Father Demo Square

Father Demo Square

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Father Antonio Demo (1870-1936) was born on April 23, 1870, at Lazzaretto di Bassano in the province of Vicenza, Italy. His study at the diocesan and Scalabrinian seminaries was twice interrupted by mandatory military service. Father Demo immigrated to Boston to do missionary work in 1896 and arrived in New York to serve as assistant pastor of Our Lady of Pompei a few years later. In 1900 he was appointed pastor of the church, whose magnificent Italianate building stands northwest of the park at the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets.

As pastor, Father Demo was respected for his excellent organizational skills: record-keeping, establishing church groups, working with local charities, and raising funds. Under his leadership, Pompei expanded its liturgical music programs, opened a day care center, and held its first bazaar. In addition to serving as a spiritual counselor to his parishioners, Father Demo was active in social services -translating documents and conversations, finding jobs, making loans, aiding in the immigration process, and writing personal recommendations. His spiritual care was exemplified by his hard work and generosity of spirit in response to the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, which claimed the lives of 146 female employees on March 25, 1911.

In 1923 Father Demo learned that Sixth Avenue (now the Avenue of the Americas) was to be extended from West 3rd Street south to Canal Street to route traffic to the trans-Hudson River Holland Tunnel then under construction. Our Lady of Pompei’s building stood in the middle of the proposed street bed of Sixth Avenue. Father Demo organized the campaign to buy another property and to build a new church, rectory, and parochial school. Under the direction of general contractor and architect Matthew Del Gaudio, the cornerstone of the new building was laid on October 3, 1926, and the church was dedicated two years later, on October 7, 1928.

In 1935 Father Demo became Pompei’s pastor emeritus and superintendent of its parochial school. He died in 1936 in New York, and thousands of parishioners and friends, including Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, paid their respects to their beloved pastor. In 1941 the public plaza southeast of Our Lady of Pompei was improved by the Manhattan Borough President and named in memory of Father Demo by local law. Attended by numerous Greenwich Village, Italian, and parish groups, the dedication ceremony included the singing of the national anthem, speeches by city authorities, a parade to Washington Square Park, and a memorial Mass at Pompei.

Fifty years after the cornerstone of the church building was laid, parishioners arranged for an inscription to be engraved on the base of the central lightpole in Father Demo Square. The site is assigned to Transportation and maintained by Parks. As in traditional town plans in Italy, Father Demo Square is a piazza - an open space surrounded by buildings and a gathering place for its community.

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