Italian Heritage Photo and Pompeii Church Exhibit

Always one of the most viewed and most commented upon attractions at Festa Italiana is the Italian Heritage Photo Exhibit that will appear in the new Miller Stage area.


When witnessing the thousands of people who annually view the vintage photo exhibit, expect to see a wide range of emotional reactions. You will see tears from some upon viewing a photograph of a deceased family member or relative they so loved and cherished. You will see smiles from others when they see a photograph from years gone by of their mother, father or grandparents at work or in a military uniform or enjoying themselves at a picnic. You will certainly see many people conversing with each other as they view the vintage photos and recall the good-old-days.


For younger generations, the exhibit gives them an opportunity to see what life was like for their ancestors – from the living conditions years ago, to the type of work they performed, and the experiences they had.


This year, our collection of more than twenty-five hundred photographs of families, street scenes and the places of business of Milwaukee’s early Italians will be showcased in the vintage photo exhibition at Festa Italiana, Friday, July 20 through Sunday, July 22.



St. Rita’s, The Little Pink Church

If you are of Italian ancestry and living in the Milwaukee area, it’s likely that your family story, like most, is rooted in the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Church.  Affectionately known as the “Little Pink Church,” it was the heart of the Italian community in Milwaukee’s Third Ward in the first half of the 20th century.  As the population expanded into the city’s First Ward, the church established the Saint Rita Mission with the intent of building another church and a parochial school for Italian children.  Between 1936 and 1939, through difficult economic times, these two congregations realized their dream of both church and school in St. Rita of Cascia on the corner of Cass and Pleasant Streets.  Shortly after the completion of St. Rita’s, another Italian church was forming in West Allis.  Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish was established, and the first mass was celebrated in September of 1939.  All three of these communities were served by the Scalabrini Fathers of Saint Charles Borromeo, and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joan Antida.


Since the earliest Festas, the story of Milwaukee’s Italian immigrant has been told through religious artifacts and historic photographs.  The Italian Heritage Exhibit, a two-part exhibit, will continue to feature the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Exhibit with statuary and art from our Italian societies and our Italian churches, including St. Rita and Mt. Carmel.  The second part of the Italian Heritage Exhibit contains our Historic Photo Collection.  From the thousands of photos donated to the ICC collection emerges a window into the past. Visitors get an appreciation of the courage it took those determined individuals who left Italy and Sicily in order to make better lives for themselves and their children. These photos capture their devotion to faith, family, and the citizenship that helped them achieve the American Dream.


Change is a constant in our American cities as migration and urban development transform the landscape and the neighborhoods. This renewal in Milwaukee has impacted our Italian churches. In 1967 the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Church was razed for the freeway expansion; St. Rita School had its last graduation in 1987 before merging with Catholic East Elementary; Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church closed its doors in 1998; and currently the St. Rita property is in development. Many of these changes have created devastating losses to Milwaukee’s Italian Americans.


Capri Sponsorship


Festa Italiana is proud to announce Capri Senior Communities as the sponsor of this year’s Italian Heritage Exhibit.  Tarantino & Company, part of the Tarantino Family of Companies along with Capri Senior Communities, is developing the current St. Rita properties into St. Rita Square, a senior living community with independent living apartments, assisted living apartments, and a memory care unit.  A new St. Rita Church, which includes a walkway to the residential buildings, is a highlight of the development.


James Tarantino, founder and principal of Tarantino & Company and Capri Senior Communities, was drawn to this project because of his strong family connections to St. Rita and the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii.   Fr. Tim Kite, Pastor of Three Holy Women Parish which includes the East Side churches of St. Rita, St. Hedwig, and Holy Rosary, found an enthusiastic collaborator in Tarantino, sharing a vision for the future of the St Rita properties. Previous partners have described Jim as a developer with a heart, drawing on his deep sense of faith, his devotion to family, and his commitment to creating community. “We are both proud and grateful for the faith on which these churches were built, and we believe in creating something for future generations that honors the history of this community,” said Fr. Tim.  The new church, that Tarantino’s team is designing, incorporates design elements from the former Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Church, and stained-glass windows from the current St. Rita Church building.  The new church will integrate the art and sacred objects from both churches.


More than a year ago when the project was announced, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett commented on the perfect partnership between Fr. Tim and Jim Tarantino.  “This is a project created out of faith and love,” reflected Barrett. “We have an individual with strong Milwaukee roots who is not only investing and creating economic development in the neighborhood where he grew up, but he’s also honoring his heritage and the church he loves. Projects like this make Milwaukee a better place.”


A display from Capri Senior Communities will be a part of the Italian Heritage Exhibit.  Representatives will provide information and updates on the St. Rita Square Development and the new St Rita Church.

Join Holy Crucifix Society in this Year’s Procession

        If your family history includes the Holy Crucifix Society, join this year’s procession following the Festa Italiana Mass.  Honoring their parents and grandparents, families of former members will once again participate in this year’s procession.  Find the Holy Crucifix vara after mass, and be a part  of keeping this tradition alive.


Looking for Festa Italiana Pictures – Past and Present

The Heritage Photo Committee is seeking photographs that capture the memories, the highlights, the pride and the passion of 40 years of Festa Italiana in Milwaukee.  We welcome photographs that date back to our first Festa in 1978, or our 40th Festa just last year, or some time in between.  We will display some of the photographs at Festa Italiana 2018 as part of the Italian Heritage Exhibit, and we intend to create a gallery of poster-size enlargements to grace the walls in the Bocce Room.


We are asking members to submit photos sharing special Festa memories, particular those photos that capture spontaneous, heartfelt moments – moments spent with family and friends, moments celebrating the music, the people, the food, the culture, and the spiritual experiences that symbolize Festa Italiana.  Countless memories have been made at Festa Italiana – allow us to display those cherished memories at the Italian Community Center.


Send either a high quality photograph or digital photo.  We are going to enlarge your photograph to a size ranging from 11 x 17 to 24 x 36 inches.  The possibility of using your photo will depend on the quality of the photo or scan that you submit.


If you have digital pictures, please send scans in a high-resolution JPEG format to Christine Conley at


Mail photos to:

Italian Community Center

Heritage Photos

631 E Chicago St.

Milwaukee, WI 53202

Attn: C. Conley


Please include:


  1. Name, phone number and email address of the person submitting the photograph.
  2. The people shown in the photograph.
  3. The year (or approximate year) the picture was taken.
  4. What event, show, procession, booth is shown in the picture, if it may be unclear.


By submitting your photo, you give the Italian Community Center  permission to use your photo in displays or publications of the ICC or Festa Italiana.


We look forward to sharing your memories.


Last year we prepared a slideshow of weddings and U.S. Military. We are in the process of creating additional slideshows for our studio portraits of adults and children. These photo shows allow us to include everyone who donated a photo to the exhibit.  Our collection continues to grow, and space prevents us from exhibiting every photo.

Weddings –la storia d’amore

We have taken all of the beautiful wedding photographs and transformed them into a heart-warming slide show of vintage wedding photographs, some taken 60 or more years ago. The warmth and nostalgia of these photos will no doubt touch the hearts of those who stop to enjoy the slide show – the photos portray love, promise, joy, family and friends. They are timeless. The love they felt and the anticipation of a long, happy, healthy marriage are no different than the hopes and dreams of those who marry today.

Our Servicemen

A second poignant slide show will be devoted to Italians and Italian Americans who served in the military. As guests see their faces, we hope they will feel a sense of gratitude and respect for their service, and appreciate that those soldiers considered themselves to be both Italian and American as soon as they arrived in the United States, and they fought proudly for our country, and for our freedom and our future.



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