“We give you and the priest three days to leave, but if you refuse, after that the house and the church will be blown up with dynamite,” was the substance of an unsigned letter received Monday morning by the Sisters of St. Lucie’s Italian Catholic Church, on Chestnut Street, West Scranton.The Sisters informed Father Dominic Landro, the priest of the parish and he sent word to the police. Superintendent Day detailed a cordon of his men last night and the night before to guard Father Landro’s home, which adjoins the church, to make sure that the threat would not be executed. The Sisters live up over the church. The police are pursuing an investigation into the identity of the writer of the letter, who will not write any more such for term, if he is landed.
In the neighborhood of the church members stand guard themselves with arms, and it will not go well with the conspirators if they do any loitering or attempt any of their diabolical work.
On Sunday there was a meeting of the men of St. Lucie’s congregation [The Trustees*], to raise money to cancel some of the debt of $7000 that has hung over it for five or six years. The meeting broke up in a row. Some wanted a change of priests, and that caused the trouble. The letter of the following morning is regarded as a sequel.
In the interest of peace and law abiding citizenship, the suggestion is here made to Mayor Dimmick that he institute an early and effective police raid upon Italians who go about loaded down with knives, stilettos and revolvers. In New York city only a week or two ago the police rounded up four hundred in one day, every man of them armed, and the magistrates metered out swift justice, sending some to Sing Sing for three or four years.
There are many thoroughly good Italian people in Scranton, but there are also a large number who know not what the meaning of liberty is, and the minute they set foot in this country and get enough money to visit a hardware store, one of their first purchases is a deadly weapon, and it is prized as one of their closest possessions.
There is a deep-rooted provincial hatred among the uneducated classes. A man from Sicily will pick a fight with one from Calabria for no other reason than that he is from Calabria. In their own country the Carabinieri, corresponding to the secret service in this country, keep strict watch on suspects, and at the first sign of violation of the law there is but a short step to the prison cell.
Fr. Landro is spoken of by all as a man of profound character, learning, deep piety and amiable charm who know him. His greatest aim is to cultivate a reverence for religion and law among his people. When St. Lucie’s congregation was established, thirteen years ago, he was appointed the first pastor by the late Bishop O’Hara. He was there sever years. He organized a sisters’ school for the children, where they would be taught, first of all, adoration of God and respect for the American government. The sisters, there being six of them now at St. Lucie’s can speak English. They are members of the Sacred Heart Order. No charge is made for tuition and books are supplied free. The membership of the school at present consists of more than three hundred.
Six years ago Father Landro was transferred by Bishop Hoban to Hazleton. Fr. Sbrocca, who was pastor at St. Lucie’s most of the time since, got discouraged at the turmoil among the people, and when he got an opportunity last June to go to a quieter place he received the permission of Bishop Hoban and Father Landro was transferred back to West Scranton.
So as not to give offense by appeals for money, Father Landro has put up with many hardships. His salary is hardly ever paid in full, and frequently not at all, or in such small amounts as to be little more than nothing.
But the debt could not go on unpaid forever, so he sought the men [the Trustees] to hold a meeting to see what could be done. The meeting, last Sunday, was in a fair way to arrive at something practical, when a disturbance committee got busy and threw out broad hints that a different priest would be most desirable.
Fr. Landro is not scared by the anonymous threatening letter. Neither are the sisters. They said they place their trust in God, and feel confident He will protect them. But at the same time, in this glorious country, it is regarded as an outrage that the “Black Hand,” or “Mafia,” should be so bold as to require the hand of Providence for protection of innocent people, when the doors of the penitentiary should yawn for those who even presume to take vengeance on their brethren.
The police will not relax their espionage around the church. It is to be hoped that the conspirators shall soon be caught and dealt with to the full limit of the law.
There is no room in Scranton for a bomb thrower.
* Under the Trustee system, a group of lay people would petition the bishop for a pastor to work with them establish and build a Catholic parish. However, the Trustees controlled the building of the parish church and rectory, held the deeds for the parish buildings, signed all contracts, paid all employees including the priest, and controlled all the finances of the parish and its societies or sodalities. The system often led to tensions with the pastor who was in effect an employee of the Trustees even though appointed by the bishop. Often the personality and parish vision of the pastor clashed with the Trustees, especially if the Trustees objected to the content of the pastor’s preaching. The system was also inherently flawed with various forms of corruption such as granting contracts to Trustee family members, kick backs, and other unethical schemes. Then there was the pressure of organized crime that tried to infiltrate the Trustee System and profit from church monies. Also, the Trustee System sometimes split parishes in factions as each member vied for support and power. Large parish families could dominate the Trustee System and often did. Although many Trustees were devout and honest, the system itself had too many problems to continue. From the late 1800’s to the 1920’s the bishops in the United States ended the Trustee system. Today, the bishop holds all parish deeds and the pastors administer the parishes.
June 10, 1931
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.