World War II was over and men from all over the world were returning to their cities and homes for a time of peace. Ottawa was no exception Many men In the Italian community returned with a renewed spirit to create a Legion. One of these men Dominic Disipio, suggested to his wife Mary that the wives should also get together to form a group to support their men in this Legion effort.
In September 1948. approximately 10 women met this challenge However, for various reasons, the men’s attempt to form a Legion failed but the spirit of the ladies endured. Since the ladles had no legion to support. Fr Jerome Ferraro of 51 Anthony’s Church seized the opportunity He approached the women with the suggestion that they become a group with the mandate of aiding the Church, St Anthony’s school and the Community. As more and more women heard about the group, their numbers grew The aptly named ST ANTHONY’S LADIES AID was born The first “Madame” President was Eleanor Menchlni Guzzo
The ladles started meeting once a month on Sunday afternoons but as most of the women were In the ir twenties with small children, this time frame proved to be impractical They later moved their meeting to Thursday evenings and eventually to the first Wednesday of each month
The once-a-month meetings became the high point of these young women’s social lives The meetings were held at 9:00pm In order to accommodate their children’s bedtime and would last until well after midnight Though the meetings were mainly held to serve their parish, school and community. a social network was formed where long lasting friendships were born. They supported one another as a sisterhood of neighbours and friends through births, deaths, marriages and personal strife. They had the added bonus of having an evening away from their domestic lives.
While most church groups met in the confines of the church, this group chose to meet In homier surroundings. The basement of Mary Disipio’s home at 77 Norman SI. became their new headquarters and was affectionately known as “THE CAVE” The name was coined by a visiting Archbishop from Montreal who attended one of their meetings. In his broken English he stated that he enjoyed meeting with the ladies in their cave The ladles loved the name and it stuck The ladles continued to meet in ‘THE CAVE” for 45 years setting up a roster as to who would set up. provide the coffee, fruit, bread and wash the china cups after the meeting. The meeting format In “THE CAVE” was forma l in the early years The group was governed by strict rules and adhered to by the Executive The Executive was comprised of a “Madame” President Vice-President. Secretary, Treasurer and Ways and Means Coordinator Some of the early rules were
“A fine of 5 cents was payable for a missed meeting
“Miss three meetings and you were “out”
“No woman was eligible for membership If she were divorced or separated
In September 1993 they moved to the Church meeting room on Booth Street. Today, the Ladies Aid follows a constitution and continues to be governed by an Executive Most notable “Madame” presidents include Tina Costantini. Mary Stillwell, Viola Buccino, Lena Cuccaro (25 years), Ruth Licari, Jennie Prospenne and Marilyn Legari .
The Ladles were dedicated to their Christian values and Outreach Programs The group was steered In this regard by several Chaplains These were Fr Jerome Ferraro, Fr Andrew Carriere, Fr Marcel Brodeur and by chaplain Fr Paul McKeown The Chaplains regularly attended meetings and provided their guidance and prayers In support of the ladies’ accomplishments . The annual St. Anthony ‘s Day procession was a big highlight The men who earned the Ladies Aid banner In front of the ladies always considered It to be an honour One of their benefactors, Lorne Kelly, carried that banner for numerous years A mural of “Lorne and the Ladies” can be seen under the Preston St overpass Another important person to the ladles was Angela Licari who was an avid supporter, friend and perennial guest speaker at their celebrations
As much as the ladles accomplished in outreach they also enjoyed each other’s company Having grown In age and life experiences together, they socialized on many trips and events These Included a trip to St Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. a Centennial year trip to Expo ‘67 in Montreal, a visit to the Senior’s Complex of Villa Colombo in Toronto, to Montebello to celebrate their 45th anniversary as well as shopping expeditions to Watertown, Syracuse and New York They celebrated many wedding and baby showers together A child of a Ladies Aid member was sure to get the infamous wedding gift of a “vacuum cleaner” Early on the ladles formed a bowling league at Queenston Lanes on Preston Street and later at the Kent Street Lanes For every celebratory occasion there was always food fun. laughter and reminisces as well as rewrites of old songs to be sung
While the Ladies Aid is now enjoying their 60th year together other anniversary celebrations have taken place over the years. The first was the 10th Anniversary in which a banquet and dance was held at the Convention Hall of Lansdowne Park. The next and most exciting was their 25th which took place at the prestigious Chateau Laurier. This caused quite a stir With the ladles who prepared for the big evening by forming a “Dieting Group” so as to fit Into, what was for many, their first ballroom gown
Today, though the demographic around St. Anthony’s Church has changed and the ladles may no longer be physical neighbours, they continue to share a 60 year bond as members of the Ladies Aid Some have been with the group for 55 plus years and many represent multi-generations. In 2008 there are 45 members some of which are mother, daughters, granddaughters, sisters, and cousins
May the sisterhood bond of Christian charity faith. good works Italian ancestry and fun continue as a reminder of all the Ladies Aid members who have gone before.