A Gift Returned


Introduction: This blog is based on a story I wrote for Facebook last year about this time. I have elaborated on a couple of points.

NYC, 6/20/2019: Today I get to do something special. Here’s the backstory:

My great-grandfather Salvatore Urbano, a school teacher and mayor of Palermo, Sicily, killed a member of the mafia in a duel. Fearing for his son Francesco’s life, Salvatore put Francesco (who would become my grandfather) on a ship to America. Upon arriving in New York City from Ellis Island, Francesco, an Anglican, walked to Grace Church on Broadway and East 10th Street and was taken under the wing of Episcopal Deaconess Jesse Gardner.

Grace Church, Manhattan

Deaconess Gardner put him to work washing windows and ended up sending him to Phillips Andover Academy. From there, he attended Rutgers University, where he received his BA and MA. He then attended Yale and Yale General Theological Seminary, after which he was ordained an Episcopal priest.

The Rev. Francesco Giglio Urbano, 1913

During his years at Rutgers and Yale, Francesco (We grandchildren called him “Padre.”) returned on weekends to Grace Parish, a smaller church down the street from Grace, now Immaculate Conception (purchased by the Catholic Diocese), where he had an Italian ministry. According to an article in “The Churchman,” dated July 11, 1913, Deaconess Gardner had begun to take care of the children in the Nursery, mostly Italians, and their parents who, “for the most part, had ceased to care for the Church of Rome.” Padre became their minister.

Fast forward to this winter: My stepsister Teri Fitch found Padre’s traveling communion set among her mother’s things. It was a gift to Padre from the Italian Congregation at Grace Chapel upon his ordination in 1913, after having worked with them for eight years. Teri, with the blessing of my sisters Marilou Urbano Rolfe and Francesca Urbano Kerr, sent it to me to take to Grace Church, since I had this trip planned.

My grandfather’s traveling communion set

So today I take Padre’s 1913 communion set to the Rev. J. Donald Waring, Rector of Grace Church in New York. Don is expecting us and has been incredibly gracious. Gene and I can’t wait to meet him!


Don welcomed us into his study in the Rectory and had all kinds of archived goodies waiting for us, from my grandfather’s wedding record to 3×5 cards with different members of the Urbano family on them.

My grandparents’ wedding record from 10/10/1911

He had some wonderful information on Deaconess Gardner, too, documenting her work with the Italian immigrants Padre ministered to. (Deaconess Gardner had a summer home in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, across the Sound from Nantucket. My father spent many summers there as a boy, with his mother, Pauline, and brother David. I have a pair of whale oil lamps from her house in Edgartown, which was once a major whaling port.)

Don then walked us through the church, constructed in 1843-46 of unfinished marble, and the gym of the day school for boys and girls from pre-K to twelfth grade. The church has about 1,000 parishioners and is doing much good in the world.

The whole experience filled me with joy!

The Rev. J. Donald Waring, Rector of Grace Church, New York City