Italian Homecoming: A Tale of the Bishop and the Emigrant

Joe Di Nardo, 40, is an Italian immigrant to the USA. He attends the Latin Mass at Saint Mary’s parish in Norwalk, Connecticut and this summer he traveled to Esperia, the village of his birth in the mountainous south of Italy, for the festival of San Donato.

Once upon a time, San Donato – ‘Donatus’ in Latin — was the bishop of Arezzo. According to tradition, Donatus was martyred on August 7, 362 by order of the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, his own boyhood friend.

In this REGINA interview, Joe guides us through the village feast of San Donato, and shows us a glimpse of the Faith in rural Italy today.


JOE DINARDO IN ESPERIA: “I was born in a neighboring town, where the hospital is. I lived about eight years of my life in Esperia.”


THE VIEW FROM ESPERIA: I attended school there, and can speak and write in Italian. I was baptized in the church of Saint Peter, and received my first communion there. My mom’s brothers still live there, so I visit them often.”


REGINA: What was your experience like this year?

JOE DINARDO: It was an amazing feeling being there for the festival. To know that everyone is Catholic, and to have such a public display of the faith.


“The town has about eight churches. The two major feasts are Saint Peter and Saint Donato.”


REGINA: Does your family in Italy have any idea that there is such a thing as a Latin Mass?

JOE DINARDO: I have spoken to my uncle about the Latin Mass. They really don’t understand its theology, and think it’s only really about the language, how people can understand it better in Italian.


REGINA: How has the Latin Mass influenced you as a Catholic?

JOE DINARDO:  “The Latin mass has taught me how to truly worship God, the way He wants to be worshiped. The Liturgy is centered on God instead of man. It has deepened my faith. At the same it time deeply saddens me, that the mass of all ages is treated with such contempt.”


RELIQUARY OF SAN DONATO: “While the Faith is not doing good there either, mostly from the lack of good catechesis, people still hang on to their traditions. I would venture to say they receive watered down catechesis as with most parishes. Now, of course we can blame the disaster that came after Vatican II, but even before that people weren’t explained the faith properly. The only difference is that people tended to have more faith then. “


THE REAL BISHOP DONATUS: Orphaned during a persecution, he was educated by a Christian priest named Pymenius (Pimenio); his friend and companion in these religious studies was a boy named Julian. Julian rose to the position of subdeacon;dinardo10Donatus became a lector. Saint Peter Damian would later write in his Sermones that “in the field of the Lord two sprigs, Donatus and Julian, grow together, but one will become a cedar of Paradise, the other coal for the eternal flames of Hell.”


REGINA: Do the townspeople know the story of Donato?

JOE DINARDO: I think they know about him being a bishop and martyr.

REGINA: Donato died at the hands of a power elite because he defended the Faith. Do you think it would influence the local people in their faith if they knew the whole story?

JOE DINARDO: I think it would influence people’s faith. Maybe they would realize how easily we can display our faith, and try a little more to imitate Donato’s virtues, and willingness to defend, and even die for the faith.


REGINA: Do you think that the village society of Esperia is materially different from more ‘modern’ places because of fests like this?

JOE DINARDO: I think the village society is a little different, in that they hang on to some traditions. But at the same time they too have been infected by secularism. I firmly believe that a deeper return to tradition, spearheaded by young traditional priests, can help people return to the Faith, and understand it better.


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