St. George’s, Italy Centenary Celebration


The congregation of St. George’s Anglican Church in Taormina, Italy will celebrate the centenary of the completion of the church building on Friday, October 14, 2022. The cornerstone of St. George’s Church was laid in March of 1922, and construction continued for most of the remainder of that year. The first service in the building was held on December 17, 1922. The construction project was spearheaded by Miss Mabel Hill (a local philanthropist, who also founded a needlework school for girls) and the 5th Duke of Bronte (a descendant of the brother of Lord Nelson), with support from other British residents of the city. While worship had been previously conducted in hotels and private residences for many years, including the private chapel in the villa of the Hill family, the Anglican Community finally had a gathering place of its own.

Memorials on the walls of the church bear the names of many who supported and furthered the work at St. George’s, including a number of Americans. They also reflect the challenges posed by what was going on in the world around the church. Beginning with a memorial to those who fell in the Great war, the church carries memorials to those who fought to liberate Sicily in the Second World War. The church building itself was closed as relations with fascist Italy deteriorated in the late 1930s but was reopened on occasion for British Forces upon their arrival in Sicily in 1943. Americans also attended services and helped to revitalize the work therein subsequent years.

Challenges have continued to be met by what is now a small but very faithful group. At the time the church was built, many of the villas in Taormina were owned by wealthy British and American residents; they are nowgone, and the remaining members must make their way financially relying on their own resources and gifts from visitors.

In the meantime, the mission has moved from simply caring for a community here, as important as that is, to be a place of welcome for all who visit Taormina. English speakers from all places and denominations have formed a part of the fabric of our gathering and our worship. St. George’s continues to welcome and minister to Americans stationed or employed at the U. S. Naval Base at Sigonella, located about an hour and half drive away. The struggle to maintain the services and facilities at St. George’s was significantly complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

For many years, the church has relied on locum ministry (priests who come to supply services for a month or two at a time). Most of them are retired and the great majority come from England. Beginning in March 2020, local restrictions required the suspension of services for many weeks. The chaplain there at the time was forced to return to England, and, since that time, the regular priestly ministry has been sporadic. Variations of the virus have continued to complicate travel to and from England and have been a particular concern to priests who are older or who have health issues. The suspension of services followed by restrictions on attendance and visits to the church led to a reduction of financial gifts from visitors, a significant source of revenue to the church. At the same time, regular expenses have continued, and maintenance issues have arisen. Continuing volcanic eruptions from Mt. Etna have added to the burden, particularly with the maintenance of the roof, sometimes stretching limited resources. Failure to undertake this work can often lead to worse problems. Though many repair efforts have been undertaken recently, there remain some projects to be completed to have the church in prime condition for the centenary. Most recently, the congregation of Saint John the Baptist Episcopal Church, in southern Illinois, USA, has provided a gift to assist in accomplishing these improvement projects. The southern Illinois church has provided financial assistance to various projects but never overseas until now. Readers may be asking now how this small parish in southern Illinois knew of the situation at St. George’s in Italy. The connection comes from the relationship that Fr. Shawn Denney and his wife Mary have with both churches. Fr. Shawn, accompanied by his wife, has served as a locum for many years at St. George’s.

Fr. Shawn served for 17years as the Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfieldinwhich the parish of St. John’s the Baptist is located. Mary, with the assistance of St. George’s treasurer, developed a grant proposal to the church in southern Illinois. After the approval of the grant, a check was presented to Fr. Shawn after a service which he celebrated at St. John the Baptist. St. George’schurch Council has undertaken a few small fundraising projects to assist with the cost to hold the Centenary Celebration.

The funding from St. John the Baptist Church will be used to assist with: painting the interior of the church, roof repairs(repairing any damage caused by Etna's volcanic ash), improvements to the church garden, and assistance with shipping costs of items printed in the United States for the celebration service. These two churches have much more in common than their faithfulness to God. Both churches have a small congregation and have struggled during the pandemic to have a priest to provide regular Eucharists.

St. George’s preparation is well underway for the 100th commemoration in October 2022. Fr. Shawn and Mary have been holding monthly Zoom meetings with the members as planning continues. Members of the congregation have volunteered to head up various components of the necessary planning divisions.