Regina Pacis and the Crown Jewels

So yesterday I put up a post telling all of you who read my musings of how Toritto was once an altar boy at St. Rosalia’s and Regina Pacis in the early 1950s.     Yes, this leftie pinko atheist grew up a good Catholic boy.   Now I am simply considered culturally Catholic.

In any case, I outlined how, during the war against the axis, including Italy, the parishioners of St. Rosalia vowed to build a great shrine church to Mary, Queen of Peace.

On the Second Sunday of May in 1942 in the middle of World War II, the Pastor of St. Rosalia Parish, Msgr. Angelo Cioffi, asked the parishioners to make a vow to our Lady to keep our soldiers safe and return them home to us and to bring lasting peace to the world. As a vow, the 12,000 parishioners at the time promised to build a magnificent Church dedicated to Mary, the Queen of Peace.  At the time, the property had nothing more on it than two unappealing gas tanks. The Church, which had taken only 3 years to build and cost $2 million dollars, was finally completed and dedicated on August 15, 1951. The church was beautifully decorated with all forms of donations and art. The painting of Regina Pacis which hangs over the main Altar was painted by the famous artist Ilario Panzironi when he was 93 years old.”

The church is a magnificent Italian renaissance edifice built entirely of marble and is to this day considered the home church of the Italian immigrants who came to Brooklyn in the early 20th century.  For a neighborhood church it is indeed stunning to behold.

The ceiling mural shows the Coronation of Our Lady Regina Pacis in heaven. It is a huge creation, 60 by 27 feet, painted by the distinguished artist Ignacio LaRussa. In the lower part we see the image of Pope Pius XII, the reigning Pope at the time the Church was built, symbolically blessing the Shrine of Peace in the presence of Prelates and a large congregation that looks up ecstatically at the Coronation of the Blessed Mother. Further up, resting on the clouds and in a semi-circular formation, we see the various saints who particularly distinguished themselves for their devotion to Mary.  Above these saints, a choir of Angels with St. Michael the Archangel. Then, still further up, the glorious image of Our Lady Regina Pacis in the act of being crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth by the Eternal Father and Her Divine Son while the Holy Spirit is streaming down beams of light and graces upon her.  It took the artist 3 solid years to produce this”

All the church needed was some jewels.

Before it was finished being built, in 1949, after the blessing of the Cornerstone of the church, Msgr. Cioffi asked the people to donate their own personal jewelry in order to make 2 crowns for the painting of Regina Pacis which hangs over the altar.  One for Mary and one for Jesus.

“As a way of thanking Mary for the safe return of their sons and daughters, the parishioners began to donate wedding rings, bracelets, necklaces, lockets and other types of precious jewels to the project.”

The jewels were given to the firm of DeNatale Brothers in Manhattan so that the crowns and stars could be made. It took 3 years to make them.

When they were finished, Msgr. Cioffi and Mr. DeNatale went to Rome and had a special audience with Pope Pius XII asking him to personally bless them. The Pope’s secretary at the time was Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, who himself would later become Pope Paul VI.  On returning home from Rome, Msgr. Cioffi scheduled events leading up to the Coronation itself. One such event was a “Coronation Banquet” held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel which was attended by 3,000 people.


And so the painting of the Virgin was adorned with golden crowns, protected by a gate and alarm.

One week later, during a wedding, Father James Russo noticed something strange.  A six-inch hole had been cut into the gate that protected the altar painting.  And the security system was off.  Someone had stolen the crowns.

The people of Regina Pacis were horrified.  The crime made the front page of the Brooklyn  Eagle, and Time magazine reported the theft, making it a national story.

Parishioners started a collection to replace the crowns.  Brooklynites wrote editorials in the paper calling the thieves immoral.  The children of St. Rosalia’s school prayed each morning for the return of the crowns.  A symbol of peace in post-war America had been taken away, and no evidence had been left behind.

Yikes.  I remember it well.

Now living in the neighborhood at the time was one Giuseppe “Joe” Profaci – the “Olive Oil King.”

A little background for those of you who don’t know, Profaci was born in 1897 in Palermo, and was a New York City La Cosa Nostra boss who was the founder of what is today known as the Colombo crime family. Established in 1928, this was the last of the Five Families to be organized. He was the family’s boss for over three decades.

Every kid in the neighborhood knew where Mr. Profaci lived; he was a favorite trick or treat stop on Halloween.

Profaci obtained most of his wealth through traditional illegal enterprises such as protection rackets, extortion and porn.  However, to protect himself from federal tax evasion charges, Profaci still maintained his original olive oil business, known as Mama Mia Importing Company, thus leading to his nickname.   As the demand for olive oil skyrocketed after World War II, his business thrived.  Profaci owned 20 other businesses that employed hundreds of workers in New York.

Profaci owned a large house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a home in Miami Beach, and an 328-acre  estate near Hightstown, New Jersey, which previously belonged to President Theodore Roosevelt. Profaci’s estate had its own airstrip and a chapel with an altar that replicated one in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.[

Profaci was a devout Catholic who made generous cash donations to Catholic charities. A member of the Knights of Colombus, Profaci would invite priests to his estate to celebrate Mass.

In 1949, the Vatican received a petition from a group of New York Catholics to confer a knighthood on Profaci. However, when the Brooklyn District Attorney complained about the move, the Vatican demurred.

Now if you have half the sense of a house cat you don’t steal the crown jewels from the head of the Madonna in Joe Profaci’s church.

The prayers of parishioners and school children rose daily to heaven.  “And then, after eight days, a mysterious package arrived at the rectory.  Inside were the crowns, almost perfectly intact!  Father Cioffi burst into the 10:00 am mass the next day and announced their miraculous return.  Parishioners were overwhelmed:  some applauded, some prayed, some cried, and three fainted.”

Monseigneur Cioffi was always big on drama.

Joe Profaci had been outraged.  He had sent out his boys to find the jewels and dispense justice.  The jewels were returned and  Ralph “Bucky” Emmino, 38, of Brooklyn was found mysteriously shot to death on the Fourth of July.

But we kids knew.  Bucky had been strangled with a rosary.


This video is a half hour look at the magnificent interior, a tour de force of Italian religious art and the neighborhood in which I grew up


About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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17 Responses to Regina Pacis and the Crown Jewels

  1. beetleypete says:

    Always good to hear that the local Mafia boss was a ‘good Catholic’. The irony is tangible…:)
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mukhamani says:

    Very interesting and all the more so because you remembered it 😊 Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jennie says:

    Frank, every one of your family stories has me absolutely glued. This one was more than fascinating. Thank you so much. I pray that your retirement in Florida allows you the time for writing more stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. James Farrell says:

    Monsignor Cioffi was a very intimidating priest! One Friday night, my friend and I were peeking into the hall at the Church were dances were held, to see if the teenage girls were attractive enough to dance with (Of course, they were!), when my friend got a tap on the shoulder. It was the Monsignor. “You going in or staying out??”, he barked! We left in a flash! Great story Frank! Great neighborhood. My wife and I had our first apartment on 71st and 11th Ave,!

    Liked by 1 person

    • toritto says:

      Glad you enjoyed James. As a child I lived on13th avenue between 66th and 67th street until I was 14 or so. I went to PS 187 which later became the Bay Ridge H.S. Annex). Elementary school was diagonally across from Regina Pacis.

      Along time ago in a galaxy far away!

      Regards from Florida.


  5. Kathleen Monturo says:

    I lived in another part of Brooklyn, Windsor Terrace, when the crowns were stolen. What an uproar! A sacrilege! Interesting how quickly they were returned. I left New York in 1970 bu It have told the story of the “crown jewels” many times. My innocent, non-Brooklyn friends find this an amazing story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous says:

    I lived on 69th St. 13th Ave. In the 1950’s. Monsignor Cioffi was a strong arm type who continually exhorted money from the poor. He positioned himself in his high pulpit demanding that he hear not the sound of coin hitting his gold platted donation plates. My father hated him as he attempted to extort money from his mother whose husband had died in 1933. Profaci ran the neighbourhood. Cioffi had race horses and drove around choffered in a Cadillac.


  7. Angela Lordi says:

    Toritto, I came here looking for information about the church. The mural,m as you point out, was painted by the artist Ignacio LaRussa. I have a painting in my house done by him. It is a picture of a boat and a dory with a sailor, so not nearly as grand as the mural. It was passed down from my grandfather, Alfonso Lordi to my father. Alfonso lived in New York, but died at the age of 46. How I would love to know how he came about this painting. I wonder if you know anything more about this artist. He is sorely undocumented. — Angela Lordi, Boston

    Liked by 1 person

  8. toritto says:

    Hi Angela! Wish I could be or more help but unfortunately I can’t help much. I was an altar boy at Regina Pacis back in the early fifties and remember quite well when the corner stone of the church was laid. As far as Ignacio LaRussa, the only thing I could find on line was a genealogy site where a number of his descendants had gathered several years ago. You may have already seen the site.

    I’m sure his work has some value though I have no idea as to whether or not any of his work has changed hands at auction.
    Good luck and best regards from Florida.


    • Angela Lordi says:

      Thank you so much! I did find the ItalianSide site and dropped in a comment. His daughter and granddaughter seem to be amongst the commenters on that post, so maybe it will drum up some interest. Thanks again for the reply and for the great blog post.

      Liked by 1 person

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