Migration Expert Celebrates 40 Years As a Priest
Father Fugolo Was an Immigrant Himself When He Attended Seminary Here

By Leslie Palma-Simoncek
Staten Island Advance (New York)
October 20, 2007

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - The Rev. Joseph Fugolo is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his ordination, but his life as a priest began much longer ago, when he was a boy of just 13 in Padua.

Inspired by friends who had entered the Congregation of Missionaries of St. Charles, he too joined the order. The order was founded by Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini - now declared "Blessed" by the Vatican - to minister to the migrants leaving Italy following its unification in the 19th century.

"I was attracted to this kind of life," said Father Fugolo, provincial superior for the Northeastern Province and director of the Center for Migration Studies, an academic spinoff of the order that is well-respected around the world.


After studying philosophy in college in Como, he was sent to St. Charles, Seminary. He left Naples on a nightmarish voyage of 11 days aboard the Vulcania; most of the time he was seasick.

But what he remembers more vividly is the poignant scenes of a new generation of migrants leaving their families and beginning a journey whose endpoint was uncertain. He has devoted his life to those migrants, and the millions who came after them.

He knew very little English and had never heard of pizza when he arrived in Manhattan. The pizza was easy to master - "I loved it," he said - but English was tougher. It helped that the textbooks were written in Latin and he was able to take exams in Italian.

The seminary was bustling then, with 25 or so theology students and another 20 men studying philosophy.

"It was a beautiful experience," he said of his four years on the hill overlooking New York Harbor.

He requested to return to Italy for his ordination, which took place June 10, 1967 in his home town of Vaccarino.

The new Father Fugolo was assigned to a parish in Boston, where he discovered, "I could preach in English, with a nice Italian accent."

He spent eight years in the area, working primarily with Italian immigrants. This was right after "another big wave of Italian migrants" came to the U.S. as part of President Lyndon Johnson's plan to unify familes.

In 1975 he was transferred to a church in Montreal with 50,000 parishioners, most of them Italian.

"It was like being in Italy," he said. "I lost my English there."


Eleven years later, his order elected to send him to Rome as general counselor and minister of finance. In six years there, "I lost my English completely."

As a seminary student, he was part of the team that first delved into immigration studies. As counselor and finance minister, he had the opportunity to travel all over the globe as the order expanded its outreach to immigrants from everywhere.

"It was a beautiful experience being part of the transition," he said. "We had a different kind of vision, a more universal vision."

In 1993 he was appointed provincial superior for the Eastern United States, as well as Canada, the Caribbean, Venezuela and Colombia, with headquarters in Greenwich Village.


He has been on Staten Island since 2001 as director of the Center for Migration Studies and in 2005 was again elected provincial superior, a job that involves much travel.

"We are spreading out very fast," he said. The order is represented in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, South Africa, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan, nations still producing priestly vocations and emigrants.

Although he enjoys the opportunity to connect with people, the travel itself is getting old so he's looking forward to the end of his term as superior. But he does want to stay on the Island, to help develop the mission center and its eight-acre property into more of a cultural resource and to be of help to the immigrants from Eastern Europe, Russia and Mexico as they settle into neighborhoods where they are not always immediately welcomed.

"The group that comes after is discriminated against by the group that came before. It's always been that way," he said. "But I believe in migration. The world has been on the move since its inception."

The Friends of St. Charles are planning a dinner Nov. 3 to honor Father Fugolo for his anniversary. For information about reservations, call 718-351-0232.


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