it, as it were. He spent time at Our Lady of Grace as a deacon before serving as a chaplain in the United States Air Force for 26 years. When he left the military, he was eager to return to Johnston.
“I actually asked for this parish. The families here are just so nice. Parishioners love their parish here, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here,” Montecalvo said. “People are very warm; they respond well to any invitation given to them.”
That includes requests for support, he added. Each year, parishioners turn out in droves to volunteer their time and talents at the annual Parish Feast in September. All of the food is prepared on site, including more than 1,200 doughboys sold in a single day.
“That’s the type of dedication they have to this parish. Thanks be to God, our parishioners work very hard for the parish and are very generous,” he said.
Montecalvo is pleased to be able to give something back to those parishioners, in the form of the blueprints. He says many of the older parishioners remember when the current church was being built.
“For them, to see that we have the plans now, I think they’re going to be very excited because it’s going to bring back 50 years of memories,” he said.
That is certainly how Vecchione feels. He and his wife were married at Our Lady of Grace. His children were baptized there. His parents were buried there. And his grandchildren were baptized there. All of those memories came flooding back to Vecchione when he laid his hands on the blueprints.
“It was, believe me, emotional,” he said, his voice cracking. “I’m glad it happened.”