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The Founding of Our Lady of Pompeii

Our Lady of Pompeii Church in the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II

On March 7th, 1898, Our Lady of Pompeii Church was incorporated as a separate parish.  This South Village icon has been serving the neighborhood since 1926, but Our Lady of Pompeii has been a part of the Village since 1892.  In addition to serving the neighborhood, Our Lady of Pompeii also has a connection to a pair of our dearly departed favorite South Villagers who have been on our mind a lot lately, Lucy and Lenny Cecere.

Our Lady of Pompei from the corner of Minetta and Bleecker Streets. Photo courtesy of the Center for Migration Studies of New York.

The Our Lady of Pompeii church that stands today was designed by architect Matthew W. Del Gaudio and constructed between 1926 and 1928.  But the parish had several prior homes. In 1890, it began in a building located at 113 Waverly Place, as part of the Saint Raphael Society for the Protection of Italian Immigrants, under the leadership of Father Pietro Bandini. Father Bandini named his chapel there “Our Lady of Pompeii.” He worked to help the many Italian immigrants adjust to their new lives in America. By 1895, the Society moved to 214 Sullivan Street, but fire forced them out and they moved to an existing church at 210 Bleecker Street. This church was originally built in 1836 for the Unitarian Universalists, but was sold to the African American Roman Catholic congregation of Saint Benedict the Moor in 1883. There had been a significant African-American population in the area around Minetta Street, but as the century was coming to a close, they began moving further uptown, and Our Lady of Pompeii parish acquired the property and moved in on May 8, 1898 under the leadership of Father Antonio Demo (the square adjacent to the church now bears his name).

Father Demo Square with Our Lady of Pompeii in the background.

Our Lady of Pompeii also has connections to two outstanding South Village individuals GVSHP hopes to see honored.  Lucy and Lenny Cecere lived and owned a home and business on the block of MacDougal Street between Houston and King Streets for decades. They were cornerstones of their community and contributed immeasurably to the life of their neighborhood. Lucy co-founded the Caring Community and helped save the Village Nursing Home from closure in 1975. She was also a founding member of GVSHP’s South Village Historic Preservation Advisory board, a lifelong parishioner at Our Lady of Pompeii Church, and an indefatigable advocate for her community.   Lenny ran the retail space on the ground floor of 51 MacDougal Street, turning it into a store called “Something Special,” selling doughnuts, bagels, candy, greeting cards, and eventually renting mailboxes and copying keys. He became a beloved and widely-known fixture in the community, whom countless Villagers, famous and every-day, came to rely upon for essential services in their daily lives. Lenny was also an active member of the Father’s Club at Our Lady of Pompeii School, and a member of the Knights of Columbus and American Legion posts in Greenwich Village.

Something Special. Image courtesy of Ephemeral New York.

GVSHP has proposed that the block of MacDougal Street between Houston and King Streets receive an honorary secondary street renaming as “Lucy and Lenny Cecere Way.”  The proposal for the honorary street renaming will be heard at Community Board #2 on Thursday, April 5 at 6:30 pm (location TBD). To help, plan to attend the meeting on April 5 (we’ll share the location when available) and sign the petition supporting the honorary “Cecere Way.”

UPDATE: The proposal was approved and the street renaming adopted and installed in 2019.

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