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Philomena Vigliotta dies; ex-singer survived Nazi bombings

Philomena Vigliotta and her late husband, Ernest, devoted

Philomena Vigliotta and her late husband, Ernest, devoted much of their time to volunteering at St. John the Evangelist Church in Center Moriches. Credit: Vigliotta Family

Philomena Vigliotta, who emigrated from Depression-ravaged Ireland by hauling her one suitcase and a guitar aboard the Queen Mary to London only to fall under the horror of Nazi bombings in World War II, never lost sight of her dream of a life of faith, music and family in America.

The longtime Center Moriches resident, whose family operated one of the last of the major duck farms on Long Island, died Feb. 13 at home of natural causes at age 95.

In her mid-20s, she landed a job at the famed Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London. The ornate 19th-century Victorian landmark with soaring terra-cotta spires suffered extensive damage in the Nazi blitz and Vigliotta recounted picking out bits of glass from her hair after one nighttime rocket attack.

“I was in the building and I could hear the bomb drop,” she told Newsday in a 2016 interview, with a trace of an Irish brogue. “You hear an explosion. All of the glass was shattered. We went to the basement in the building . . . they gave us a cup of tea to calm us down. It didn’t calm us down much.”

“Her timing was always wrong,” joked her son Paul, of Manorville, referring to her coming of age in a global depression, then suffering through months of bombings in London. “She was the rock of our family.”

Born in the Donnybrook district of Dublin, she was the fifth of six children of Mary Ellen and Agustus Mitchell, who played music at silent movies and in concerts. Philomena Vigliotta attended the Sacred Heart of Jesus school in Dublin and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

She first came to America as a child, sponsored by an aunt in Patchogue. Her family traveled between Ireland, England and the United States for years performing. In 1947, she settled in Brooklyn and later met her future husband, Ernest Vigliotta, at a church social at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Patchogue.

She overcame some initial hesitation over the relationship between the Irish and Italian families when she sang “Ave Maria” for her boyfriend’s parents.

They wed two years later and were married 67 years, living in Center Moriches since 1956.

“When I met her, her sparkly eyes caught me,” Ernest Vigliotta, a Marine Corps veteran of World War II, said in a 2016 interview. He died Nov. 12, 2016, at 92 years old.

They were principals in the Vigliotta Duck Farm in East Moriches, a family operation with the lighthearted advertising tag line, “Wanna Buy a Duck?”

The couple long devoted much of their time to volunteering at St. John the Evangelist Church, across the street from their home.

She sang soprano and played the organ at the church for years. A member of the choral society, she was for more than 40 years a soloist in productions of Handel’s “Messiah.”

She also performed in summer concerts at the Bald Hill amphitheater in Farmingville and at the Center Moriches Cedar Lodge Nursing Home, where she also provided Holy Communion; and sang at weddings and funerals, where a favorite selection was “Danny Boy.” She also was part of the Rosary Society and taught religion classes for 20 years.

In 2016, she was the grand marshal at the Center Moriches St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Vigliotta also is survived by daughters Maria Sikora, of Manorville, Margaret McMahon, Angela Werner, both of Center Moriches, Theresa Hubbard, of Smithtown, and Joan Kret, of Middletown, New Jersey; another son, John Vigliotta, of Gloucester, Virginia; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A service was held Monday at St. John the Evangelist Church.

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