Exchange students find a whole new world in Johnston

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There was a living lesson in international hospitality Monday afternoon in Johnston.

Lou and Susan Mansolillo, who are parishioners at Our Lady of Grace Church and active members of the Pannese Society of Rhode Island, opened their home at 36 Memorial Drive to host an old-fashioned New England Clambake with an Italian flavor.

Susan Mansolillo decorated the family’s green backyard with different sized American and Italian flags and even had mini-flower pots with colorful flowers that were nicely spaced on an extended table where people sat and enjoyed everything from clams to camaraderie.

It was the Mansolillo’s welcome party for 10 people – six of whom are either graduates or students at Liceo Classico Lanza – a high school in Panni Foggia, Italy, who are here for the Student Exchange Program sponsored by the Pannese Society of Rhode Island and coordinated by Johnston High School.

“This is another great extension of our Sister City Program,” Joseph Spremulli, a Johnston resident who serves as President of the Pannese Society, said. “We’re thrilled to have the students and school officials here with us. It’s also a great way to learn more about our heritage and cultures for both groups.”

The 10-person delegation arrived from Italy last Thursday night and after meeting their officials hosts spent Friday getting acquainted, have been going nonstop. They’ve attended a number of events ranging from a trip to Newport aboard the SeaStreak Ferry to attending Sunday Mass at St. Sebastian’s in Providence to visiting JHS and enjoying Monday’s full-fledge clambake.

“It has been a great pleasure to further the development of relations that exist between our towns, our schools and, more importantly, our students,” said Lou Mansolillo, who toured Panni Foggia, Italy this spring during the first-ever Student Exchange. “The success of this first student exchange program was achieved by the mutual support and shared experiences developed by each side. This major goal of the Sister City agreement initiated in June, 2014, has now been achieved.”

The idea for the Sister City Program, which now includes church and school officials from Panni Foggia, Italy and the Pannese Society leaders, actually began back in 2013 when Lou and Carla Spremulli visited their ancestor’s homeland and began discussing the possibility for what has become an international program.

“It was a cultural visit and the people in Panni welcomed us with open arms,” Lou Spremulli recalled. “Since that time two additional visits were necessary to build a Sister City relationship between the Town of Panni and Johnston. Our mission is to focus on the cultural exchange programs, tourism and student exchanges.”

On Monday, it became obvious that the unique international program is working and will grow into more opportunities for JHS and Panni students as well as adults like the Mansolillo’s who are serving as chaperones and tour guides and David Venditelli and his wife who are serving as host a host family.

Even Monsignor Carlo Montecalvo, former Pastor at Our Lady of Grace Church in Johnston who is now at St. Sebastian’s in Providence, is hosting Don Mimmo Guida, Pastor from Panni Foggia.

Renato Mansolillo, who lived in Rhode Island from 1963 to 1980 and graduated from Providence College, is the Student Exchange Project Coordinator from Panni Foggia. The Italian group also includes Giuseppe Trecca, Principal at Liceo Classico Lanza and Silvia Gliatta, and Italian-English teacher from Panni who is originally from Boston.

Since their arrival, the Italian students haven’t encountered any problems with communication, as most of the students speak English.

“But they didn’t want food like pasta,” Lou Mansolillo, who is not related to Renato Mansolillo, said. “We took them to Federal Hill the other night and discovered they only wanted things like hamburgers.”

Or course, they didn’t mind having pizza, which was donated to the group courtesy of Silvio and Anne Marie Patriarca, who own and operate Silvia’s Restaurant in Johnston.

The visitors from Panni Foggia, in addition to those already mentioned, are Arianna Guglielmi, Benedetta Nazzaro, Viola Maria Farao, Valentine D’Adduzio, “Jerry” Francavilla and Antongiulio Rutigliano. The Exchange program will continue through Thursday, Sept. 14 and include a number of stops to places like the RI State House, the Freedom Trail and Wax Museum in Boston and also attending classes with JHS students.

When asked how they liked the ferry ride and tour of Newport, Francavilla – who is being hosted by Michael Mollicone and his parents – said, “It’s a very pretty city; it seems more British than American because of the architecture…it’s a fun place, as well.”

With the exception of Renato Mansolillo and Silvia Gliatta, this is the first trip to the United States for the eight other people from Panni Foggia, Italy and it all became possible back in 2015 when Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and Mayor Pasquale Ciruolo of Panni signed into agreement the unique Sister City Act that officials on both sides hope will grow into international business and tourism, just to name a few.

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