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Mary Ierullo: An Angel from “The Village”
By Zeljka Gaspar
I met Mrs. Mary Ierullo one Friday morning when the harsh sounds of a construction machine were being drowned out by the voices of children playing on Willow Street, where Mrs. Ierullo’s house is located. The sign on the door read: “This house is protected by angels.” A promise fulfilled immediately, for from the moment I came in I was surrounded by angels. They were everywhere: on the walls, in the garden, in the photos. The most important one, however, was sitting right beside me. Mary Ierullo has done so much for the Italian-Canadian community that she could truly be called an angel.

This proud lady seems to be first in many things. She was the first Italian female real estate broker in Ottawa and Canada, and most likely in North America. While working as a court interpreter for Lyle Gillespie, Mary Ierullo once spent six consecutive hours translating from Italian into English and vice versa.

“They stood up and gave me a standing ovation. No one has ever been able to go through a solid six hours without stopping,” said Mrs. Ierullo proudly. Also, she and her husband honoured Saint Anthony in 1953 by putting out the Italian, Vatican and Canadian flags.

“After this, others in the village did the same,” said Mrs. Ierullo.

She has a glow in her eyes each time she speaks about “her village” and its people.

“We called this the Italian Village because for us it was an extension of the home that we had left behind,” explained Mrs. Ierullo. “We had our church, we had our school, and we had our village.”

Mary Nazarena Dolores Parotta arrived in Ottawa in 1929 at the age of eight with her mother, uncle and grandmother. They came from the lower portion of the Italian peninsula, Calabria, like a majority of Italian families of the time. (Her uncle Bruno Messina came to Canada in 1909 and her two aunts went to Argentina in 1920.)

(Photo: Zeljka Gaspar) Mary Ierullo in her garden.

“My generation has gone through Depression. We have gone through the war. We have been able to mix and blend with people from different countries who moved here like ourselves. Fortunately, most of us did not have the scars that the later years brought in, the scars of fugitives. I, who worked as an interpreter with Immigration, could not only hear their pain but I could also feel their pain,” said Mrs. Ierullo.

She explained that the focal point at all times was St. Anthony’s Church.

“One day in 1954 Father Jerome, who was the priest at the time, called me and said: ‘Mary, we are having a difficult time and I am wondering if you would be able to help out?’”

A large number of Italians were arriving from Sault Sainte-Marie and South Porcupine where they had previously worked in the mine, but now there were no jobs for them. So they came to Ottawa. They had nowhere to stay so Mrs. Ierullo and her husband, Vincent, together with other people from “The Village,” put out their helping hands.

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“Everybody pitched in,” said Mrs. Ierullo. “We were very devoted. I think that’s what made this community what it was – the old-fashioned dignity and respect that one holds for the other, which is a wonderful gift. We stayed together, supported and helped each other. We all worked together.”

As a young girl Mary Ierullo dreamt of becoming a nun. However, on the advice of Mother St. Thomas Aquinas she “opened [her] heart to God and accepted the place which He had chosen for [her].”

At the age of 31 she married Vincent Ierullo, a bakery worker, and they had three children: Peter, Anthony and Angela. Starting in 1952 and continuing for the next 45 years, Mrs. Ierullo worked as a freelance court interpreter. She also gave typing lessons. In 1953, her husband Vincent suffered the third successive injury at work.

“At that moment I knew that I had to get into something solid. That is how I got the idea of going into real estate,” said Mrs. Ierullo, who in 1955 started to work as a real estate agent.

Mary Ierullo with her mother, Angela Maria Messina.

Two years later, after passing the examination for real estate broker, she opened her own office. The sign on it read: “M. Ierullo, Real Estate Broker, Ottawa’s First Real Estate Office to Help Canadians and New Canadians of Average Earnings.” The agents who worked for her could sell and buy houses in six languages (English, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Hebrew), something that had never been done before. Mrs. Ierullo can still recall the name of every person she sold a house to, as well as the names of those she helped in other ways.

When I asked Mrs. Ierullo if people still remember how much she did for the community she answered with an assuring “Oooh, yes.”

“They phoned when I fell; they had cards and flowers sent. Oh yes. But the most important thing for me is that warmth that I feel when I pick up the phone and somebody says: ‘Signora, mi aiutate?’ (Mrs. can you help me?)”


This article was originally published in the October 2000 issue of Il Postino.
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