The Comboni Missionaries honored Frank Salerno at its annual dinner dance on Nov. 24 at Alta Villa Banquets. (708-354-1999) Proceeds from the event will benefit Water With Blessings.
The organization submitted the following articles:
On July 4, 1940, twin boys were born in Marano Principato, Calabria, to Raffaele and Annunziata Salerno. One of those twins was Francesco Salerno. When he was 13, he traveled to America with his father in the hopes of making a better life for their family. His mother and two brothers stayed behind in Italy.
After the pair arrived in Chicago, Francesco lived for a time with an uncle in Highland Park while his father stayed with another uncle in the city. Francesco took a job as a caddy to earn money for the family and cooked and cleaned for his aunt when she fell ill.
When he was in high school, Francesco took a job over the summer at the United States Tobacco Manufacturing Co., planning on returning to school the fall. But when September came, he stayed on at the company, working full time to help his father save enough money to bring the rest of their family to America. Little did Francesco know that his job with United States Tobacco Manufacturing would turn into a 41-year career.
Francesco went to night school and rose through the ranks, working every department as a foreman. In the late 1980s, he was promoted to general foreman, and in 1991 to plant superintendent in charge of all manufacturing, working in that position until he retired in 1998.
Concerned at one point that the tobacco industry might go into decline, Francesco decided to learn a trade. Inspired by his twin brother, who was a barber, he traveled by bus every day after work for two years to attend barber school. But the tobacco industry continued to grow, and so he worked both professions. He was a fantastic barber, working for many years on weekends. Today, he still has four customers: his grandsons!
After 18 years of living in America, Francesco decided to go back to Calabria to visit. While traveling with a good friend, he met a young lady names Rita. After speaking for several days, they got to know each other well. When Francesco asked her if she would like to travel to America with him, she said “Yes!” with a big smile. On Feb. 5, 1972, Francesco and Rita were married. They became the parents of three children — Graziella, Francesco, and Mario — who in turn gave them five grandchildren — Nicolas, Matthew, Francesco Jr., Jack and Milania.
Francesco has been a constant volunteer in the Italian community, both before and after retirement. He became a member of the Italian American Civic Organization of Berwyn and the Calabresi In America Organization, serving as treasurer of CIAO for the last 10 years. He also has been involved in Società San Francesco di Paola and their Festa della Famiglia at Casa Italia since their inceptions.
The Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus are proud to honor Francesco Salerno, a truly dedicated public servant and volunteer, as this year’s recipient of the Spirit of St. Daniel Comboni Award.
Water With Blessings
Water is something that most North Americans take for granted. We turn on the tap, and there it is. We drink it without a second thought. It refreshes us and sustains us. When we go to the store, we have access to fine mineral water, flavored water, water filled with extra vitamins. We may take comfort in knowing that 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, although most of it is salt water and only a small fraction is fresh.
The reality in the world at large, however, is that 1 billion people currently suffer deficiencies in water access, and much of this life-sustaining liquid is not fit for consumption.
In 2017, on the 150th anniversary of the Comboni Missionaries in the North American Province, the Combonis established a fund to be used for special mission projects. The first goal was to raise money to send 150 water filters to refugee camps in northern Uganda where more than 1 million South Sudanese had taken refuge. The Combonis partnered with Water With Blessings (WWB), a nonprofit run by Ursuline Sister Larraine Lauter in northern Kentucky that provides water filtration systems to those in need.
Within two months of launching the project, the Combonis had collected enough donations to purchase 500 water filters, with the La Grange Park Comboni Mission Center providing $10,000 from donations made at the 2017 Dinner Dance that honored Rose Mary Ranallo.
In January, representatives from our North American Provincial Office in Cincinnati travelled to the refugee camps in Uganda, hand-delivering the water filters. The filters are portable, about the size and weight of a bottle of soda, and they come with a hand-knit cover. Through their experience providing clean water to vulnerable and developing communities throughout the world, WWB knows that distributing filters is just the beginning.
The filters must be distributed as part of a comprehensive program that educates people about their use, the dangers of untreated water and the need for water filtering and storage systems that prevent recontamination. To this end, the WWB recruits women (called “water women”) who pledge to provide water for their own families and two others of their choosing. It is often the role of women with children under the age of 5 who shoulder the burden of providing water for their families, and it is young children who are among the most vulnerable to water-borne diseases.
In June, the La Grange Park Comboni Mission Center organized a mission trip to Uganda led by the Rev. Chris Aleti. While in Uganda, they visited a refugee camp and were able to understand the impact these filters have had first hand.
These are people who thought the world had forgotten them. Virtually without possessions, they now have the greatest gift, the gift we are given at baptism, the life- and soul-restoring gift of pure water.