This is the story about how a multi-generational friendship and chance encounters have resulted in the recovery of the long-lost Mt. Carmel church bell, albeit green and weathered.
The 800-pound 2 X 2 1/2-foot church bell will be reacquainted with the Patchogue community next Saturday, Sept. 18, during Patchogue’s St. Liberata Italian Festival.
Robert Affenita, the owner of All County Block & Supply, will mount the bell to one of his trucks from which it will ring for the first time in over 50 years.
Affenita will tow the bell — parade-style — during the festival, where attendees may donate to cover the costs for him to build a new housing for the bell.
Upon completion, the bell tower will be on display on the grounds of the “new” Mt. Carmel Church on North Ocean Avenue in North Patchogue.
“As soon as I have it mounted for the parade, I’m taking dimensions to send to my engineer,” Affenita said of the bell. “I would hope to have this maybe started this fall, hopefully finished possibly over the winter, before the spring. Father Henry sent me an idea of what he would like it to look like.”
a testament to friendship
Affenita came into possession of the bell about a year ago, after spotting it in the backyard of a life-long friend, Roy Monaco. He said was unacquainted with the history and the significance the bell held for Patchogue’s Italian and Catholic community.
Instead, he and Monaco saw it as a symbol of the friendship they inherited from their fathers, Richard Affenita Sr. and Louis Monaco Sr.
“My father and his father were best friends in business from back in the ’60s, Affenita said. “My father made precast concrete and dry wells and things of that nature, Roy’s father was a drainage contractor. In doing business they formed a very tight bond and friendship, so I know Roy and his brothers and sisters.”
After hauling it to his business, Affenita hoped to display the bell on his Bayport property in honor of two generations of friendship.
“We’re family friends for a very long time,” Monaco said. “Robert had the idea of making this little monument to my father and his father with a plaque.”
this bell gets around
So how did the century-old bell travel from Patchogue to Monaco’s yard in Bellport?
In 1968, Louis Monaco Sr. and his company, Patchogue Drainage, were the demolition crew for the original Mt. Carmel Church on Main St.
“Naturally, he had the salvage rights of the bell and he held it for this many years and never got rid of it,” Roy Monaco said of his father. “The original reason he took it was because my mother asked him to. They both grew up in Patchogue.”
From Louis Sr.’s home, the bell was housed in the garage of Roy’s grandfather’s West Avenue in Patchogue home before making it to Roy in Bellport about a decade ago.
Even up until a few weeks ago, Affenita planned to turn the bell into a lawn ornament as a testament to their familiies’ friendship. But after learning more about the bell’s history, Monaco said the plans changed.
“What me and Robert [Affenita] are doing — on my father’s behalf — we are donating it to the church.”
change of plans
About a month ago, Affenita said he visited Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri at his office. His daughter, Natalie, and her fiancé, Eric Moosbrugger, had recently purchased the Cedar Avenue home that belonged to Pontieri’s mother since 1946.
After answering some questions Affenita had about the property, Pontieri showed him black-and-white photographs of the area and the pair discussed local history.
That’s when Affenita remembered Louis Monaco, as he passed away 14 years ago to that date. He asked if the mayor was familiar with the name, which he was.
“I said, ‘funny story, his kids gave me this brass bell,'” Affenita said. “He fell back in his chair, I thought he was gonna fall over. He said, ‘Don’t even tell me, you have the bell?'”
“I kept looking at him asking, ‘You have the bell?’ Mayor Pontieri said. “The hairs on my arms stood up.”
Pontieri said his grandfather, who had a construction company, was one of the community members who funded the purchase of the bell and likely transported it to the church from Brooklyn. Pontieri’s uncle, Richard Romeo, is his last living relative who attended the Italian church, and the bell is frequently discussed at their family gatherings.
“I called him up about it and he was just thrilled,” Pontieri said of Romeo. “It’s always been this little side conversation, how it ever comes up I don’t know but it’s always in the back of my mind, what ever happened to the bell?”
After he and members of his family came to see the bell, Pontieri connected Affeneti with Father Henry Reid of Mt Carmel to discuss the bell being returned to the church.
“It’s a piece of family history,” Pontieri said. “It’s a piece of community history. It’s a piece of Italian history that goes back.”
Monaco, who’s family has perhaps had the longest connection to the bell, supports the decision to donate the bell to the church.
“We had never realized it, but the church was always wondering and looking for the bell,” Monaco said. “It was sort of a very sentimental type of thing.
“I think my father would appreciate that.”