The largest Italian-American service organisation in the United States – UNICO National – for its headquarters in Wisconsin – honoured sister Marie Louise Balestrieri this year: “Service Above Self Award”.

The members of UNICO, which means unique or one-of-a-kind in Italian, work to support development, educational, scientific and literary projects, promoting Italian heritage and combating negative stereotypes about Italian Americans.

Sister Marie Louise Balestrieri joined the Sisters of Charity at the age of 18. She taught at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Institute and Santa Rita School. She worked in hospital pastoral care at St. Mary’s Hospital, where she helped open the wing for the elderly.

She then served as Treasurer of the United States Province. At her term was up, she was for 20 years in charge of the Guardian Angel Learning Centre, opened for children from the Italian neighbourhood who spent time with the Sisters after school, learning to cook, sew and pray. Over the years, thousands of children have found love and learning here while mum and dad worked.

Even now that she is retired, sister Marie Louise continues to be involved in her home parish of St. Rita’s. She visits the home bound, brings Communion and makes conntectin phone calls to the elderly and sick.

For this long and fruitful existence in the service, UNICO has awarded her the honour for 2024.

UNICO chapters exist throughout the United States to promote Italian heritage and culture; promote, support and assist charitable, scientific, cultural, educational and literary projects; promote members’ interest in the public welfare; and cooperate with others in civic, social and cultural development.

Founded on the principle of “Service Above Self”, members of sections across the country devote their time, energy and resources to serving their local communities. Over the past century, UNICO and its members have answered the call of those in need, from helping earthquake victims in Italy and their communities to supporting families after the 9/11 attack in New York City. The organization also supports numerous educational initiatives, including providing scholarships for students and promoting the study of the Italian language in high schools. UNICO has established chairs at several universities to promote Italian-American studies and Italy’s rich history.