Woodland Avenue Reunion

A unique gathering took place recently at St. Noel Parish Hall in Willoughby Hills. It was a reunion of classmates of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grade School and residents of the E. 110th and Woodland Ave. neighborhood. It was a magical afternoon as the years melted away and everyone was suddenly young again as they traveled in time back to the ‘hood.’

The first Mass celebrated at OLMC was at midnight on Christmas in 1939. Bishop Schrembs had appointed Father William O’Donnell the first pastor, assisted by Fr. William Sullivan. Four Sisters of the First Holy Trinity maintained the church building and taught Catechism. In 1950, the Sisters of Notre Dame were part of the re-dedication from a fire the year before.

Russ Davis, class of ’56, is the brainchild of the reunion event. I asked him why he began it. “The projects and neighborhood of W. 110th and Woodland were a close-knit community. At OLMC we were baptized, confirmed, made our First Holy Communion and Confirmation there. Many were married there. I began this to bring everybody from the strong, Italian neighborhood together; to find out who’s doing what; where everybody is and where they moved to. This is the 4th and perhaps final time we’ll be doing this.

The first one was in 2012 and we had 575 attendees at DiBorelli’s. Since then, we average 350. We’ve donated over $13,000 from our events to the Sisters of Notre Dame and St. Ignatius.”

Frank Piunno has been to all four of the reunions. “The event is great. You get to see a lot of old people, friends, a lot of kids you grew up with...” Sister Diane Piunno, his real-life sister and a Sister of Notre Dame, interrupted him and said, “We’re not OLD, we just know how to live!” Frank then quipped, “I don’t see any black hair anywhere.”

Davis remembers when Fr. William O’Donnell was the parish priest. He took altar boy Davis aside and said, “You’re a good Catholic boy. Stay away from the Italians; they’ll get you in trouble.” Well, Davis, like most of us from the ‘hood’ got into some sort of trouble wherever we went to school. When I asked Davis, who claims to be Irish, how he ended up being Italian by default he answered, “I’m a victim of the neighborhood.” He said when someone at school needed to be blamed for something he was always ‘thrown under the bus.’ But I bet his classmates will tell a different story.

Although this writer was from a neighboring parish and different grade school, I certainly enjoyed the reunion and the camaraderie that was shared by all. It was a first-class event!
Sullivan is an internationally-published writer and contributor to La Gazzetta. He resides in Northfield Village.