Virginia originally shared this post on Good Morning Gloucester on March 17, 2013. Thanks Virginia for forwarding your beautiful story along to Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph film project’s blog
I remember as a child in the 1930’s my neighbor in Gould Ct., Maria Parisi, we affection called “Zia Marrica” would come to my home with her laundry basket. My Mom would take her little religious statutes from our China cabinet and wrap then carefully and fill her basket, also visiting other homes in the neighborhood, Zia Marrica would set up a very beautiful ornate alter in her home with candles, fresh flowers, a large statue of St. Joseph with many statutes of saints in honor of St. Joseph. The feast day is celebrated on March 19th every year. Zia Marrica would hold open house for nine days, also inviting the children to recite the rosary and sing the traditional Italian hymns for the novena. I loved listening to the stories she would tell us of the saints.
Our Pastor Father Kiley went to the superintendent of school and requested the children of Sicilian heritage, be allowed to be dismissed early from school on St. Joseph’s Day to participate in the festivities. I remember going to Zia Marrica’s home. I would sit very quietly as the reenactment began. The players were orphans. A man representing St. Joseph, a women for Our Blessed Mother and a child for Jesus. The man would knock door three times, requesting food and shelter for his family, during his flight to Egypt. On the third request she would open the door and we would all shout “Viva San Giuseppe, Viva Maria, Gesu‘, Giuseppe” and greet the honored guest very affectionately. When they were seated Zia Marrica would first wash their feet, using a basin of water and towel. The table was filled with all kinds of delicious food. Three dishes of each food. She spent most of the week cooking and neighbors also brought in food. I remember the honored guest were seated at the table. All us children sat on the floor and we brought our own spoons. As the honored guest tasted each dish, the food was passed down for us to enjoy. The first course was the traditional St. Joseph’s pasta. Homemade pasta with a sauce made of chick peas, fava beans, cauliflower, and fennel. We all took a taste of the food passing the dishing around. In Sicily fava beans were believed to save the people in poor villages from famine, during a drought. They prayed for the intersession of St. Joseph to save them. Fava beans are always kept as a symbol of never being hungry again.
This year I have been participating in the St. Joseph Novena at my friend, MaryAnn Orlando, home. We recite the rosary first in English then St. Joseph’s rosary in Italian. We sing the traditional Italian hymns. Shouting “Viva San Giuseppe, and Viva Maria, Gesu‘, Giuseppe” after every hymn. We enjoy a social time and Italian desserts. I asked Mary Ann why she observed this saint’s day. She replied she has continued this custom down from her mother and grandmother. She stated many people give thanks to St. Joseph for his intercession in answer to prayers and they relate many miracles through the intercession of St. Joseph. She stated her granddaughter was born with spinal bifida and look at that beautiful 13 year old serving people and bouncing with energy and happiness.
Also she stated her nephew was not expected to survive and awoke from a coma, as prayers were being said for him. Her altar is so beautiful. Our prayers are so sincere, I enjoy all the Italian hymns. I remember sitting with my mother and grandmother singing these hymns. Many homes of Sicilian heritage in Gloucester host this feast every year.
Our parish priest visits each home blessing the altar, flour for making bread and pasta, oranges and lemons. On the eve of St. Joseph’s day many people will visit for the blessing. A little bag with an orange for sweetness, a lemon for bitterness and a little loaf of bread for sustenance of life. On St. Joseph’s Day a bountiful buffet banquet with traditional delicious Sicilian food and wonderful pastry is offered. Each home has open house. All are welcome to attend. My friends, Grace Brancaleone and Katie Fontana also invite me to her homes every year to share in St. Joseph’s Day. I feel our Sicilian community is so blessed and fortunate to continue this wonderful custom. This custom is celebrated all over this country and also in many parts of the world by people of Sicilian heritage.
Viva San Giuseppe!