Rita Morgan Richardson, Founder of Friends of San Filippino: Member Spotlight

Rita Morgan Richardson, Founder of Friends of San Filippino: Member Spotlight

 

Rita Richardson Member Spotlight (1)Today our Member Spotlight returns with a feature on Rita Morgan Richardson, a new NOIAW member whose passion for preserving Italian culture led her to create Friends of San Filippino. That organization’s goal is to restore the abandoned San Filippino Chapel in Castiglion Fiorentino, a tiny Tuscan hillside town where Rita and her husband reside part-time.

Via della Badiola

Rita and Tim on Via della Badiola with rear entrance to San Filippino in the background. Photo Credit: Piero Rossi

Rita’s mother was born and raised in Naples, Italy and came to America in 1955 after marrying Rita’s father, an American stationed at the Naples NATO base. Rita’s maternal grandmother was born and raised in Vinci, birthplace of Leonardo, in Tuscany.

In 2010, Rita discovered the Tuscan medieval hill town Castiglion Fiorentino while visiting her son Zach, who was studying in Cortona. Rita and Tim fell in love with the town and one year later bought a small 600-year old apartment in the historic center of the town.

On their tiny pedestrian-only street, there is an abandoned baroque chapel dedicated to Saint Philip Neri. Saving this chapel — San Filippino — has become Rita’s passion and mission.

Rita founded Friends of San Filipino, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, for the purpose of raising funds to restore the chapel and its associated multi-purpose rooms and apartments. Once restored, San Filippino will become a thriving community center offering both religious and secular events and programming that will benefit local citizens, tourists, scholars, artists and pilgrims.

San Filippino

Rita and Tim at the main entrance to San Filippino, located on Via della Badiola, Castiglion Fiorentino. Photo credit: Piero Rossi

Inside San Filippino chapel — an abandoned baroque oratory in a medieval Tuscan hill town. Photo credit: Rita Morgan Richardson

Inside San Filippino chapel — an abandoned baroque oratory in a medieval Tuscan hill town. Photo credit: Rita Richardson

Rita is a teacher of French and English as a Second Language. She also speaks Italian.

1. How did you hear about NOIAW? What drew you to join the organization?
I feel so lucky to have found NOIAW through social media. What an amazing group of women! I feel honored to have the opportunity to interact with them.

Rita and TIm on their wedding day in 1987. L to R: Rita's Mom, Dad, Rita, Rita's brother and sister. Rita says, "My mom always said my brother and sister have il look italiano but I have the 'cuore italiano.' My late uncle Homer Dale Morgan took the photo."

Rita on her wedding day in 1987. L to R: Rita’s Mom, Dad, Rita, Rita’s brother and sister. Rita says, “My mom always said my brother and sister have il look italiano but I have the ‘cuore italiano.’ ” Photo Credit: Homer Dale Morgan

2. How has your NOIAW membership helped you personally and/or professionally so far?
As a new NOIAW member, I hope that I can help the organization! Specifically, I hope that our project to restore San Filippino will be used as a template for other Italian American women to initiate similar works in our beloved Italy. I believe that there are a lot of Italian Americans who want to give back to our motherland, which is in need at the moment.

Rita and Tim Pienza, Tuscany. Photo credit: Pat Wiese

Rita and Tim in Pienza, Tuscany. Photo credit: Pat Wiese

3. Tell me about your connection with your Italian heritage. How has it influenced your life and your career?
I knew at the tender age of five that I wanted to be a teacher. Thanks to my Italian heritage, I developed a love for foreign languages. I took four years of French in high school — taking Italian in the Marietta, Georgia public school system was not an option. I began teaching in 1980, and I have never stopped! I have taught all ages — children as young as three and senior citizens as young as 75. My French and my Italian have opened doors I never dreamed existed. The highlights have been 1) escorting and interpreting for WWII veterans on the beaches of Normandy, France, 2) teaching French to an Oscar award-winning actress, and 3) collaborating with an Italian Archbishop to save our sweet Tuscan chapel.

WWII veteran Lieutenant Colonel Bob Smartt with Rita in Normandy, France for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Rita was his official interpreter and guide. Photographer unknown.

WWII veteran Lieutenant Colonel Bob Smartt with Rita in Normandy, France for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Rita was his official interpreter and guide.

4. Do you have a favorite memory of your Italian family?

I remember when I was fourteen, my Mom took me to Italy to visit her family. We were gone for an entire month. For the last part of the trip we were in Naples. Finally, it was time to return home to Georgia, and I couldn’t stop crying — not because I was homesick, but because I didn’t want to leave Naples and my Italian cousins!

Rita's parents Marisa Di Raimo and Henry Morgan on their wedding day in Napoli, 1955. Photographer unknown.

Rita’s parents Marisa Di Raimo and Henry Morgan on their wedding day in Napoli, 1955.

5. Anything else you’d like to share?
I have spent most of my life in the Southeastern U.S. When I’m in Italy, however, I feel very much at home. I feel my Italian roots, and I understand the Italian culture, thanks to my Mom. The citizens of Castiglion Fiorentino and my neighbors on our little vicolo Via della Badiola have welcomed us with open arms. And as I work everyday to save a piece of Tuscan history and culture, I feel my Nonna Ginetta smiling on me.

Rita and neighbor Rosalba Pepi in front of Rosalba’s apartment, which is located right next door to San Filippino on Via della Badiola. Rita and Tim's apartment is in the background.

Rita and neighbor Rosalba Pepi in front of Rosalba’s apartment, which is located right next door to San Filippino on Via della Badiola. Rita and Tim’s apartment is in the background.

If you’re interested in learning more about Rita’s project, you can connect through her website, or on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!

2 Comments
  • Aileen Riotto Sirey
    Posted at 17:38h, 08 March

    Brava! Wonderful effort to preserve our past. Good luck with your project!
    Aileen