From Sicily to New York, the life of Vincenzo Sellaro and the birth of the Italian-American cause

Oct 04, 2022 385

Among the contributions to improving the condition and reputation of Italians in America that are wrongly less remembered is unfortunately still that of Sicilian physician Vincenzo Sellaro, co-founder of the first Italian hospital in America and Ordine dei Figli d'Italia in America (now the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America).

The Sicilian doctor, a native of Polizzi Generosa, was remembered by the founder and past president of the OSDIA Rome Chapter, Carmelo Cutuli, during the press conference "Italian Americans Today. Over 100 years of friendship between Italy and the United States" held this morning in the Sala Caduti di Nassirya at Palazzo Madama (Senate of the Republic), on the occasion of the visit to Italy of the American leadership of this organisation.

"Vincenzo Sellaro was born in the second half of the 19th century in Polizzi Generosa, in the province of Palermo, and, visibly gifted with great intelligence, was encouraged by his family to continue his studies, culminating in a degree in medicine from the University of Naples. Immediately after graduating, Sellaro emigrated to the United States, settling in New York, where he completed his specialisation courses at Cornell Medical School, thus obtaining a licence to practise medicine in New York State, where he opened a private practice at 203 Grand Street in Manhattan's Little Italy". Past President Cutuli explained in his speech.

"Here Sellaro treated hundreds of Italian immigrants, who were often poorly cared for in the city's hospitals due to the language barrier between patients and medical and nursing staff. To overcome this serious drawback, Sellaro set up a committee of bilingual doctors. One of the solutions he found to overcome this drawback was to establish a hospital where Italian was spoken. Funds were raised, mainly from Italian-American mutual aid societies in New York, and the Columbus Italian Hospital was completed in 1902, with Sellaro as head of the gynaecology department. Sellaro later joined the American Medical Association, where he conducted medical research, as well as establishing a school for midwives under the auspices of the New York Board of Health."

"In 1904, Sellaro conceived the idea of uniting all Italians in America into one organisation. His project took shape in June 1905 during a meeting convened in his home, which was followed by other meetings until the establishment of the Sons of Italy, later called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America, of which Sellaro became the first National President. In 1922, he was awarded a knighthood by the Italian government for his help to the Italian American community and for founding the Ordine dei Figli d'Italia in America. In 1928, Governor Alfred E. Smith presented him with the keys to the city of New York in recognition of his medical and social contributions to the community."

"We are honoured to receive, after many years, the visit of President Robert A. Bianchi and the delegation of the top leadership of OSDIA and the Sons of Italy foundation. Relations with the Italian segment of American society, represent, at this time more than ever, a vehicle of great importance for the promotion of the Italian language, art and culture, and we will therefore continue to cultivate and develop this relationship of friendship, in order to strengthen ties with our compatriots in North America."

The Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA) represents the oldest and most established organisation supporting American citizens of Italian descent, a community of reference for approximately 26 million Italian Americans. The organisation has been present in Italy since 2020, the year in which the Rome Chapter was founded. Among its activities, it promoted the birth of an additional Chapter in Palermo, named after the founder of the Sons of Italy, Vincenzo Sellaro. At the meeting, moderated by the Director of Radio Parlamentare, Cristina Del Tutto, held this morning in the "caduti di Nassiriya" hall of the Italian Senate, in addition to National President Bianchi and the past president of the Rome Chapter, Cutuli were present: Paolo Quattrocchi, co-founder and vice president of the Rome Chapter of OSDIA; Justin Smith, Administrative Director of OSDIA in Washington DC; Angelo Deiana, president of Confassociazioni; Gianni Lattanzio, president of Confassociazioni international."

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