The San Felese Society of New Jersey had its beginnings in the small rural Appenine village of San Fele, Italy in the 1850’s. It was during this time that Basilicata, the Italian State in which San Fele is located, underwent a transformational deforestation under the direction of the government of the last of the Bourbon Kings. The traditional enterprises of wood harvesting and herding in the region were replaced, as the forests were depleted, with tariff protected wheat farming. Shortly after the Bourbon Dynasty was overthrown in 1861, the government was replaced by the House of Savoy and the new government ended the protective wheat tariffs. The ensuing economic collapse of the agricultural community of the region was the primary stimulus for the mass immigration of millions of rural Italians especially to the United States between 1880 and 1915. No region of Italy has experienced greater per capita immigration than the highlands of Basilicata. The small village of San Fele has been cited in a number of reference works as an example of the degree and impact of that immigration.
The Society was originally founded as
the “Unione E Fratellanza San Felese” in 1902. On March 24, 1902, Trenton
citizens who were former natives of San Fele called a meeting, the purpose of
which was the organization of a society for mutual advancement and special
contact. As a result, on April 10 of the same year, the Unione e Fratellanza San
Felese was founded. Those founding members were Gerrardo Radice President and
Antonio Colucci, Carlo Sisti, Donato Radice, G. Carnivale, Gius Russo, Gaetano
Bruno, R. Radice, Vito Massari, M.Collucci, Antonio Pulone, A. Russo, Antonio
Pittaro, F. Digiacomo, Michael L. Vito, V. DiLorenzo, Frank S. Lanza, F.
Tanzioni, Sabastiano Tanzoni, Donato Lorenzo, Michael Lorenzo, G. Massari, M.
Plestico, V. Bruno, M. Bruno and M. Radice. We are proud of a history of support
of community and of the families that make up our membership.
The San Felese Society of New Jersey
continues to be dedicated to the fraternal support of the San Fele community of
New Jersey, to appreciation of Italian-American heritage and its contribution to
American culture and to the preservation of the community’s American
The Society’s records indicate that the first San Fele to arrive in New Jersey did so in 1862. Records identify that both Carlo Sisti and Vito Frascella took up residence in the City of Trenton within that year. Ocean passage from the port of Naples to New York took just over 40 sailing days. It is believed that most San Fele immigrants traveled overland from San Fele to the neighboring town of Bella and there caught the train that ran along the coast to Naples. The rail line that extends from Bella is among the oldest in Europe having started in 1815. Our records further suggest that despite language and cultural issues immigration from San Fele was very directed and organized from its beginning. As a result, subsequent arrivals clustered in three major locations, central New Jersey from the 1860’s, New York City from the 1850’s and Buffalo, New York starting from the early 1870’s. Immigrants from San Fele largely avoided becoming “lost” in the great expanse of America and were able to arrive and settle in close proximity to others from their “hometown”.
Documents retained by the families of the earliest of these immigrants demonstrate that these individuals arrived already comfortably literate and not as the uneducated peasants as is often portrayed of Italians. The Society’s review of the village’s census records reflects that many of these first arrivals were middle class individuals from either business or educated professional backgrounds. The village while geographically remote and isolated has historically maintained a fine primary educational system. The village’s primary school is often referred to as a regional magnate school which educated children from beyond just the immediate district. In fact, the mid 1800’s to late 1800’s saw a number of San Fele natives achieve notoriety beyond the village’s confines. Several examples are identified from this period. Justin Jacobis a priest of the Order of St. Vincent De Paul made Bishop and appointed Apostolic Vicar by the Pope to Ethiopia. St. Justin died of illness contracted while imprisoned for his missionary work in that country in 1860. St. Justin was made a saint of the Church in 1975. Others include Vincent Jacobis, St Justin’s brother, who became Prior of the Certosa of Naples Transeant In Exemplum, Francesco Stia General in the Italian National Guard and two Faggella brothers, attorneys, who became Federal magistrates in Rome . The traditional San Fele appreciation for education carried over from Italy in their descendants in New Jersey who frequently are among those recognized as the first Italian Americans or Americans’ of Italian descent in many fields of endeavor in the State.
In the past several years the Society has seen a resurgence of interest among its constituents in tracing and understanding their family history and the history of the village of San Fele. Toward furthering that active interest the Society sponsored its first ever group trip to San Fele in April of 2006. Information and experiences obtained on that trip were incorporated into the Society’s literature annually placed on display at the Italian-American Heritage Festival held in September in Mercer County. The Society’s display had the honor of being visited by Gov. Corzine in 2006.
Presently the Society hosts regular meetings at the American Legion Post in Lawrenceville every other month and also arranges a number of social gatherings and family events throughout the year. Of late the Society has been active in raising contributions to several charitable endeavors including “Boy’s Town Of Italy”.
In May, 2007 members of the Society traveled to Buffalo New York to attend a gathering of descendants of San Fele who reside in Western New York. For many it was the first contact among families that separated in search of the American dream almost 150 years ago. Please visit the San Fele Association of Western New York's website to learn more about this active association.
As part of the Society’s continuing educational efforts we have created this Web page in order to reach out to the community and provide a heritage resource moving forward. For those wishing more information or those interested in joining the organization may do so by completing the following application. Enrollment is open to all those who have an ancestor originating in San Fele, Italy.
Our Society records indicate that the following San Fele surnames are represented in the immigration to New Jersey:
Andriacci, Biase, Bochicchio, Brenna, Bruno, Caputo, Carnevale, Cella, Colucci, Delorenzo, DeVito, DiGiacomo,
DiLeo, Deluccio, DonDiego, Donofrio, Fagella, Faggella, Fasanello, Ferrara, Frascella, Fuccello, Galella, Gerardi,
Giallella, Giannini, Graziano, Lanza, Lorenzo, Massari, Muccia, Naples, Nicchiarico, Nichiarico, Papa, Pascale, Pesce,
Petrino, Pierri, Pinto, Pittaro, Plestico, Pulone, Radice, Ricigliano, Rossi, Rubino, Russo, Silvestro, Sisti,
Sperduto, Stia, Tafaro, Tanzioni, Tanzoni, Tarangelo, Tomasulo, Vitelli, and Vitella
© San Felese Society of New Jersey