Santina DeSimone arrived in New York harbor in May 1921. She was gaunt, having been seasick for most of the voyage from Sicily. Her sisters, Maria Concettina and Anita, and her mother, Vita, were worried that she would end up in the Ellis Island infirmary, like her brother Peppino. They were terrified one of them might be sent back. As soon as Peppino was released, they were met by their uncle, who brought them to his apartment on East 61st Street.
New York was an exciting place to be in the early 1920s. The family was settling in, and Santina was preparing for her pending marriage, arranged by her brother in law. One evening a young Italian man with a trunk appeared on the street below. He was going door to door selling garments for a trousseau. Santina's sisters brought him upstairs, and began rummaging through the lingerie, giggling as they quickly examined and tossed the items between them. The young man, who spoke a Northern Italian dialect, told them to stop, admonishing them to handle the clothing with more care. Then Santina told him about her prearranged marriage, and how she was anxious about what amounted to being a "mail order bride."
He looked at her. "You don't have to do that," he said. "I'll marry you."
"Marry me? Why me?" Santina asked. "Why not one of them?" She told her sisters to sit down next to her, together on the sofa. "Well, which one do you want to marry?" she asked.
"You," he said pointing to Santina. "I want to marry you."
The young man, Luigi Guatelli, had been in New York since 1913. He came from the mountain village of Caneso, a frazione of Bedonia, where his family were contadini. An older sister, Luigia, and her husband were the first members of his family to emigrate in 1900.
A week after meeting her, Luigi invited Santina to go to the movies. As they walked down the street, Luigi turned and saw, at a discreet distance, twenty paces behind them, an entourage - sisters, uncles and aunts, and Santina's mother - following them.
"Oh, no," he said to Santina. "We don't do this in America. I'm just going to have to marry you right away." And that was that. It was their first and only date.
Luigi and Santina Guatelli were married in the chapel of Our Lady of Peace Church on 30 April 1922.
Except for a brief interval in Brooklyn and Detroit in 1923 and 1924, the couple lived in the Upper East Side neighborhood for the rest of their lives, in various apartments on 61st Street, 2nd Avenue, and 65th Street. In the 1950s, they took up residence at 245 East 62nd Street - the building next to Our Lady of Peace Church.
The church was the focal point for all the major events in their lives. Their youngest son and daughter were baptized and all their children were confirmed at Our Lady of Peace. Their daughter, Jean, and granddaughter, Janice, were married there, and their great-granddaughter, Kellie, was also baptized and confirmed at the church.
Toward the end of his life, Luigi - now Louis - Guatelli volunteered to watch the church. He was a natural guardian: from his apartment window, he had a perfect view of Our Lady of Peace. When he died in 1967, his funeral was held there. When their eldest son, John L. Guatelli, a corporate vice-president of Diamond International, died in California in 1982, a memorial mass was held at the church. Santina died three years later on 9 April 1985. At her her funeral mass at Our Lady of Peace, her granddaughter Susan, a former member of the New York City Opera, sang the "Ave Maria."
The Guatellis are survived by two children: their son, Sante E. Guatelli, an accountant, who served as an altar boy in his youth; and daughter, Jean C. Dooner, who remains an active parishioner at Our Lady of Peace. Jean's husband, Thomas A. Dooner, who died in 2010 was also an active parishioner, attending mass every day at the church. The descendants of the Guatellis include eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. Granddaughter Janice Dooner Lynch, Esq., and her husband Thomas F. Lynch, and their daughter Kellie Jean Lynch remain active parishioners.
Through the years and every year, Sante and Fay Antonucci Guatelli faithfully sponsor masses at Our Lady of Peace in memory of their parents on their birthdays and anniversaries, and in memory of Sante's older brother, John.
Sante and Fay Guatelli celebrated their 60th Anniversary on 11 September of this year. Amid the festivities at their Diamond Anniversary party, they signed the petition to save Our Lady of Peace Church.
The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Santina and Luigi located from New York to California, and relatives in Italy all signed the petition to save Our Lady of Peace church online at The Petition Site.
Mariangela Calzetta, the great-niece of Luigi Guatelli, who lights candles and continues to bring flowers to decorate the village church in Caneso, Italy, wrote on the petition: "Per favore, in questa società che va sempre più in degrado, cerchiamo di mantenere i punti fermi e di riferimento che ci hanno dato i nostri genitori e nonni. Grazie di vero cuore."
-Photo of Santina and Luigi Guatelli courtesy of Jean C. Dooner and Janice Dooner Lynch