Saving History – The First Veil of Communion by Rosemary Rosaria Del Balso Colarochio

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Among the most important rites celebrated by Catholics is the First Communion. It is at this time that a child, usually around the age of 7 or 8, accepts for the first time the body and blood of Christ symbolized in the Eucharist. Special dress is required for the sacred ceremony. Girls normally wear white dresses with a veil. White symbolizes purity and connects them to their baptism, when they also wore white.

Veils and dresses are often kept in memory of the special day and are sometimes passed on to the next generation. Rosemary Rosaria Del Balso Colarochio made her First Communion at Holy Rosary Church in Little Italy in Cleveland in 1938. She put her veil away and in 2015 it visited the Italian-American collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society. Rosemary’s daughter Paulette explains why she decided to donate such a treasured heirloom to WRHS:

“My family and I came across Mom’s communion veil while cleaning her house after she passed away. Even though it had turned yellow over the past 75 years, it was still an “awww moment” for us. Then we had to decide what to do with it. We also came across her first Holy Communion photo, which I already knew from the WRHS Italian American collection. I thought WRHS would like an artifact to enhance the image. After discussion with other family members, we decided to donate it in the hope that it will be preserved and shared with others.

Last August, WRHS staff were developing new exhibits for the Community History section of the Cleveland Starts Here® exhibit sponsored by the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation. The Holy Rosary Church was selected to be featured in one of the exhibits, and Rosemary’s Veil was the perfect artifact to help tell the story of the church and its parishioners. Paulette was honored and delighted when she heard that the veil would be exposed. When she finally got to visit the exhibit last month and saw the veil in the case with Rosemary’s name on the label, it brought tears to her eyes. Paulette describes her experience:

“The lighting and support used by the curators at WRHS made it look like the veil had taken center stage in the shop window. The veil certainly looked better than when we made the donation! It looked whiter, the lace was more pronounced, and the tiny flowers and ribbons on the side were clearly evident. I knew we had made the right choice by donating Mum’s veil to the Italian American Collection at WRHS. Her veil was no longer stuck in an attic or drawer. The family, as well as visitors to the museum today and for generations to come, could see and appreciate the veil and its details.

The displays in the Community History section rotate regularly, so Rosemary’s Veil has been removed and is again being stored for safekeeping. But other artifacts that are both meaningful to families and the community at large, such as the veil, will be on display as sharing the history of the people and communities of Northeast Ohio is an important part of WRHS ‘mission. The next exhibit will focus on holiday traditions in Cleveland.


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