For nearly thirty-five years, Al Montesi has been a legend at
St Louis University. Generations of students have courted him and have immortalized him in their memoirs. letters, tributes, even novels (see John Coyne’s “The Legacy”). Recently a permanent fund of $10,000 was established at St Louis University, the A.J. Montesi Achievement Award, given each spring to the university’s most promising creative student.
Mary Lynn Broe “Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary
Catholic American Writing.” Greenwood Press, 1989
“Italians in Memphis,” by Al Montesi
His latest book is a memoir of the struggles of his people when they first came to America. It also includes a short Bio of Montesi.
“Italians in Memphis,” by Al Montesi, is to be released in late April
As a prefatory note, he writes:
My primary reason for tackling this material is to honor the courage by which the immigrant Italians overcame the distress and hardships they encountered after first arriving in America. My second purpose was simply my students, whether in Germany, Africa, and the USA. They have hounded me for years to do a bio of my life. The short account of my own life, whether in Memphis or Saint Louis University,appearing in “Italians in Memphis,” will have to do.
Here are a few paragraphs from “Italians in Memphis.”
Italians at the “Sunnyside Plantation”
They then took boats up the river to Sunnyside. The contingent contained 98 families. However, it was not long before these newcomers became acutely aware of the miserable conditions they found themselves in. The water was impure, tree stumps were rotting in pools of stagnant water, their homes were shacks with no screans on windows; there was no extra work to be had. Mosquitoes were everywhere, and the malaria they carried took several lives. They were not only brutalized by their living conditions, but cheated by the company store and its management. Then too there was a language barrier betwen the owners and the immigrants. Their claims of mistreatment and deplorable conditions were totally ignored. They soon realized that they had been duped, that all of the agent’s promises for a better life were false. Moreover they found that they were virtually prisoners of Sunnyside.
Al Montesi, Sister Hyacinth, and Catholic Nuns
However, there was an occasional rebel nun, a Sister Hyacinth, who was very instrumental in my development. She was a merry nun and a beautiful one. She was the first to direct my reading to poetry, which she loved dearly. But she was rebellious in her stand against many of the rules of her own order. She was dainty and daring, and even wore nonstandard shoes that must have been specially ordered for her small feet. How she put up with my shenanigans I”ll never know. But on several days, I behaved in her class rather badly. Although I kept the whole class in stiches by some of my antics, the order and the decorum of the class was broken. But she seemed to take pleasure in my antics and let me have my way several times. I often wonder what happened to this lovely lady. Years later when I taught classes at a Catholic university, I was exposed to some bright and personable nuns, but none as charming as Sister Hycinth.
To order a copy of “Italians of Memphis” or connect with Dr. Al, please send an e-mail to Montesi@MilwaukeeRenaissance.com and we’ll get things rolling.