Gift to Buccalito from the United States after the earthquake of November 23, 1980

Gift to Buccalito from the United States after the earthquake of November 23, 1980

Potenza – “It is the largest donation from a company to the agency’s Southern Italy Earthquake Fund, and perhaps the largest donation ever received by a company,” said Bishop Edwin Broderick in a January 18, 1981, New York Times article.

This sentence sums up a long story that begins in the United States and reaches Italy, in Potenza, specifically in Buccalito, the castle built immediately after the earthquake of November 23, 1980. The money itself.

The money in question — initially $100,000, then doubled — came from her Banffy Vintners, A large wine production company founded by the Mariani brothers. Enough with the summary and previews, let’s follow the order and method.


On November 23, 43 years ago – as almost everyone knows – an earthquake occurred between Basilicata and Campania. It starts at 7.34pm and lasts for one and a half minutes. Eternity. It causes the death of 2,914 people, the injury of nearly nine thousand, and a huge number of displaced people (about 280,000 people).

There is no civilian protection yet (firefighters and the army intervene, the latter consisting of young conscripts without any preparation, armed at most in good faith, afraid of a scenario of death and destruction) that would be born precisely as a result of this event.

Buildings collapsed everywhere, a very high percentage of buildings were unsafe or in any case declared unfit for use, and some municipalities were leveled.

At a certain point, to provide a roof for the many people from Potenza who have lost their homes, plans are being made to build a real castle (as it will be called) in the Boccalito area, on the outskirts of Potenza, on the land. It was made available by the diocese led by Bishop Giuseppe Vaero. The mayor at that time was Gaetano Fierro. We need homes. We choose prefabricated buildings. And here you have to fly abroad.

an agency

The CRF (Catholic Relief Services, “Catholic Relief Services”) is an American agency, an offshoot of the Stars and Stripes Roman Church. Its clear mission is “the commitment of the bishops of the United States to help the poor and vulnerable abroad.” He set out to try to answer the cry for help rising from southern Italy.

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Banfi is the leading importer of Italian wines in the United States and is headquartered in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York State.

The company was founded in Little Italy in 1919 by John Mariani Sr. and dedicated to the memory of her great-aunt, Teodolinda Banfi, Permanent Brianza and then Assistant to Pope Pius XI. His sons John Jr. and Harry Mariani came to Montalcino in the 1970s looking for Brunello to add to the bottle display. Having fallen in love with the area, its vineyards and cellars, they also bought a castle and founded Castello Banfi, their Italian “jewel”.

the gift

In 1980, in the face of the horror experienced by earthquake victims, the Marianists felt a moral duty to the country to which they originally belonged and from which they derived their wealth.

“They called us from Villa Banfi to ask how they could help us,” recalls one of the CRF leaders, the Rev. Robert Cole.

The company is initially donating $100,000 to Catholic Relief Services to “contribute to the reconstruction of the province of Potenza,” which is home to 17,000 homeless people.

«The funds – we also read – will be used to build 100 modular housing units on 72 acres of land donated to the province by the Archbishop of Potenza, Giuseppe Vairo. These homes are not intended to be merely temporary structures, but will be electrically heated and have a life expectancy of 25 years. The homes, which can accommodate four to six people, will be allocated by the church and the Potenza community to people deemed most in need.

The first house is now under construction.” The article continues by framing the region in question, and reporting further details: “The province of Potenza, east of Naples, in the Apennines along the spine of the Italian peninsula, is one of the poorest regions in Europe. In the aftermath of the 23 November earthquake/ November: The historic center of Potenza, the provincial capital, is in ruins. Bishop Broderick was in Italy at the time of the earthquake and arrived in Potenza two days later. “The donation of Banfi is an excellent way to show sympathy,” the bishop said. (in Italian in original, edited) ), sympathy and presence towards the Italian people.”

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Edwin Bernard Broderick was a very well known religious man in the United States at that time. Born in 1916 in the heart of the Bronx, New York, in 1976 he resigned as Bishop of Albany to become executive director of Catholic Relief Services, which he jokingly described as “the best kept secret of the American Catholic Church.”

Brothers Harry (left) and John Jr. Mariani pose in a 1986 photo


They call him a defender of the poor. When he arrived in Potenza, he already had good experience in dealing with crises in the world (for example, he intervened in the genocide in Cambodia that began in 1975, and in the war in Angola in 1976) and especially in the displacement crisis (the tropical cyclone in In 1977, 10,000 people were killed and 2 million citizens were left homeless in India.

In a June 27, 1982, article, again in The New York Times, the amount donated was updated: it had reached $200,000. Calculating the historical exchange rate of the dollar with the lira in the years 81 and 82, the monetary revaluation of the lira and the exchange rate in the current currency is equivalent to more than 560 thousand euros.

“The money was used – as they wrote at the time in the prestigious American newspaper – in a project to build 850 houses in the suburbs, which will eventually house between 5,000 and 6,000 people. The new residents have already begun moving into their free homes just outside Potenza, on 92 acres of church-owned land that Archbishop Vaero donated to the city.

A temporary donation to science, as stated in an article in the newspaper Quotidiano del Sud some time ago which quoted what was stated in a book by Edmundo Soave: the land should have returned to the Church after the emergency. But in 1985, the municipality was informed of the expropriation law. The church fought back in court and lost.

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In a television documentary filmed for the Catholic Relief Society, Harry F. Mariani, president of Villa Banfi, called the housing project “an expression of American love for the Italian people at a time when it was needed most.” Harry Mariani died in New York in January 2023 at the age of 78.

This donation is part of a five-year program launched by the US Relief Agency immediately after the earthquake.


Traces of this can be found in a 1989 report issued by the Third Standing Committee of the Senate on the exchange of official letters between the American and Italian governments. Between 81 and 83, the United States Congress – as written – allocated a total of $82 million between Campania and Basilicata. (…) Congress appropriated an additional $10 million in 1984 to complete reconstruction and development programs in earthquake-affected areas.

Furthermore, at the request of the US authorities, AID agreed to “allocate $2 million for a program to monitor and prevent seismic and volcanic hazards in southern Italy.”

In 1989, the Senate took note of the exchange of letters between the United States and Italy. Whether this money was put to good use or ended up in the massive Airbnb scandal, wasting billions allocated for reconstruction, is a separate story to investigate.

This certainly does not distort the spontaneous donation by the Mariani brothers to Buccaletto.

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