All of the talk about sunken ships recently caught my attention. I discovered that April 2012 will be the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Something peculiar about the date caught my attention when I realized that not only was the sinking on the day of my husband’s birthday but also the year of my great-grandmother Maria “Theresa” Fabiano’s arrival to the United States. When I checked the date I discovered that the landing of my great grandmother’s ship on Ellis Island was in May 1912. Her ship, the Duca D’Oasta, crossed the Atlantic from Naples, Italy. I can’t help but wonder if her boat had touched the same ocean at the same time as the famous ill-fated vessel. Theresa was a 29-year-old single woman who immigrated to America in search of a future. As a peasant, she most likely did not have the First Class comforts and travelled in steerage. Her occupation was listed as a “house servant.” From what I can determine she came alone. Although there were several others listed on the manifest from her village. What she experienced on that voyage is forever lost. But we do know that her vessel did not sink and so I am here today, along with my numerous ancestors, cousins, and descendants.
Her difficult journey did not end at Ellis Island. She married my great-grandfather, Francesco Salvatore, within a year. She had a son who died as a small infant. Family members say that her broken heart weakened her immune system because soon after she contracted polio and lived in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. On the US Census she is listed as “crippled.” From the wheelchair she gave birth to my grandfather, my great aunt, and great uncle. At least two of my great grandmother’s brothers immigrated before and after her. One lost his arm in a machine accident. The other was a shoemaker. They all settled in an infamous part of Niagara Falls, NY. It was infamous because later the city had to change the street name in an effort to change the area’s reputation.
I thought it appropriate to share some of my Fabiano family history today as January 20 is the feast day of St. Fabian in the Roman Catholic Church! I have no idea if there is any relation as St. Fabian died in the year 250 AD. Also the name Fabian in Italy is about as common as the name Smith. What is interesting about St. Fabian is that he was a layman who was made a Pope by an interesting sort of miracle. He was a farmer on a visit to Rome during a papal election when a dove landed on his head. Now when I have been to the beach I have had seagulls try to do their business on my head; but this was quite different back in 250 AD for St. Fabian. The people around him were amazed as the dove reminded them of the Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus. St. Fabian was immediately recognized as “worthy” and elected Pope.
His term was known for peace. However his reign ended after Decius became Emperor. St. Fabian was martyred during the persecution of Christians and is buried in the catacombs of St. Callixtus. My family and I have had the opportunity to visit the catacombs in the past and I remember seeing the inscription of “Fabian” there.
We can look at these histories and say that they were all ill-fated. But on another level they were filled with opportunities and even blessings. The Titanic sunk, but no one has stopped talking about it and its known passengers are forever immortalized in stories. My great grandmother was a poor peasant who was confined to a wheelchair, but gave me and my family life. St. Fabian, although martyred, helped to organize the early Church in Rome. These are all great examples of the wavy seas that life might bring to each one of us.
Stick around and I will eventually tell you how I am related to The Three Stooges!