St Therese Chinese Catholic Church grew out of a faith foundation unique to the history of Chicago’s Chinatown and Bridgeport neighborhoods. Formerly known as Santa Maria Incoronata Church, which was also well known for the St Rocco Devotions, this rich tradition and history of the Society of San Rocco Di Sambario continues to be integral to our parish life today.
A Brief History of the St Rocco Devotions
The Society of San Rocco Di Simbario (Italy) was officially founded in April of the year 1920 by Bruno Bertucci. He owned and operated a small grocery store at the corner of 24th Street and Princeton Avenue. It was a time when the Italian people were looked down upon and they had no one to turn to except their own.
At the age of 38, Bruno suffered from a severely-infected ulcerated leg. This infection resulted from his occupation; at the time, in order to refrigerate produce, men would have to break ice off of huge blocks using ice pics. Often, they would accidentally cut themselves with the picks, and ammonia in the ice would enter the wound.
After quite a few examinations, the doctors told Bruno that his leg would have to be amputated. Despite the terrible news, Bruno’s faith was never shaken. He fervently believed that God — through the intercession of St. Rocco, a saint known to cure the gravely ill and hopeless — would not let this happen to him.
Facing amputation, Bruno made a solemn promise to St. Rocco via a seven day novena while in the hospital. He pleaded that if St. Rocco would intercede and ask our Lord to cure him and spare his leg, he would start a society in his honor.
The Lord answered his prayers. The doctors informed Bruno that the infection was clearing up and that his condition was improving. His leg would not have to be amputated and he was in fact able to walk out of the hospital on his own. Bruno Bertucci, being a man of his word, kept his promise. He started laying the groundwork to form a society in honor of St. Rocco.
He, along with his father-in-law, John Colangelo, went from house to house in the neighborhood and into other surrounding Italian communities to form this society in honor of St. Rocco. Bruno Bertucci insisted on walking himself to talk to his “paisani.” He felt that he had to walk in order to show his thanks to God and St. Rocco for having his leg and his life spared.
In all, 117 men joined them in devotion to St. Rocco in forming this society. The Rev. John Peona, pastor of Santa Maria Incoronata Church, also was instrumental in forming the society.
In September of 1920, the Society held their first procession in honor of St. Rocco. After the procession, the Society hosted a great feast on Alexander Street. Before his 40th birthday, Bruno Bertucci fulfilled his promise to God and St. Rocco. The society grew and the feast and procession has continued every year.
The society has now entered its fourth generation, and continues to proudly carry on the tradition of honoring St. Rocco.