Philomena Lazare A Philadelphia Story
Philomena Lazare was born in 1910 in Monastiri, Macedonia to Greek citizens Stavros and Dominiki Fessides. Stavros left Macedonia prior to the First World War as he was part of the Greek Resistance and his life was in danger. Philomena’s remaining family members were finally able to emigrate to Salonika in May of 1919 after the end of the war. They fled to escape religious and cultural persecution by the Ottoman Empire. Their home had been bombed during the war, and her sister Melpomene suffered from shrapnel the rest of her life.
By July of 1919, the family boarded the “Megalis Hellas” for the voyage to the United States. At a stop in Sicily, the family was able to see the eruption of Mount Etna. Philomena and her family settled in Philadelphia at 222 South 10th Street, in the heart of Philadelphia’s Greek town.
Philomena attended Philadelphia public schools through sixth grade. She became a professional seamstress like her mother. She was exceptionally skilled and worked on couture dresses for Main Line clients, including a wedding dress for the Rockefeller family in New York. She worked to help support her family, which included helping to pay tuition for her brother Peter to attend the University of Pennsylvania.
The Fessides family was very active in the Greek community. Stavros was an active member of Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church at 12th and Fitzwater Streets. Later, the family were members at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church and Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church at 59th and Larchwood. In the 1940s and 50s, they were active members of the Monastirioton Beneficial Society, a fraternal organization of émigrés from Monastiri. In 1933, at Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church, Philomena married Lazarus (Larry) Lazarou of Rochester, New York, who was also an émigré from Monastiri. They had two children, Constantine and John Lazare. When she was fifty, Larry tragically passed away, leaving her a widow at a young age.
Like many immigrants, she worked very hard to help her family. As a female, her education was sacrificed for that of her brother. In fact, she made many sacrifices for her family. Yet through it all, she always remained gracious and thankful, and always a lady. She would read her Greek Bible every night before she went to bed as she never forgot the years of persecution in her youth when she would hide in her cellar to read by candlelight.