Rediscovering Bona’s Past

Margaret Carney, OSF Features

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — In a recent speech delivered on Alumni Weekend, St. Bonaventure University President Sister Margaret Carney told the story about her successful search to find the family of the founder of the university, Pamphilo da Magliano, OFM, in Assisi, Italy.

One year ago, Sister Margaret received an e-mail from a woman from Italy whose name is Laura Pietrobattista. In the e-mail, she indicated that she belongs to the family of Pamphilo da Magliano, who was the first president and founder of St. Bonaventure University. She said that the family sought information about the college he founded because they knew little about it. Pamphilo labored in the U.S. only 10 years and during that time, he founded the university, the Immaculate Conception province and two congregations of Franciscan Sisters — the Sisters of Allegany, N.Y., and the Sisters of Joliette, Ill. He then returned to Italy.

Sister Margaret returned a message to Laura Pietrobattista, but heard nothing more. “I assumed that the international e-mail did not connect,” she said. This May, the sister left campus on her way to lead a pilgrimage in Assisi, Rome, and in the birthplace of St. Bonaventure. “I went early because I had a mission to find that family,” she said.

She convinced Andre Cirino, OFM, of the Immaculate Conception Province, who has an expressed interest in Pamphilo’s life, to help her. “Inspired by many conversations I had with Dominic Monti, when we were a team three years ago, I wanted to see if we couldn’t raise up Pamphilo’s contribution and heroic sacrifice as our founding president. I had nothing to go on but the e-mail address and the name of the village,” said Sister Margaret.

The pilgrimage leaders, Andre Cirino, OFM, and Sister Ann Bremmer, OSF,  a recent graduate of the Franciscan Institute, and Sister Margaret set out in a car from Rome, and after one or two wrong turns they found the little town of Magliano Dei Marsi, about the size of Allegany, where they came across a postman. “I showed him the name and asked him if he could tell me where this family lives. He indicated a nearby street and gave me some directions. I went to the street and after several knocks on several silent doors, I noticed an elderly woman sweeping off her stoop. I approached her and asked, ‘Signora, can you help me. I am looking for the family Pietrobattista.’ With a shocked look she said, ‘It’s my family.’ And she pointed to a brass plaque over the door — Vincenzo and Maria Pietrobattista,” said Sister Margaret. “Feeling as though I was about to faint, I said, ‘Signora, I am the president of St. Bonaventure University.'”

The woman invited the trio into her home, located her daughter Laura, who had originally tried to reach the university, and over the next three hours Sister Margaret met 20 members of this family, who, responding to cell phone calls, came from near and far — three generations of them. They insisted the visitors sit down to “pranzo” to dinner, and began to show their treasures — Pamphilo’s textbooks, an oil portrait of him sent from America and a marble plaque on the house announcing the place of his birth.

After dinner, the visitors were taken to the local friary and on the front was a bronze monument showing a map of the United States, over which was superimposed Devereux Hall and the words in Italian: “To the honor of Pamphilo da Magliano, son of this town, founder of St. Bonaventure University, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Conception, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany and the Franciscan Sisters of Joliette.

Laura wanted to know why it had taken so long for Sister Margaret to visit them. “Laura, we had no idea you were alive,” Sister Margaret responded. Laura said that her family has preserved his memory for a hundred years.

The most elderly of the family remembered the 100th anniversary of St. Bonaventure University because the president, Thomas Plassmann, went to the village and held a daylong festival.

“I made two promises to them: that I would bring the leaders of the university to Magliano to visit the home of Pamphilo and that I would bring them to America to see this university. And I intend to keep both,” said Sister Margaret.

After returning home, Sister Margaret discovered that her colleague, Edward Coughlin, had recently received from his mother a letter preserved in the attic of a dear friend, a handwritten letter from John C. Devereux, son of Nicholas Devereux, inviting a good friend from Elmira to a ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the university on Aug. 20, 1856. “I am convinced that these ancestors in faith, these ancestors of discipline and devotion to this university are not far from us at all,” said Sister Margaret.