Maria Marrelli, Italian Community Activist, and former Citizenship Court Judge

By Alan Hustak on June 24, 2012

Maria Marrelli was the community activist and local columnist before she was named a Citizenship Court Judge in 1977. Mrs. Marrelli, who was 97 when she died on June 21 was well known in Notre Dame de Grace, where she was heavily involved as a Liberal party organizer and as a warden of St. Raymond’s parish, and as an interpreter at the local caisse populaire.

”She was a leader. A force to be reckoned with. Not only was she able to express her views, she was able to rally people behind her so when she spoke, she spoke with a unified voice,” said  Montreal’s Executive Committee Chairman, Michael Applebaum. Applebaum said the borough will see how best to honour her achievements in a permanent manner.  “She worked day and night for the community, and when she put her mind to something she came very well prepared to argue her case.”

Maria_Marelli_01.jpgMaria Di Grandis was born in Montreal  May 18, 1915,  the daughter of an Italian immigrant family who had come to Canada from Ancona, an Italian province on the Adriatic Coast. As a youngster she couldn’t speak a word of English. She was taunted by classmates,who made fun of her, called her “spaghetti,” and said she smelled of garlic. The biggest influenced her life, she said, was her maternal grandmother, Augusta Mercantini.  “She had a fist like a man. If she wanted something , nothing stood  in  her way, she just went out and got it,”  Marrelli once  told a reporter. At the age of 17, she started  Loggia Elisabetta Di Silvestro, a charity  that helped young Italian women on welfare during the Depression. She became a teacher, married in 1936, and was principal of Patranato Italo Canadese Agli Immigranti offered Italian language classes every Saturday morning.  In 1972 Marrelli was the only female founding member of the Quebec Congress of Italian Canadians which was started to safeguard the interest and the reputation of the Italian community.

“She was headstrong, a feisty powerhouse, a community leader on so many levels who mastered the art of politics behind the scene. She was one of those people who didn’t talk but who get things done,” said retired Quebec Superior Court  judge  Pierette Sévigny, “She was very well organized, well connected.  She had a list of about 400 women she could call up and mobilize. She ran elections at the municipal, provincial and federal level as a enumerator, district returning officer, and as a judge of the revisions board.. “She was a small woman packed with energy,” said former Solictor-General Warren Allmand. “She was outstanding, and active in the English , French and Italian communities. She organized for me all the years I was in politics, and in nine elections over 31 years, I never lost a single poll.”  

Marrelli was largely responsible for having the statue of Christopher Columbus erected in Montreal`s little Italy district.  In 1988 she was honoured with Italy’s Order of Merit, and five years ago the National Congress of Italian Canadians honoured her with a medal. Marrelli never thought of herself a feminist. “There was no such thing in my day,” she said. “But it seems I was always the one woman doing things in the company of the men.  I’m proud of that.  I’ve always been busy. I like to keep busy.”  She remained active in the affairs of her church and her local borough until about three years ago. "We are all family. No matter what your ethnic background or your race, we are all family,” she said. “‘You keep the family together - that's my creed," she said. "Somebody gets sick, has a baby or dies and the whole family comes into play. That's what has made us strong."

Her husband Giuseppe died in 1991. She leaves her three children, Beatrice Pearson, Roger and Nancy,, 7 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at the Centre Funéraire Cotes-des- Neiges Sat.  July 7 at 2.p.m.

 

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