Mary Ferrante Napolitano
Mary Ferrante Napolitano was born July 18, 1930, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. She was the youngest of three children and the only daughter of Italian immigrant parents Vincenzo and Vita Ferrante. Her mother adored her, her father doted on her, and her brothers protected her. Love, respect, and loyalty were ingrained in her since birth; therefore, she loved her family and was devoted to her parents and her siblings from the start. However, with faith as the focus of the Ferrante household, Mary’s devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus became her cornerstone. It was her faith that influenced her role as wife, mother, mother-in- law, grandmother, and great- grandmother.
As a child Mary’s life was rather idyllic and sheltered. Church, school and family gatherings filled her days. While each day brought visitors and delectable meals, Sundays were always rather special, since the Ferrante home was the meeting place for aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. The sauce/gravy/sugo/sarsa was placed on the stove before sunrise as meatballs and sausage were fried. Occasionally, the family of five would forgo the get-togethers to patronize lu tiatro/il teatro— the local theater where Italian tenors performed. The Arts were an intrinsic part of family life and culture, if only in that they provided a reprieve from the mundane. On February 2, 1947, however, Mary’s life was upended. Her father died unexpectedly while waiting to play his usual hand of cards at the Sons of Italy, a club he frequented to connect with his amici. One of Mister Vincenzo’s cumpari ran to the house to deliver the news, and it was Mary who rolled up her pajama bottoms, put on her coat and boots and ran all the way to la societa to witness the truth for herself. She waited for no one; she was the first member of the entire family on the scene. From that day forward she became a first- responder in all things— good and bad, joyful and sad. Her brothers Jack and Louie arrived moments later; they were out with friends when the news broke.
After Mary graduated from high school she went to work in the garment industry to help support the family. She was a “finisher” at a factory that manufactured Italian knit shirts for men. She inspected each garment to make certain plaids, patterns and seams were perfectly aligned, and all loose threads were removed and the garments were “clean” before being transported to retailers. She was ultimately promoted to “forelady” for her keen eye and impeccable work ethic. She was a “detail” person” and perfectly suited for the job. It was during this time that she met the love of her life Thomas Anthony Napolitano. There was an unexpected downpour the night they met; her mascara ran and her beautifully coifed hairdo was ruined. Despite the circumstances, she thought they had an enjoyable time, but she wasn’t certain. It was many years later that Mary and Tommy revealed that they both prayed after that first blind date. She prayed he would call for a second date, and he prayed that she would accept. They were married just shy of sixty-nine years when Tommy passed away. Prayer was always at the forefront.
For Mary the rules were simple. All things hinged on faith, family, friends and food. She always reminded Maryann, John and Vincent, her three children, that they were rich in love and family was sacred. She and Tommy were in sync about most things and compromised when they were not. They had a love story all their own, which was old school and beautiful to watch. It was tireless and seemingly effortless. They revealed in their every word and deed and throughout each challenge that life was all about love and commitment without boundaries. Consequently, that’s how Mary loved her mother, husband, children, and six grandchildren, and as the family grew and took on different dynamics, she loved every addition just as much. She reminded family members that “There [was] always enough love to go around.” She loved her brothers’ wives as if they were her sisters, her son-in-law as if he were her son, and her grandsons-in-law as if they were her grandsons.
Typically, if someone had encountered a hardship, Mary ran to the rescue with a pignata of Italian penicillin, a.k.a. a huge pot of freshly made sauce and meatballs. Her sauce was the great elixir. She was a magnificent Sicilian cook and baker, and her fare earned national recognition during an episode of the Cooking Channel’s Mo Rocca’s: My Grandmother’s Ravioli. She was warm, inviting and ever so hospitable, which is why the Napolitano home was the place to be. She embraced everyone, especially during the holidays, for she believed no one should ever be alone. Christmas in particular was absolutely magical, and her preparation began months in advance. When family members, friends and acquaintances dropped by unexpectedly, without fail, Mary coerced them into staying for dinner. Watching her make adjustments to the menu was like watching the miracle of the loaves and fish firsthand and observing her move from the refrigerator to the counter to the stove to the pantry to the freezer was like watching a beautifully choreographed ballet. It was graceful, humble, unpretentious, enriching and memorable. Her mantra was “If [you] can feed five, [you] can feed twenty. All [you] have to do is throw in more pasta.” However, being invited to dinner brought its own kind of responsibility and expectation. If bread was broken at the Napolitano table, everyone was expected to behave honorably and respectfully, thereby cementing a bond that was indestructible. Dining at the family table was her version of receiving communion. Message delivered and lesson learned.
If bonds were broken, however, Mary was forgiving. She had her own rules about forgiveness. She warned that apologies may be demonstrated but inaudible. She would behoove others to forgive by saying, “The first person to walk in the door has already said he is sorry. Don’t waste precious time not talking. Everybody makes mistakes.” Her favorite parable was “The Prodigal Son.” She knew it. She understood it. She practiced it. She lived it. However, her response to the fatted calf was pasta, spiedini, braciole, arancini, carciofi and lots of good New York Italian bread, a daily staple in the Napolitano household. Her message was clear and always poignant. She was good to the core. In fact, when she worked as a matron on a public school bus, she paid close attention to the grandparents who were raising their grandchildren. Recognizing they had fallen on hard times, she memorized the bus route so she could return to their homes with Tommy and leave bags of groceries and treats for the children at the door. At Christmas she’d play Santa Claus in very much the same way. She never wanted recognition. She would encourage her children to “Do a good deed and forget about it.” In summation that’s who Mary was. It manifested how she lived and why she was so loved. She was a treasure.
She never failed to tell all of her family members that she loved them. Every phone call involving her sons Vincent and John would end with “I love you. Take care of yourself and God bless you.” She loved her children, and she never concealed it, and she loved her son-in-law Michael, who was also known as “her Irishman.” Mary never missed an occasion, event or milestone and spent a great deal of time in Beaumont. She loved Texas, but she was joyful when her granddaughters Gina and Laura attended East Coast universities. She hosted dinners, birthday celebrations, sleepovers and outings. In essence, she felt like she had gotten them back on home ground where she could be a part of their day to day. She was a participant and played a dynamic role in their lives. She was extremely proud of her grandson and five granddaughters. She was in awe of the opportunities all of her granddaughters were afforded as women and recognized the commitment it took to capitalize on them. She prayed incessantly for all of them and told them so. Prayer was her response to all things, for the Blessed Mother, Jesus, and even St. Jude were her shield. Her novenas were worn and torn and served as a testament to her allegiance to God and all of the angels and saints.
Mary loved to have “good clean fun” as she called it. She saw Sinatra at the Paramount and loved the Big Bands, so much so, that part of the Sunday ritual during the early years was to move the kitchen table out of the way, put on some records, and dance with her brothers, sisters-in-law, and husband. Of course, Tommy would joke as he gently reminded her that he was supposed to lead. She loved Betty Grable, Susan Hayward, Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson, and Julie Andrews. She loved a good dish of pasta, the heel on a loaf of Italian bread, the crunch of a Mr. Goodbar, the chewiness of a pignoli cookie, the flakiness of a sfogliatelle, and the aroma and taste of a “nice” cup of coffee. She was joy personified. If a party were to be given or a wedding planned, she was immersed. If expenses were discussed, she’d encourage everyone to spare no expense. Her piece of advice was standard, “While [you’re] dancing [you] might as well dance.” She was a beautiful blend of womanhood— daughter, wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother and trusted friend. She was a vault; she never betrayed a confidence. She ministered to everyone with the words of her heart and the work of her hands. Mary toiled, tilled and planted seeds that took root in her progeny. Beyond the recipes, Mary taught her family members how to live through her faith, persistence, tenacity and capacity for love. She loved Beaumont and valued the friendships she forged. She made the transition from New York and embraced it. She would tell all of her grandchildren and great- grandchildren that she carried them in her heart. They believed her and loved her back. A few days before Mary passed away, while she could barely speak, she looked at her daughter and said, “Don’t worry the Blessed Mother will help us.” She was a faithful and trusting servant until the end. As along as she had her faith and her family, she was happy.
Mary was preceded in death by her husband Thomas Anthony Napolitano and her son Vincent Napolitano. She is survived by her children, Maryann Napolitano DeMayo and her husband Michael DeMayo, and John Napolitano; her grandchildren, Gina DeMayo Goodenough and her husband Douglas Goodenough, Laura DeMayo Steele and her husband Patrick Steele, Nicole Napolitano, Danielle Napolitano Gallagher and her husband James Gallagher, Jamie Napolitano Castellano and her husband Jason Castellano, and John Napolitano; and her great-grandchildren, Michael Goodenough, Peter Goodenough, Lucia Steele, Thomas Steele, Isabella Gallagher, James Gallagher, Charlotte Gallagher, Jason Castellano, Emma Castellano and Ava Castellano.
The family would like to thank Bishop Curtis Guillory, Father Shane Baxter, Deacon Flint Barboza, Dr. Joseph Denton Harris, Dr. Clayton, Elaine Stephen, Diana Gomez, Marshia Costa, Jesse Edgerton, Pam Taylor, Pastor Pitre, Pastor Dell, Mary Anderson, Ivy Abella, Cristy Burnham, and the entire staff of Compassion Hospice and Collier Park for their kindness in ministering to Mary Ferrante Napolitano throughout this journey.
The family would especially like to thank all of their dear precious friends as well as the Beaumont community at large for embracing Tommy and Mary from the moment they relinquished New York citizenship. The Naps loved all of you very much and expressed their gratitude to this community by recognizing that the DeMayos had made the right decision in moving here thirty-nine years ago. Thank you for loving us and walking this walk with us.
Memorial contributions may be made to The Giving Field, 2715 Calder Avenue, Beaumont, Texas 77702.
A Memorial Mass for Mrs. Napolitano at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica will be announced at a later date.
Mary Napolitano was one of my best friends in college, despite her being decades older. Her granddaughter, Laura, introduced me to the Napolitanos and generously shared them. Countless loaves of semolina bread, dishes of pasta, sleepovers in their Bellmore home, weekends letting us stay with them—Mary (and Thomas) were 2 of the most most beautiful people on this planet. I am so grateful for the gift of their story and for the familial relationship and values they graced me with. Mary’s sense of humor was perhaps one of my most favorite things ever. Thank you for this beautiful family, Mary. We send our love and prayers.
Oh My Dear DeMayo Family,
What a beautiful tribute! Our family was so lucky to have known your mom and dad. Continued prayers through this chapter for Mrs. Napolitano and for each of you. She is reunited with Vincent and Mr. N now undoubtedly. Much love always for her.