BY ALBERT AMATEAU | The parish of Our Lady of Pompeii said goodbye last week to Brother Michael LaMantia, who died Fri., Sept. 27, after 51 years as a brother in the Scalabrini Order and nearly 40 years at the parish in the heart of Greenwich Village.
At his wake on Mon., Sept 30, and at his funeral the following day, hundreds of friends spanning three generations paid tribute to Brother Michael, who died of cancer at the age of 72.
In a moving eulogy, his youngest brother, Jim LaMantia, recalled sitting at Brother Michael’s bedside in the hospice where he spent his last moments.
“Just look around this church and you’ll see his legacy,” LaMantia said.
Father John Massari, former pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii, spoke of Michael’s devotion to the church.
Brother Michael LaMantia.
“I have to say ‘Thanks’ to Brother Michael. He was always ready to serve, to do what people needed and to do what I asked him,” Massari recalled.
A year ago, on the 50th anniversary of his entry into the Scalabrini Order, Brother Michael told The Villager about his family life in Chicago where he was born, the fifth of eight children, on Aug. 9, 1941, to Walter LaMantia and Rose Pullano. He wasn’t baptized until July 4, 1942, because the family was waiting for his godfather, Uncle Michael, to come home on furlough from his service in the Pacific during World War II.
“My father was born in Pittsburgh and my mother was born in Chicago,” he told The Villager last year. “My father was a butcher and we had a grocery store at one time. My grandfather bought a house near the White Sox stadium on the South Side,” he said.
Michael went to public school, “but we were more religious than the kids who went to Catholic School,” he recalled. “I can still see my mother ironing my shirt for church. It was always white shirts and ties for church.”
As a boy, Michael had a calling for religious life and transferred from public school to Sacred Heart Seminary to finish high school.
“I became close to our parish priest, who was a Scalabrinian,” he told The Villager.
The order, Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, was founded in 1888 by Bishop John Scalabrini of Piacenza, Italy, to minister to the thousands of Italian immigrants to the New World. The order now serves newer immigrants from all over the world.
After graduating from high school in 1960, Michael entered the newly opened novitiate of the Scalabrini Fathers in Cornwall, N.Y., and took his first vows on Aug. 23, 1963. At Cornwall, Michael took charge of the kitchen, cooking, buying provisions and cleaning the house.
“I learned to cook watching my mother at home,” Michael said last year. His reputation as a cook made the Cornwall novitiate a destination for Scalabrini priests from the region.
But the Scalabrinians had to give up the house in 1968, and Michael was transferred back to the Scared Heart Seminary in Chicago where he had gone to high school. There he took his perpetual vows on Aug. 23, 1969, and was transferred to Our Lady of Pompeii in the Village. It would remain his home except for a brief sojourn in Toronto in 1974 when he ran the kitchen of the Scalabrini House. The then-pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii asked the order to send Brother Michael back to the Village to take care of Our Lady of Pompeii.
In 1971 Brother Michael helped organize the Golden Age Club, which served meals to the elderly. He prepared 200 meals a week for Golden Age, which expanded in 1975 to become the Caring Community, a coalition of Village institutions serving lunches to the elderly.
Over the years, Brother Michael organized and led pilgrimages to Italy and to shrines in the U.S. and Canada. He was also active in the Clinical Pastoral Educational Program at Cabrini Hospital, visiting the sick and giving communion to Catholic patients. Those programs, of course, were in addition to taking care of Our Lady of Pompeii, the shrine church of the Scalabrinians.
Celebrating the funeral Mass on Sept. 30 were Reverend Heitor Castoldi, regional superior of the Scalabrinians, Father Walter Tonelotto, current pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii, and Father Massari.
In addition to his brother, Jim, he is survived by two other brothers, Rafaelo and Frank, and a sister, Yvonne Puleo.