La Società Mutuo Accorso
Serradifalco

(The Serradifalco Mutual Aid Society)

        After the feudal system had essentially ended on mainland Europe, it continued in Sicily until the early 1800's.  This was a system in which the "nobles"; Kings and Princes, had as vassals the Counts, Barons, Dukes and numerous lesser nobles on whom they conferred titles in return for loyalty and military support.   The nobility were owners or landlords of "fiefs" on which peons, serfs, and sometimes slaves toiled for the "lord of the manor".  Between the nobles and the serfs were classes of those who were professionals; doctors, lawyers, clerics, etc., and those artisans or guild members who had special arts or skills such as music or stonemasonry.  
        When feudalism ended, many class distinctions remained.  The former nobles, once vassals of a king, still kept track of their lineage and were "nobili", with titles like "signori" (lords);  the lesser nobles, professionals and landowners were "galantuomini"  (gentlemen) titled "Don"; the artisans became known as "civile" (citizens), often called "Mastro" or "Maestro" (master).  And the former slaves, peons and serfs became the common people; the "contadini" (peasant farmers or sharecroppers), "villaci" (common villagers) and the "volgare" (commoners).  
         For their own advancement, and to give themselves a sense of place, these "working classes" often formed "Società", or mutual aid societies, some specifically for workers, miners, and so on.  These societies, which incidentally, were often strongly anti-Mafia, were viewed  by the new government as attempts at socialism, and often they were banned.

        In the early 1800's the sulfur mines near Serradifalco, like others in Sicily, were likely owned by the Baron who owned the town.  When feudalism was abolished, the mines were taken over by 'venture capitalists' who exploited the poverty of the local peasants for cheap (sometimes slave-like) labor.  This was probably the situation in the late 1800's when many miners banded together to form the Società di Mutuo Soccorso dei Solfatai in Serradifalco, or the 'Society of Mutual Aid of Sulfur Miners in Serradifalco'.  Below are the first three pages of the rules of the society, dated 1886, and listing the founders of the organization.  Click the images to enlarge them.  In the image on the right, line 36 reads: Coniglio Gaetano fu Raimondo (Gaetano Coniglio, son of the late Raimondo Coniglio).  These are the names of my grandfather, born in Serradifalco in 1836, and his late father Raimondo, born in about 1805.
        In part, the rules read 'Potranno essere ammessi a far parte di questa associazione i lavoranti di questi miniere che esercitano o che abbiano esercitato il mestiere di piconieri.'  That is, 'There may be admitted to form part of this association the laborers of these mines who practice or have practiced the trade of pickaxe-men.'

Images provided by Ray Iannello, grandson of founder No. 19 (middle image), Rizzo Leonardo fu Giacomo.

         In America, immersed in unfamiliar customs and still fearful of repression by the "ruling classes" (in this case the coalmine owners), many Sicilian immigrants continued their allegiance to "societies" associated with their town of birth.   One of these was the Società Mutuo Accorso Serradifalco or 'Serradifalco Mutual Aid Society'.   A chapter of the society was formed in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and it is still active, sponsoring an annual feast for the Madre Addolorata (Our Lady of Sorrows).  Gaetano, Rosa and Guy Jr. belonged to the Serradifalco society in Robertsdale.  When the bulk of Sicilians left Robertsdale, they left the society's flags and records with the (apparently) only remaining Sicilian family in Robertsdale, the Territos. 
         In Buffalo, there was also a Serradifalco society, and I remember Gaetano and Rosa attending monthly meetings.  These were more than social clubs, and could almost be considered 'health insurance societies'.  Many had a physician as one of their officers: members had to be of sound mind and body, and 'able to work' before they could be admitted.  They paid monthly dues (mensile) and if ill or unable to work, received a weekly benefit ($5.00, in 1923).  They had strict rules about feigned injury or illness, for which a member could be suspended or expelled.  The society also paid a death benefit, usually enough to cover funeral expenses.  These were modest, and did not usually include the use of a funeral home - the deceased were often 'waked' in a room of their own house. 
         Below is an article from Robertsdale which includes a comment on the society.  Click it to enlarge it.

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         Gaetano's (left) and Guy Jr,'s membership certificates.  On Gaetano's, the term "fu Gaetano" means "son of the late Gaetano", and on Guy Jr.'s, the term "di Gaetano" means "son of Gaetano".  The woman's figure on the left represents "Italia" (Italy) and that on the right represents "Columbia" (America).  In the group photo below, taken at an annual outing of the Società, two young ladies can be seen in the front row, in costumes representing the figures on the certificates.  The red shield with the white "Cross of St. George" represents Piemonte, or Piedmont, which was the seat of the King of Savoy before the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, extending from Naples south including the island of Sicily, was captured from the Bourbons by Garibaldi to help form "Italy" in 1861.

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Photo of Serradifalco's men's society taken at Busti and Carolina Streets, Buffalo, June 8, 1930.
Gaetano Coniglio is three rows in front of the large awning, with mustache and peaked cap.
(Photo courtesy of Lou Saviano, via Fred Cimato, both fine local practitioners of the tonsorial art.)
 

SocietaGaetano.jpg (58016 bytes)

 
          There were thousands of these Mutual Aid Societies in the United States, each formed by immigrants from a particular town, with many from the same town in several different American cities, where their paesane settled.  Buffalo had many Sicilian societies besides the Società Mutuo Accorso Serradifalco
          The
Società Mutuo Soccorso Campobello di Licata, or the Mutual Aid Society of Campobello di Licata was one of these, pictured below in 1926 at the McKinley Monument (before Buffalo's present City Hall was built).   Near the middle of the front row is Carmela Ferranti, the only woman in the photo.  To her left, in the dark suit, is her husband Salvatore Tiranno.  They were the paternal grandparents of Sam Tiranno, husband of Denise Denisco Tiranno (Click on the photos for a larger image.)

Carmelo Pileri, Society President 1931-1955
and his brother Diego Pileri

Identified courtesy of Carmelo's grandson David Pileri

Carmela Ferranti
and Salvatore Tiranno

Identified courtesy of their son Phil Tiranno

 

         Immigrants from virtually every small town in the Mezzogiorno (the southern Italian peninsula and Sicily) formed mutual aid societies based on their common heritage, naming the groups after the town, or its patron saint, or both.  The main società representing each town of origin was a mutual aid society for men, but many had women's societies as well, as auxiliaries to the men's, or as separate societies, often honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary.  There were societies for émigrés of Serradifalco and Campobello di Licata, as shown above, as well as from Montemaggiore (the Mount Major Club), and Bagheria.   Among many others were 'clubs' for San Fele and Mussomeli, remnants of which remain today, and still hold annual feast days.
        From the early 1900's through the 1950's, these societies held ceremonies to honor various religious feast days.  Sometimes they were for one particular saint or town, but often several societies conducted ceremonies together.  One was 'la Festa Corpo Cristo', or 'the Feast of Corpus Christi, (the body of Christ)', which also included societies from Racalmuto and several local Buffalo church societies.  It was held after Easter, usually between May 21 and June 24.
         Below is a membership certificate for a member of one of these societies, Giuseppe Farranto of the
Società Racalmutese di Madonna Santa Maria Santissima del Monte (Racalmuto Society of Our Most Blessed Holy Lady Mary of the Mountain).  It is signed by the Segretario (Secretary) Salvatore Scimè and the Presidente (President) Angelo Taibi.
          Several of my high school fraternity brothers had ancestors from Racalmuto: Dick Lo Cicero Sal Liotta and Tom Tirone, as well as the late Bob Trigilio's widow, Josephine Tirone.

Image courtesy of Michael Tona

 

         Below is a photo of myself taken in November 2013 in the chapel of Buffalo's  St. Anthony of Padua Church, which has many artifacts from Buffalo's Italian and Sicilian societies.  I'm holding the banner of the Società Femminile Maria SS Addolorata, Inc. 29 Luglio 1939 (Women's Society of the Most Holy Mary of Sorrows, Incorporated 29 July, 1939).  The chapel also has the banner of the Società Ausiliare Serradifalco, the Women's Auxiliary of the men's Società Mutuo Accorso Serradifalco.

 

 

    The article below, courtesy of Michael Tona, is reproduced (with 1935 misspellings and punctuation) from a story in the Buffalo Evening News, dated June 13, 1935.  The general chairman of the event described, Peter S. Rizzo, was the president of the Società Serradifalco, and his signature (Pietro Rizzo) can be seen on the Serradifalco Society membership certificates shown above.

ITALIAN GROUPS
   PLAN FEAST DAY


Solemn Church Service and
Procession to Mark Corpus
Christi Festival 


Parishioners of St. Anthony's church, Court street and South Elm-wood avenue, and members of the neighboring Italian parishes will observe the feast of Corpus Christi Sunday, June 23, with a solemn church service and street procession replete with Old World pageantry, the Rev. Carl Celotto, pastor, announced today.
    This year’s observance, devoted to the petitioning of divine guidance for the nation's economic recovery, will open with a high mass at 11 o'clock in the morning, celebrated by Father Celotto.
   The street procession, which will be held under combined auspices of parishioners and 22 Italian societies, will start at 3 o'clock in the after­noon in front of the church. Peter S. Rizzo is general chairman.

 Line of March. 

The procession will move through Court, Seventh, Virginia, Efner and Georgia streets and Trenton and Busti avenues.
    As in past years, the line of autos will be gaily decorated with flags and bunting. Merchants will vend del-icacies such as are sold on the streets of Italian towns during such celebrations.
    Ten altars also will be erected along the route for the administration of benediction to the spectators.
   During the procession, Father Ce-lotto will carry the Holy Sacrament, under a gold and silver canopy. Italian World war veterans will form a guard of honor.
  White-garbed children who only recently made their first communion and were confirmed will strew flowers in the path of the Holy Sacrament.

Those Assisting.

Assisting Mr. Rizzo in arranging the procession are:
    Angelo
Taibi, president of the Ra­calmuto society and past president of the Federation of Italian Societies; Samuel Perla, Michael Militello, Peter Grisanti, Calogero Pilori.
   Giuseppe Terranova, Salvatore La Corto, Filippo Palumbo, Cruciano Rizzo, Aniello Crispo.
    Antonio Caruana, Giacomo Grasso. Antonio Greco, Luciano Randazzo. Giuseppe Arcuri.
   Mrs. Mariantonia Cirone, Mrs. Mary Crispo, Miss Mamie Comforto, Mrs. Lucia Gugino and Miss Mary Saiia.
   Other members of the committee are:
    Antonio  Diina,  past  president  of the Italian War veterans; Mariano A. Lucca, Gaetano Augello, Vincenzo Venezia, Calogero Fanara.  

Other Committee Members.

Antonio D'Arpa, Salvatore Mac-cagnaro, Antonio Pellari, Giuseppe LaBianaura, Michelangelo Saladino.
    Michele Cirzane, Cosimo Militello, Orazio Battaglia and Mrs. Angelina Gnozzo.
     The  societies participating are:
   Societa  San  Giuseppe Bagheria, Clubbo San Giuseppe Bagheria, So-cieta Marianopoli, Societa Racal-muto, Societa Serradifalco.
   Societa Montedoro, Societa Cam-pobello di Licata, Circolo Campobello di Licata, Clubbo San Giovanni Bat-tista, Clubbo San Antonio di Padova.
   Societa Porto Empedocle, Clubbo Mussomeli, Congrega Maria SS. del Ponte, Holy Name society of St. Anthony's Church, Congrega SS. Crocifisso.
    Societa Femminile Campobe11o di Licata, Congega Maria di Pompeii, Congrega Madonna di Pierno, Con-grega Feminile San Antonio, Congre-ga Dolorata and Congrega Figlia di Maria.

 

 

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Serradifalco:

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The First Visit


The Second Visit


The Third Visit


The Fourth Visit

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The Church

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The Book

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Serradifalco
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Last revision: 02 December 2013 ~ Angelo F. Coniglio, ConiglioFamily@aol.com