Maria Elisa Mirarchi, 86, matriarch of a South Philadelphia Italian family

Posted: February 11, 2014

HER GRANDKIDS called Maria Elisa Mirarchi "Grandmom Bella." Bella is Italian for beautiful, and this woman by all accounts was beautiful inside and out.

"All my life, my mom was an angel by my side," said her daughter Caterina Romani. "The most selfless, beautiful, kind, considerate woman you could ever meet."

The former Maria Elisa Varano, who was passionate about passing on her knowledge of Italy and Italian saints, a devoted mother and grandmother, died Jan. 30. She was 86 and was living in Springfield, Delaware County, but had lived most of her life in South Philadelphia.

Maria and her husband, Tony, ran a true Italian-American household in South Philadelphia since they arrived here from Italy as a young married couple.

One of their household rules was that if you crossed their threshold, you had to bring a good appetite. You would then be spoiled by Italian food and delicacies, the recipes of which were brought from Italy and then enhanced with ingenuity and love.

Tony made his own Italian cold cuts, soppressata and capicola, and, of course, wine. One of the secrets of the fine food they served was that many of the ingredients came from the opulent garden that was a neighborhood legend on Bigler Street.

The garden featured 10-foot fig trees, 2-foot-long cucumbers and zucchini, and 2-pound tomatoes.

Some of the family recipes, elaborated on by Tony and Maria, were secrets, such as their famous Italian gravy.

Both Maria and Tony, who was born Leopoldo Mirarchi, were natives of Isca Sullo Ionio, in the province of Catanzaro on the coast of southern Italy. They met and were married there.

Tony died last June at age 87.

Maria had a lifelong dream of becoming a schoolteacher, but her father pulled her out of school at an early age to work on the family farm.

"She fulfilled her own dream and became a teacher to all by teaching others about Italy, how to speak Italian, about Italian saints and about life," her family said.

Maria had a powerful faith, and talked about having vivid dreams of Jesus. She was especially devoted to Ss. Padre Pio and Francis of Assisi.

She was formerly an active member of Stella Maris Church, where she opened her home every year for the annual feast of St. Marziale, the patron saint of Isca Sullo Ionio.

"It was her strong faith in God that gave her the strength to love life and love others," her family said.

Her husband owned several bars and grocery stores over the years. His last business was Tony's Market at Darien and Johnson streets.

After moving to Springfield, Maria and Tony became active members of St. Francis of Assisi Church.

Maria enjoyed watching funny movies and love stories. She loved musicals, and attended them with Caterina and her granddaughter Christa.

She is also survived by another daughter, Concetta "Tina" Mirarchi, two other grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Services: Were Wednesday. Burial was in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.

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