A Tale of Two Noble Families

“They who are noble, plan noble things, and on noble things they stand.” Isaiah 32:8

Two householdsboth alike in dignity…” The prologue of Romeo and Juliet

A controversial statement by a top administration official centered on the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants into the country. The official minimized and limited the welcome by saying it is about “people coming from Europe” and that America is looking to receive migrants “who can stand on their own two feet.”  This motivated me to tell this simple tale of two noble families.

This summer my husband and I went on a “roots” trip to research the Francovich family history. After the trip, I put together a book about his paternal grandparents, Antonio and Antonietta Francovich and their son Aldo who immigrated to the US in 1923 and became US citizens. It was a rich experience of seeing their home city, Albona, Italy which is now Labin, Croatia.  After a wonderful vacation on the Adriatic in a beautiful place, I wondered why they would ever leave.  History shows their community went through a lot of political and economic upheaval as part of the Venetian and Austro-Hungarian empires and Italian fascism. Antonio served in the Austro-Hungarian Navy, but after the WW1, he couldn’t find work and the Golden Doors of Ellis Island were open to immigrants (although anti-immigrant and isolationist sentiment were growing.)

Antonio Francovich’s ship arrival is noted in the New York Times for October 1, 1923: “7,000 Aliens Due Today: Ten steamships arrived from Europe with 13,146 passengers including 7,781 in steerage. The liner President Wilson arrived from ports in Piraeus, Naples and Trieste.  Immigrants were taken to Ellis Island yesterday from the steamship President Wilson and it will be about a week before all are examined. The customs officials had a heavy day, as they had 5,365 cabin passengers landed on the piers and had to keep inspectors and appraisers crossing the Hudson in motor launches.

The Francovich family didn’t come from money and they weren’t professionals, but they certainly did not receive public assistance. Antonio was a stonemason and had worked in the US as a single.  When the family settled together in Brooklyn, they lived with Antonietta’s brother’s family on one floor of a rented house. Eventually, Antonio found a job as a building superintendent in the Bronx and worked until retirement.  They did stand on their own two feet with the help of their family and their strong character as hardworking people.  Their son Aldo went to Columbia University where he got a degree in mining engineering and married Agnes.  Their sons James and Allan were the first generation born in the United States.

In Croatia there are hundreds and maybe thousands of people with the surname Francovich, and some bearing the name were noble families with palaces and villas. My husband James was amazed to discover the commonality of the name, because he only knew the Francoviches in his own family. With his humble nature, he didn’t like the title of the family history I wrote: “A Noble Family.” We had a lot of discussions about what is a “noble” family.

There are two definitions of noble to consider: 1) belonging to a hereditary class with high social or political status; aristocratic and/or 2) having or showing strong character qualities or high moral principles and ideals.

After translating an Italian newspaper clipping, I found that Antonietta and her brother Giovanni De Rossi belonged to a Mutual Aid Society for Workers. Antonietta helped refugees and those who suffered in WW2 by sending hundreds of care packages. After her death, the society paid tribute saying about the Francovich/De Rossi families: “They did not belong to a rich family, because when they had more than they needed, they gave it to others.” This is a true definition of a noble family.

Antonio, Antoniette and Aldo Francovich

We have a missionary friend, Lydia Sanchez (name changed to protect privacy) from El Salvador who is part of our extended family.  Her country was devastated by civil war from 1980-92 claiming 75,000 lives. The daily stress of murder and deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by government death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations led to many people fleeing the country.

Lydia’s mother encouraged her young adult children to leave because even though they would be far, they would be alive and safe. Lydia stayed to help raise the remaining young children and worked as a counselor. Her sister Mary and her husband immigrated to New York.  Mary worked as a maid at first and then they delivered newspapers.  Lydia says, “They had a baby daughter and took her along the delivery route wrapped in the silver solar blanket like those used on the border for immigrant children.” These were hard times settling in a new country, but eventually Mary and Marcos became US citizens, got jobs driving metro buses and have children in university.  Although members of the family live in the US, El Salvador and Australia, they work to keep faith and family unity with visits and reunions.

Lydia always felt a mission calling, so when the family was settled, she moved to S. Asia where she has served for almost 20 years. One brother she helped to raise now lives in Australia and he and his church help support Lydia’s ministry. The Sanchez family has stood on their own feet,  with the strength of their faith, character and love for family.

It’s heartbreaking that in recent years her family living in San Salvador have been terrorized by gangs who kill, rape, and ravage.  Nearly 20,000 Salvadorans were killed from 2014 to 2017. Lydia’s mother, who had moved to live with Mary’s family in New York, took frequent trips home to El Salvador to bring care packages to distressed family and friends. She leads her family with generosity and gratitude, an example of noble character.

“She dresses with strength and nobility, and she smiles at the future. She speaks with wisdom, and on her tongue there is tender instruction. She keeps a close eye on the conduct of her family, and she does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children and her husband stand up and bless her. In addition, he sings her praises, by saying, ‘Many women have done noble work, but you have surpassed them all!’ “Charm is deceptive, and beauty evaporates, [but] a woman who has the fear of the LORD should be praised. ” Proverbs 31

Practice: Pray for Peace and an End to Violence. Take time to pray through this prayer adding your own personal prayers

“O almighty and merciful God, Lord of the universe and of history. All that You have created is good and your compassion for the mistakes of mankind knows no limits.

“We come to You today to ask You to keep in peace the world and its people, to keep far away from it the devastating wave of terrorism, to restore friendship and instill in the hearts of Your creatures the gift of trust and of readiness to forgive.

“O Jesus, Prince of Peace, we pray to You for the ones who have been wounded in these acts of inhuman violence: children and young people, old people and innocent people accidentally involved in evil. Heal their bodies and hearts; console them with Your strength and, at the same time, take away any hatred and a desire for revenge.

“Holy Spirit Consoler, visit the families of the victims of terrorism, families that suffer through no fault of their own. Wrap them in the mantle of Your divine mercy. Make them find again in You and in themselves the strength and courage to continue to be brothers and sisters for others, above all for immigrants, giving witness to Your love by their lives. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Practice: Family/Group Litany. Use the following litany in small groups and family prayer ©Fran Pratt franpratt.com Used with permission:

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