Fascist Group Blamed For Blast Let Off At St. Lucy’s, West Side
Windows in Church and Nearby Houses Shattered – Damage Estimated At $50,000 – Vandals Leave No Clues to Aid Police
Scranton Times, June 10, 1931
In one of the most despicable exhibitions of vandalism ever staged in the city, dynamiters early today wrecked St. Lucy’s Italian Roman Catholic church, Chestnut Avenue and Scranton Street, with an explosive charge set off near the steps leading into the sacristy.
The damage to the edifice, which was dynamited this morning a few minutes after 1 0’clock, when a blast occurred that was heard in all parts of the city, will not exceed $50,000, in the opinion of experts who made a survey of the wrecked portion of the church today.
Police, according to Captain of the Detectives Ben Gilbert, ascribe the outrage to Fascist sympathizers embittered by the dispute which has arisen between Premier Mussolini and Pope Pius XI in Italy.
"There is no doubt I my mind," Captain Gilbert said, "but that the dynamiting was committed through malice over the religious war now underway in Italy. "Whoever placed the explosive at the church door was careful to time his act so the church would be unoccupied when the blast let go."
Few Clues Exist
Although practically every law enforcement agency in the county has combined in the search for the party or parties guilty of despoiling the church property, few if any clues exist and the authorities are facing what appears to be a hopeless task in trying to run down the dynamiters.
Both Captain Gilbert and Superintendent of Police Alfred J. Rodway believe that from forty to fifty sticks of dynamite were used to cause the explosion. The explosive was placed along the foundation wall at the steps on the southeasterly corner of the building, where there is an entrance to the sacristy.
When the time fuse that was placed with the charge burned its way down to the powder there was a terrific blast. Windows were shattered for a block around and one person, Mrs. Mary Haddad, who lives on the second floor of the house at McNichols Court and Scranton Street, the nearest building to the church, was lifted from her bed and thrown to the floor by the concussion.
The explosion shattered six costly art glass windows on the easterly side of the church: broke nearly every window in the basement auditorium: knocked the granite steps into the sacristy awry: tore a water pipe in two and caused the basement to be partly flooded, and tore away one of the Stations of the Cross. Aside form the shattering of the station of the cross, the interior of the church met with no damage.
Houses Feel Explosion
Scarcely a house in the 900 block of Scranton Street escaped one or more broken window panes. The terrified residents – the church is located in the heart of the city’s Italian American quarter – rushed to the streets in whatever clothing they could grab up and the church was soon surrounded by a milling crowd of hundreds of excited men, women and children. Many at first believed that one of the huge gas storage tanks located on the river banks at Bridge Street had blown up.
A squad of uniformed police and detectives, comprising Captain Gilbert, Capt. Albert Glesaon, Lieut. William R. Jones, Sergt. George Davis and Detective John Phillips, Angelo Manno and William James arrived on the scene within a short time after the blast but the dynamiters had long since made their escape. A small piece of twisted metal at first led the police to the theory that a manufactured bomb had been used to cause the explosion, but subsequent investigation disclosed that the metal probably came from one of the broken windows.
Monsignore Francis Valverde, pastor of the damaged church, is attending a priests’ retreat at Marywood College and was not present when the explosion occurred. Captain Gilbert expects to confer with Monsignor Valverde today.
Monsignor Humberto Rocchi, assistant pastor of the church, was asleep in the parish house, next to the church, when the blast went off. After looking over the damage he discussed the dynamiting with the police officials who were on the scene, but was unable to offer any theory as to the motive.
Superintendent Rodway, basing his opinions on his long experience as a mineworker, said that sufficient dynamite was used to tear away the entire easterly side of the church. Had the explosive been place differently, Rodway declared, the edifice would have been damaged to a far greater extent.
The shattered art glass windows were all imported from Italy when the church, which is one of the most beautiful and costly in the city, was constructed in 1924. The marble used in the altar, stations of the corss and baptismal font, located in the interior of the church, was likewise brought from Italy. The Church cost approximately $250,000 and its sculptured exterior is a ting of living beauty. The art glass windows which were destroyed each depicted the life of a saint. An art glass expert who looked over the damage said that the windows con probably be replaced for about $3000 [each]. The remainder of the damage is of a minor nature and will not require costly repairs.
Freak of Explosion
As often happens in such cases, the dynamite blast took a freakish course. Two heavy wooden doors leading into the basement, one on the westerly side and the other on the easterly side of the church building were damaged in identically the same manner although separated by the heavy stone steps leading into the main part of the church. Each door had had a small chunk of wood ripped from its top.
Across the street from the church in the barbershop of L. Trovato, Scranton Street and Chestnut Avenue, a Times man counted thirteen of the fourteen windows broken. Two of the windows were large plate glass affairs and will be expensive to reproduce.
The street was deserted of pedestrians immediately preceding the explosion, from what the police could learn. Reserve Patrolman Gerard Flynn notified Captain Gilbert that about five minutes prior to the explosion he saw a Ford sedan pull away from the front of the church. Ignatz Pizzo, caretaker of the parish property, who shut off the water supply and prevented the basement from being completely flooded after the water pipe was broken, notified the police that he encountered a youth, apparently about twenty ears of age, loitering about the church property yesterday. When Pizzo started to question the youth he left in a hurry.
West Scranton fire companies were called to the church soon after the explosion but no fire resulted. Battalion Chief W. G. Thomas and several companies responded to the alarm.
The church was the mecca today for the thousands of curious persons, many of them members of St. Lucy’s parish. The latter were particularly biter over the shameful work of the dynamiters but few had any theories to offer as to what was behind the outrage. Monsignore Rocchi would not venture any opinion as to the possible local aftermath of the differences which have broken out between ecclesiastical and governmental authorities in Italy.
Last Saturday night the church was entered by a burglar who looted two poor boxes of $35.
Church bombing reported in The Scranton Times of June 10, 1931
Dynamite, so useful in the mines to blast out glistening anthracite, became a fearful weapon throughout northeastern Pennsylvania during the O’Reilly years. The lawlessness which plagued the rest of the nation during the turbulent 1930’s did not spare the Keystone State or the Diocese of Scranton. Outspoken priests and church property were often the targets of violence generated by secret societies, political organizations, or radical labor groups. The bombing of St. Lucy’s Church in West Scranton was blamed on a "Fascist group." Bishop O’Reilly decried the violence as an "advisory board" of prominent Scrantonians embarked on a campaign to collect funds to restore the church. His remarks were published in The Scranton Times of June 15, 1931. "Bishop O’Reilly, to whom all campaign contributions are to be sent, has heartily endorsed the board’s action in launching the campaign, pointing out that ‘Our American sense of justice and peace ahs been outraged by this sacrilegious act and I can scarcely find words forceful enough to condemn it.’"
Five years later in Wilkes-Barre, violence took its toll on the famous Father John J. Curran. On Good Friday, April 10, 1936, cigar box bombs were mailed to six Luzerne County residents, among them Thomas Maloney, president of the United Anthracite Miners of Pennsylvania which was a rival organization to the Untied Mine Workers, James A. Gorman of Hazleton who was a member of the Anthracite Conciliation Board, and 70 year old Michael Gallagher, sexton of Father Curran’s St. Mary’s parish cemetery. While some of the bombs were intercepted, the dynamite intended for Mr. Gallagher exploded and killed him instantly. Other victims of the Good Friday violence were Thomas Maloney’s four-year-old son who died on Saturday, April 11, and the labor leader himself who succumbed to his injuries on the following Thursday. The horror of the bombings and a fire in the rectory so upset him, that Father Curran suffered a heart attack on Monday, April 13; it was one from which he never fully recovered. He died the following November.
ANTI-FASCIST BLASTS PROBED
Italian Consul and Wife Injured In Pennsylvania; Catholic Church Is Wrecked
The Norwalk Hour, Norwalk, Conn., Wednesday, November 11, 1931
Scranton (AP) – The home of the Italian consul, Chevalier Fortunato Tiscar, was wrecked by a bomb early today. The blast blew both the consul and his wife from their beds and showered them with debris. The consul was cut and bruised by the falling plaster. His wife suffered from shock.
Police officers looked upon the bombing as the fulfillment of reports that Anti-Fascists disturbances would accompany the visit of foreign minister Dino Grandi to America. Signor Grandi is expected to reach New York today.
Tiscar is Italian consul for Northeast Pennsylvania. He has live in Scranton for 35 years.
Damage amounting to $50,000 was done when a blast wrecked St. Lucy’s Catholic Church.