Vincent and Josephine Tenuto began a St. Joseph’s Table out of their home in Chicago on March 19, 1978. They invited friends and family from the community and Holy Rosary Parish of Chicago to attend. Each year, the table grew. Here’s the story of their 30 years of dedication shared by their son, John.
The third year, the table was becoming too big so they moved the table to the Hubbard Street police station where my father worked as a police officer.
Vincent Tenuto served as a police officer for 25 years before going to work as Supervisor of Investigations for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in the mid-1980s, and then as Deputy Superintendent for Streets and Sanitations.
The tables followed wherever my father worked. When he went to the State’s Attorney’s Office, the table was held there, and then at City Hall in Chicago. Eventually, it moved to the Cultural Center around the 1990s and then to the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago for its last years.
Vincent and Josephine did all the planning and worked for months to prepare the table.
On the day before the table, my parents would be gone for almost 48 hours, working nonstop with very little sleep. Some of the food was donated from local restaurants and merchants. An army of friends and family were volunteers. Of course, as per tradition, no meat was allowed on the table.
A few hundred people attended the first table and nearly 2000 people attended the last table in 2008. The event was so large that two mirror tables with exactly the same food and decorations were required.
My parents always had an affinity for Saint Joseph. Even before the tables, there were statues of Saint Joseph in our home. My mother is named Josephine, my grandfather’s grandfather was named Giuseppe, and I have a brother named Joseph. As a carpenter, Joseph resonated with my father whose dad was a master carpenter, and my mother’s Sicilian traditions always held a special place for Saint Joseph.
John Tenuto was only 8 years old when his parents held their first table.
I remember how all the furniture in the front part of the home was moved to accommodate the table and the huge amount of people that attended that day. It was always an exciting event, first because I was proud of my parents and second, it was a chance for friends and family to contribute based on their talents. My father and mother’s friends who cooked would take care of the food. My brothers who were expert truck drivers and knew how to do carpentry would help with that. I was good with computers, so I would handle all the letters and paperwork.
Over the years, many community leaders attended including Richard Daley, former state congressman and mayor of Chicago; Bob Wallace, local CBS newsman; and several Catholic Cardinals, including the Archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Bernardin.
When my brother Nicholas died in 1988, the table the next year was an emotional event and became a way to help those who needed help, and remember those who passed away.
Every group was included. Rabbis and Baptist ministers helped bless the table along with Catholic priests. The money that was donated to the table was given to a variety of causes, from local homes for the infirmed to children’s charities.
By the time they had their last table in 2008, 30 years after starting the tradition and having never missed a year no matter what their health was, my parents had raised almost $190,000 for the charities. My parents practiced the Italian tradition of compassion and treating all people fairly. Their tables were symbols of how people need to help people. These are lessons taught by my parents that my wife Maria Jose and I try to teach to our son, their grandson, Nicholas Jose.
Thank you to John Tenuto, a Sociology Professor at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, IL, for sharing your story with us.