The Mystery of Roseto, PA, circa 1959
In the late 1950’s, Stewart Wolf, then head of medicine at the University of Oklahoma, was summering in Pennsylvania. While there, he was asked to speak at a meeting of the local medical society. After his talk, he was invited out for a beer by another doctor. In the course of their conversation, the local doctor commented, “I rarely find anyone from Roseto (a nearby town of about 1,650 residents) with heart disease.” Intrigued by this observation, Dr. Wolf decided to investigate, and discovered that, indeed, Rosetan men over 65 had heart attacks at a rate of about ½ the national average.
He then hired research assistants to investigate further. Was it their diet? No, Rosetans, who were overwhelmingly from the town of, surprise, Roseto, Italy, were not on the Mediterranean diet. They cooked with lard instead of olive oil. They ate salami, pepperoni, sausage, meatballs, ham, eggs and cheese. 41% of their calories came from fat (instead of 20-35%). Many struggled with obesity. The men smoked stogies (unfiltered cigars), and both men and women drank wine “with seeming abandon.”
Was it genes? No, researchers looked up other Italians from the same area in Italy, but now living in the U.S., and found that they suffered from heart disease in line with the national average.
Was it location? No, people in nearby villages experienced heart disease in line with the national average.
Meanwhile, other statistics surfaced. In the years studied (1954-1960), there was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, no one on welfare, and no reported crimes.
Researchers finally hit on the reason for these amazing statistics: Roseto was a closely knit community! The culture of the community positively affected the physical health of its residents.
They discovered that the Italian immigrants had brought their religion and family values with them. There were cohesive family ties, and not infrequently, three generations lived in the same house. Rosetans visited with one another, stopped to chat on the street, worshipped at Mount Carmel Catholic Church, and many children attended the Catholic grade school and high school. They planted fruit trees, grew vegetables, raised animals, grew grapes and made wine, and almost exclusively patronized locally owned businesses such as the beauty salon, barber, tailor, butcher, grocer, candy store, restaurant, etc. There were Church clubs and 22 civic organizations. In 1895 they had their first procession on honor of the Blessed Mother, which to this day culminates in the crowning of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Now, however, Rosetans have become “Americanized,” their heart statistics conform to the national average.
What we can learn from the Rosetans though, is the importance of faith, family and community. Both faith and family are made stronger through daily prayer--- morning, evening, before and after family meals, and self-sacrificing love between family members. In the book The Christian Philosophy of Life, Fr. Tilmann Pesch writes, “Happiness is only to be found in the home where God is the Master, and all are concerned to do His will.” (p. 369)
We can build our community by becoming involved in clubs, organizations and activities that unite and uplift us. This can be a book club, a game night, a bridge club, a men’s or women’s group, singing, dancing, inviting friends over for celebrations, meals, etc. Another way is by patronizing locally owned businesses: the hair dresser, meat market, bakery… and by paying them in cash or check, so that they don’t get hit with a 1.5%-3.5% processing fee, which equals maybe $3500 for each $100,000 in sales! St. Joseph’s Guild is a resource for those who would like to patronize, or work for, a business owned by one who professes Catholic values. If you need a builder, concrete worker, plumber, baker, doctor, financial planner, a speaker, etc., see who might be available through St. Joseph’s Business Guild: sjbusinessguild.com.
In this day when so many seem to believe that the way to a more peaceful and just society is ever larger government, the Rosetans provided an example of what faith in action can do.
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A blessed summer to all!