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June 11, 1998

A very special tour: Siblings get 1st look at stonemason father's work–the Cathedral of Learning

No one was eager to lay the capstone on the Cathedral of Learning. Even on days when a gentle breeze caresses the Cathedral lawn, winds atop the 42-story skyscraper tend to be blustery. Downright scary for someone balancing on a ladder, handling stone and mortar.

When none of his fellow stonemasons volunteered for the job, Eugenio Falconio spoke up. "I'll do it, if somebody will hold my legs," he said.

According to Falconio's children, that's how he ended up laying the final stone on the Oakland landmark.

Ironically, none of the five children — who grew up in Bloomfield and range in age from 78 to 95 — had ever seen their father's handiwork until last week, when Delia Egan (Eugenio's granddaughter), together with Nationality Rooms Program director Maxine Bruhns, organized a surprise tour. "I got the idea about two months ago when the oldest son, my uncle Don, was getting ready to celebrate his 95th birthday," Egan said. "They're all still pretty spry, but I figured we'd better not wait a lot longer if they were going to see this piece of their dad's work."

Don Falconio subsequently broke his hip and couldn't attend the tour — a shame, his brother and sisters agreed, because Don, a Carnegie Tech-educated architect, would have appreciated details like the Gothic tracery and other ornamental touches in the Cathedral stonework.

Of the five siblings, Don was the only one who wasn't born here. He and his mother stayed behind in the Adriatic village of Pesco Costanzo when Eugenio emigrated from Italy to Pittsburgh. After he'd earned enough money, Eugenio sent for his wife and son.

Lou Falconio (at 78, the baby of the family) grinned as he ran his fingers along fossil-encrusted Indiana limestone blocks on the Cathedral's 38th floor landing. "I've lived my whole life in this city," he said. "This is the first time I've ever visited this building, I'm ashamed to say."

His brother-in-law, John Hanna, 81, also had never entered the Cathedral before. But Hanna was unapologetic. With a broad smile and a dismissive comment about "ancient history," Hanna said he's never forgiven Pitt's administration for its alleged ill treatment of legendary football coach Jock Sutherland. The rivalry between then-Chancellor John Bowman and Sutherland led to the coach's resignation in 1939.

"I walked past this building every day for four years on my way from Soho, where my family lived, to Central Catholic, where I went to high school," Hanna recalled. "And I never even looked at this building." "What can you expect from an Irishman?" Lou Falconio said, needling the sole non-Italian in the group.

After observing the exterior stonework, the group visited the Italian Nationality Room. "Such a beautiful building!" exclaimed Virginia Hanna, 80, whose father helped to make the building, block by block.

— Bruce Steele

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