The Italian Almanac

Mr. Mannella, his wife and his mother

Italian News - April 26

He left as the unwanted child of a peasant woman and returned a millionaire. Yesterday, Michael Mannella came home to a hero’s welcome and was reunited with the mother whom he last saw more than half a century ago.

“My son, my son,” said Assunta Suriano, now 89, in tears as they embraced for the first time in the hilltop village of Roccaspinalveti. Their emotional reunion ended a lifetime’s search by Mr Mannella who, aged 55, finally tracked down the mother who was forced to give him up when he was only three years old.

Their story has captured the hearts of Italians and cast the spotlight on a little-known episode in which thousands of unwanted Italian children were sent as orphans for adoption in North America in the 1950s and 1960s. Many were taken in by American families of Italian origin and some still remain unaware of their origins.

Mr Mannella said that he knew from his first passport, which his adoptive parents preserved, that he had been born in 1951 at Atessa, a town near Roccaspinalveti and that his name at birth was Mario. He has only now learnt that his mother, who was 34 when she gave birth, was forced to give him away. She had been “engaged but not yet married” and her fiancé had abandoned her. “I never saw him again,” she said.

Mr Mannella became a successful businessman in Oldwick, New Jersey, married an American, Barbara, and had two children of his own. But he never lost the desire to discover his roots. A search of hospital records at Atessa finally led investigators to Signora Suriano. When told by the village policeman that a 55-year-old man was looking for her, she said, “That must be my son”. She said that she had married twice but had never had any more children and “never forgot the little boy I had to give away”.