Mark Squilla’s Mom, Aunt Graduate High School

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by Maria Marlino
It was the 1930s in the city of Philadelphia. Rosina Squilla and Rickie Descano, Mark Squilla’s mom and aunt, had yet to arrive.
The first experimental television station, W3XE, was founded by the Philco Corp. The cheesesteak was just created.

FROM LEFT, Rosina Squilla and Rickie Descano, Mark Squilla’s mom and aunt, don graduation caps as they receive an honorary Baccalaureate from Hallahan HS. Photo by Maria Marlino

FROM LEFT, Rosina Squilla and Rickie Descano, Mark Squilla’s mom and aunt, don graduation caps as they receive an honorary Baccalaureate from Hallahan HS. Photo by Maria Marlino

Over 135,000 Philadelphians were jobless due to the Great Depression. And numerous bootleggers and judges ignored the Volstead Act, which was enacted to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment, which established prohibition in the United States.
But that didn’t stop a pretty young teenager from crossing the Atlantic to live with her big sister who was already here and established. Her name was Nina and she was fresh out of an orphanage. As a toddler, her mother died.
When her father remarried, the new wife convinced her husband to let the nuns take care of his children. She wanted to go into the convent but had no dowry to give the Sisters. After her long journey, she wound up at 8th & Morris Streets. She was greeted by her sister who had already made plans for her – marry her off to a man 23 years her senior!
After meeting three times, the wedding occurred and soon seven children followed, Henrietta (Rickie), Rosina, Angela, Yolanda, Dominic, Juliana and Josephine. The girls slept three to a twin bed. When her husband died, Nina was only 40 years old and her youngest was five years old.

ROSIE and Rickie don graduation caps  for their honorary Baccalaureate at Mass in the Chapel at Hallahan HS. Photo by Maria Merlino

ROSIE and Rickie don graduation caps for their honorary Baccalaureate at Mass in the Chapel at Hallahan HS. Photo by Maria Merlino

Remembering how her own father abandoned her, she never remarried but instead worked three jobs to support her family, including selling cleaning products out of her home for which she won an award. Her two eldest girls, Rickie (Descano) and Rosina (Squilla), a senior and a junior at Hallahan High, found themselves in a quandary.
Just before their father died, he implored them to quit school to help the family. Rosina was upset and Rickie was more pragmatic but they did what their father asked of them. Time marched on.
Sixty years later, the girls became women who married, had families, jobs and also saw their siblings graduate high school. They were productive, actually were employed by local schools and yet this sense of lacking and inferiority formed a dark cloud over their happy lives.
“We all knew they weren’t able to finish school for economic reasons,” said Rocco Palmo, a nephew and son of Juiliana.
Palmo is a Roman Catholic commentator and Whispers in the Loggia blogger.
“I remember hearing a story at the Archdiocese about a grandmother who wanted a diploma before she passed away and it was given to her.” said Palmo. “I thought what not do the same thing for my aunts?”
Hallahan High School was more than happy to issue honorary diplomas. But Palmo wanted to do something more. So he arranged for a surprise greeting by the student body and an honorary Baccalaureate.
“Sixty years later, they are ambassadors to the school,” said Palmo. “It was really a healing moment. It was through the beauty of the Christian faith and community that bore the tremendous fruit of their sacrifice.”
The Nina Pennachietti Family Fund, a mission to assist young girls and women in need as they begin their new journey in life, is a charity set up by her children. For more information, go to the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Chiettis

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