Friday, September 11, 2009

Vincenzo Dibennardo (Nonno Enzo)

My grandfather, Vincenzo Dibennardo (1900 – 1982), was born in Palagonia, Catania, Sicily. His father was Carmelo Dibennardo, and his mother was Agrippina Strano. It is unclear if the surname was once spelled “Di Bennardo” rather than “Dibennardo.” My mother has a diary he wrote when he was about 15 years old, where he spelled his name as two words; but if this is true, then he or the local “commune” changed the spelling. I hope to go back to Sicily soon and dig into this mystery. The problem is that finding old records in Italy can be difficult, either because they were badly recorded, lost in fires, or because the bureaucracy gets in the way. This is why I started my geneaology research with the Norwegian side of my family – it is much easier and can be done online. But getting back to the name, I did look up “Dibennardo” as a surname today in Palagonia, and I could not find anyone using this spelling; however, there are several people who spell their name “Di Bennardo.” I’m betting some of them are distant relatives. Palagonia is not that big!

My grandfather’s mother died when he was young. In those days, it was not common for a father to raise a child without a wife. His father did eventually remarry, but nonetheless, my grandfather was sent to a Salesian boarding school in San Gregorio, Catania, Sicily. His aunt was the Mother Superior of the school. I know from a letter my great-grandfather wrote him in 1914, while my grandfather was at the Salesian school, that her name was Madre Superiore Filomena. I do not know if she was his father’s sister or his mother’s sister. Filomena is also likely the name she assumed when she took her vows to become a nun. So, her identity and story are mysteries yet to be uncovered.

The Salesians were founded by St. John Bosco, a priest who cared for orphaned and poor children. In fact, St. John Bosco was my grandfather’s favorite saint for the rest of his life. I believe the time he lived at the school, Istituto Salesiano Sacro Cuore di San Gregorio, had a profound effect on him. The school, as all Salesian schools, provided an excellent education similar to attending seminary school, and prepared young boys to become priests. My grandfather was nearly ordained, but changed his mind. The picture I have posted shows him around 1920, before he was to take his vows. I am not sure, but by his dress, I assume he was a deacon for some time before leaving the vocation of the priesthood. However, his relationship with God never ended. I remember very clearly how my grandfather always prayed or made the sign of the cross before eating. I remember that he would go to Mass every Sunday without fail, even by himself. He was a quiet man who had learned Greek and Latin thanks to his Salesian education. He wrote novels and poems and played the piano beautifully. But these facts lead to more stories to tell on a future blog post!

My Nonno Enzo is buried in the Cemetery of Catania, Sicily, Italy.

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