The French Connection’s Retired NYPD Detective Sonny Grosso: “Magical Memories of Easter, Mt. Carmel Church, and Italian Festivals on the Streets of Harlem”

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“Buona Pasqua!” says retired French Connection detective Sonny Grosso
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Det. Sonny Grosso with Gene Hackman on French Connection set

Buona Pasqua, Felices Pascuas, Chag Pesach Sameach/Happy Passover, Happy Easter! All these greetings will be cheerfully expressed this week.

New York is one of the most linguistically and religiously diverse cities in the world, with about 80% of New Yorkers affiliated to some organized religion. It’s also estimated the City has about 2000 churches, 1000 synagogues and maybe 6000 places of worship overall.

For Italian Americans, like retired NYPD Det. Sonny Grosso, attending church continues to be a focal point of life. Grosso, the highly decorated detective who made the famous French Connection drug case that was turned into a 5-time Oscar winning movie, has been around churches all his life. His family lived around the corner from Mt. Carmel Church (officially, The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) on E. 115th Street in Italian Harlem.

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Mt. Carmel Church in “Italian” Harlem

But, as he writes in his upcoming memoir, Harlem to Hollywood, Easter was always special for Sonny and his three sisters. After attending service, they would often go visit their grandfather for glorious dishes of pasta and Italian homemade gravy. He recalls:

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Church of the Annunciation in West Harlem

When the Grosso family moved to West Harlem, they began attending Church of the Annunciation, an area institution that had been founded in 1853, and was located at 88 Convent Avenue. Sonny recalls a funny but embarrassing story about his Confirmation at that church:

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Sonny Grosso (left) about to get confirmed
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Sonny Grosso with his beloved mother, Lillian

But Mt. Carmel always had a soft spot with Sonny Grosso. And one annual street festival touches his heart. Every August, the Giglio Society of East Harlem holds the Giglio Feast (Ausut 9–12, 2018) an Italian festival on the streets near Mt Carmel Church. The festival includes the Society performing the “Dancing Giglio,” which has been an Italian tradition for over 125 years, and at its height, the feast was attended by over 100,000 people. Sonny recalls that people would come to the feast in buses from all over the country, and many came from Italy, and they would walk barefoot behind the Giglio in solemn procession.

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An early Giglio Feast procession when up to 100,000 came
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Giglio tower at the procession in Harlem

It made a big impression on him. Giglio means “lily” which was his dear mother’s name (Lillian), and growing up, Sonny remembers looking down on the street festival from an open window while his father’s favorite song, Amapola, played over and over:

A few years ago, Sonny was honored by the National Museum of Catholic Art and History in East Harlem, and Fr. Rofrano gave the award to him. Sonny adds, “Fr. Peter fessed up to the audience that he’d once teased my mother that I wouldn’t amount to much. And, then he gave me that special award — it was touching. I had carved out my little career.”

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St. Bart’s on Park Avenue — “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”

As they say: Moments. Make. Magic. As for this week’s holiday, Sonny Grosso sends out greetings and love to all — Buona Pasqua! And, since we’re in New York and baseball is underway, Go Yankees!

Written by

Award-winning journalist-author-blogger for Playboy, TO Star, Movie Entertainment, HuffPost, Hello Canada & my novel REJEX (Pulp Hero Press) is on Amazon.

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