|The Ustica Connection|
|1915 Membership Roster of the Congregazione di San Bartolomeo Apostolo, New Orleans, La.
By Chris Caravella
The Congregazione di San Bartolomeo Apostolo, commonly known as CSBA or the St. Bartholomew Society, is an Italian-American benevolent society based in New Orleans. The society was first incorporated in 1879 by Italian immigrants from the island of Ustica, which lies in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 35 miles north of the city of Palermo in Sicily. Ustican immigrants began coming to New Orleans as early as the 1850s i and by the time the society was incorporated in 1879, there was already a sizeable community in and around the city. Most internal documentation for the society has been lost to time and today any recollection of the early make up of the society is derived from government archives and newspaper accounts of society activities. The one exception is a type-set book that appears to have been compiled sometime after 1915 and was in use as late as 1957 (as indicated by an entry in the Amendments section).
The book is a compilation of the 1879 incorporation, the 1904 re-incorporation and the 1915 Constitution and Rules. Whether the actual book still exists is not known, but it was current CSBA member, Barbara PICONE DESOTO, who passed on a photocopy to the current administration of the CSBA. The book is in Italian, in contrast to government documents which were recorded in English. This further reinforces the idea that this book was the official documentation for the society and its membership. Whereas the incorporations are also available in government archives, this appears to be the only surviving copy of the Constitution and Rules. A reference to the Constitution and Rules does occur in the 1879 and 1904 incorporations, but no version earlier than the 1915 copy is known to exist. The Constitution and Rules is a lengthy document (47 pages) detailing every aspect of the "business" of the society, which at that time essentially served as a medical and life insurance policy for its members and their immediate families. Most notable, however, is the full membership roster included with the Constitution and Rules. Whereas the officials of the early society are well-documented, this is the earliest account of the CSBA membership known to exist and rightly serves as a great source of pride for current members who can trace their ancestry back to the beginnings of this 135 year institution.
The 36 year evolution of the book from the 1879 incorporation to the 1915 Constitution and Rules yields some noteworthy aspects of the development of the society. The CSBA has never had an overly restrictive membership policy considering it is an organization based on a single town in Italy. It is a common practice in similar organizations to restrict membership by hometown origin as well as by gender, and in extreme cases to only first-born sons. This openness on the part of the CSBA was probably due to the Ustican community’s long history in New Orleans. By the time of the incorporation in 1879, many in the Ustican community were already second and third generation Italian-Americans and many had intermarried with the greater Italian and immigrant community of New Orleans. The 1879 CSBA incorporation lists as its objective
"... di unire gli itlaiani di Ustica (Italia) residenti in questa cittá in una fratellanza e Societá i cui membri esercitono l'uno verso l'atro caritá e benevolenza ... "
which translates "… to unite the Italians of Ustica (Italy) resident in this city in a brotherhood and society whose members exercise unto one another charity and benevolence ...". By 1900 that wording was amended to include
".. come anche tutti gli italiani o discendenti di italiani della fede Cattolica Romana, residenti di questo Stato ..."
which translates "... as well as all Italians or descendants of Italians of the Roman Catholic faith, resident in this state ...". This openness to other Italians is reflected in the very earliest list of society officials which include surnames like PRESTOSIMONE, VENUTO and CELENTANO which are clearly not found in the historical records of Ustica ii. Some of these "other" Italians made their way into the society by marriage although there are just as many examples of members in the CSBA with no family ties to Ustica. The 1915 membership roster, as well as the society tomb in Metairie Cemetery iii, also contain many examples of non-Ustican CSBA members.
The CSBA tomb in Metarire Cemetery showing early inclusion of non-Usticans in the society.
|The addition of the religious restriction in the 1900 incorporation may seem to contradict the argument of openness but there were circumstances within the community which made this a hot topic of the time. Prior to 1900, there were some major defections within the Ustican community to protestant faiths. Christopher RUSSO, a native of Ustica, became an ordained Presbyterian minister and actively began evangelizing his fellow countrymen to the First Italian Presbyterian Church which he founded. RUSSO lived and operated in the core of the community in the Dryades Market corridor a mere few blocks from the CSBA meeting hall iv. Likewise in 1890, Anthony PALMISANO, also a native of Ustica and community member, founded the Church of the Redeemer of Methodist denomination. Both men had large families and were married to Ustican women making their reach into the community pervasive. These defections surely were shocking to Italians so deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, and likely prompted the restrictive wording and the “pena severa” (severe penalty for defection) to be included in the official documentation of the society.
Rev. Christopher Russo
The 1915 membership roster is separated into active and honorary members. A member moved from the active list to the honorary list after 20 years of continuous participation in the society. Honorary members were exempted from the yearly $2 tax and the yearly 75 cents feast day fee but were still responsible for paying the $12 annual fee. Another notable feature of the roster are female members indicated by the word (Sorella) behind their names. Sorella is Italian for sister and in this regard is used to distinguish them from the male members of the fratellanza (brotherhood). Women were only included in the roster if they were widowed and thus covered by their deceased husband's former membership in the society.
An Abode .pdf file of the entire book is available at the CSBA website (http://www.ustica.org/san_bartolomeo “The Ustica Connection”). Please note that because the file was generated from a photocopy, the exact order of the membership pages cannot be determined definitively and there are obvious missing pages (probably filler) between the sections. Requests for translation of certain sections can be submitted to the webmaster from the website. Copied below are the list of officials from the 1879, 1904 and 1915 documents followed by the 1915 membership roster. Surnames followed by an asterisk indicate those not found in the historical documents of Ustica.
ACT OF INCORPORATION
Approved 18 July 1879
ACT OF RE-INCORPORATION
21 November 1904
CONSTITUTION AND RULES
Approved 9 February 1915
Committee for Aid to the Sick:
Below Canal St. District
List of Active Members
List of Active Members - Continued
List of Honorary Members
i Chris Caravella, "Analysis of the Marriage Registers of St. Anthony's Chapel and What it Reveals about the Composition of the 19th Century Italian Immigrant Community of New Orleans", New Orleans Genesis (April 2012): p. 129