Mary Jane Schoor, granddaughter of Antonio and Josephine Lanasa, recently shared recollections of the beautiful Mary of the Assumption mosaic donated by her grandmother, which serves as a backdrop for our altar.
Antonio Lanasa, or "A" as he was known to his friends and business associates, emigrated from Italy with his parents in 1884, when he was 12 years old. He grew up in South Baltimore. In 1893 he returned to Italy and married his childhood friend, Josephine Sansone. Josephine and A settled in East Baltimore near Patterson Park, and the following year (1894) A founded the A. Lanasa Fruit, Steamship, and Importing Company. He was just 23 years old.
Baltimore was a busy harbor in the late 1800's, hosting three fruit import companies: United Fruit, Standard Fruit, and A. Lanasa. Lanasa became one of the largest banana importers on the East Coast. Business was good; in 1919 A and Josephine moved "up town" to Greenleaf Road, next to what is now the Homeland Three Arts Club on Wyndhurst Avenue. It was at this time the Lanasas joined St. Mary's parish. The church and school were still on Homeland Avenue, and the neighborhood of Homeland was still the Perine Estate. The Lanasas raised their nine children - five girls and four boys - in that house, which still stands today. One of those children was Mary.
Mary Lanasa graduated from St. Michael's in East Baltimore (before the family moved to Greenleaf Road) and the Institute of Notre Dame. She was married at St. Mary's in 1925 to James R. Staiti, a wholesale produce broker. They lived in Wyman Park, attended Saints Philip and James Church and raised three children, one of whom is Mary Jane Staiti Schoor.Mary Jane went through Saints Philip and James School and graduated from Western High School. She remembers conversations about the mosaic between St. Mary's then pastor, Monsignor Leo McCormick, and her grandmother Josephine, following Antonio's death in 1953.
Overcrowding at St. Mary's on Homeland Avenue and an eagerness to relocate the church to a more visible place, more central to the parish, resulted in the construction and dedication of the present edifice on York Road in 1942. By the mid-1950's the original interior was beginning to look a bit dated and tired, so Monsignor McCormick made plans to renovate. The most striking changes occurred to the backdrop of the main altar. The altar stood against a quiet curtain of blue and gold, beneath a canopy with a large crucifix suspended from it. Monsignor McCormick's idea (and perhaps Josephine Lanasa's as well) was to enliven the original rather plain design with a colorful mosaic backdrop based on a portion of the an altarpiece painted by Titian and found in the Basilica Santa Maria Glorissa dei Frari in Venice, Italy.(During St. Mary's sesquicentennial celebration in 1999, parishioner Ginny Worthington confirmed the prototype by "discovering" the original in Venice!) And so with other interior improvements, the beautiful mosaic of Our Lady of the Assumption was commissioned by Monsignor McCormick and executed by Italian artisans in 1960.
While Monsignor McCormick never mentioned the benefactor, we now know through Mary Jane Schoor, that it was indeed through the generosity of her grandmother, Josephine Lanasa, that the mosaic was created and installed. Mrs. Schoor recalls visits from the good Monsignor to grandmother Josephine, and the lengthy discussions of the mosaic that ensued. It is likely that Josephine had a substantial impact on the finished plan originally envisioned by Monsignor McCormick. Certainly her love of St. Mary, her strong faith and her loyalty to Monsignor McCormick resulted in a beautiful memorial to her beloved husband, Antonio. Being a modest, private person, Josephine just didn't think it was necessary to publicize her generosity, nor did she feel the Lanasas, particularly Antonio, would want any recognition.
Now in our 153rd year, it is apparent that St. Mary's has survived, indeed flourished, through the faith and generosity of people like Antonio and Josephine Lanasa. It is left to us - the recipients of their faith and generosity - to measure up to their trust. We are indebted to them and most grateful.
And every day we can find pleasure and inspiration in the mosaic, which in the May 29, 1960 edition
of The Bells was appropriately referred to by Monsignor McCormick as an "artistic gem of
The monsignor was right again.
From the first in a series of articles about Saint Mary and
her parishioners that will be published from time to time. The article was written by Lance Bendann.
April 15, 2002.
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