Begun over 40 years ago, the weekly Friday pizza sale at St. Anthony's Church in the Brier Hill section of Youngstown is a testament to the Italian American value of working in community. The initial idea came from Monsignor John DeMarinis, recently deceased, who saw the potential for harnessing the pizza making skills of his parishioners to help fund church expenses. Organizing a team of St. Anthony's men and women to bake the delicious Brier Hill variety was a winning strategy, for this was - and is - a popular pizza recipe that Youngstowners tout as their very own; a tasty, thick, but crispy crust and a simple tomato sauce topped with sweet or hot peppers and a sprinkling of Romano cheese.
What is a typical Friday like at the enterprising church? The dough mixers, with Mike Mancini at the helm, arrive at 4 a.m. to combine flour, water, and yeast. Soon there will be 8 to 10 large tubs of rising dough. Once proofed, the fresh dough is cut and shaped by a core of volunteers who create sweet, hot, and egg pizzas. The last is a kind of Italian quiche. At some point, Monsignor Cariglio arrives to bless the volunteers. By the time the final sale is made, the St. Anthony pizza chefs will have spread 25-30 gallons of sauce on up to 320 pizzas.
What makes creating the delicious pizza such an animated activity? Stephen and Marian DeGenaro, with over 20 years baking pizzas at the church, respond, "Our volunteers find camaraderie here. We talk about our aches and pains while we do a good work for the parish. Even the young people at the nearby St. Joseph the Provider School contributed. In fact, our hot peppers come from their students' garden."
Faced with a dwindling congregation at St. Anthony's, the Diocese of Youngstown recently merged the parish with the Basilica Our Lady of Mount Carmel, another Italian heritage church. Now, part of the combined congregation, with Monsignor Michael Cariglio as pastor of both, St. Anthony's continues to remain open with a limited schedule of services.
When asked about the Friday sale of pizzas, Monsignor Cariglio responded, "I think our volunteers have a wonderful sense of brotherhood and sisterhood and a tremendous love for St. Anthony's Church. They do it without counting the cost and with great sacrifice, Friday in and Friday out. The pizza making here is an expression of faith; it shows love for Christ's church, for Christ himself. It has many wonderful outcomes. Moreover, the pizza making keeps up a tremendous tradition. You know, the church was established in 1898, at a time when families had many children. The pizza recipe that developed here in Brier Hill was one that was economical to make, yet very delicious."
Indeed, the good work of St. Anthony's pizza makers not only supports the parish, but it benefits the wider community, as well. Many Youngstowners grew up with Brier Hill Pizza made at home. Thanks to St. Anthony's Church, and to area pizzerias, this local food continues to be widely available in the Valley.
Pizza orders are taken on Fridays, from 6 - 10:30 a.m., at 330-746-9577. Pick up is at St. Anthony's Church, 1125 Turin Ave., Youngstown, OH 44510.