I first became aware of the Feast of San Giuseppe through my friend Joe Ciaramitaro, creator of Good Morning Gloucester. He invited me to join him and his family on a community-wide tour of Gloucester homes where altars in honor of Saint Joseph and his special feast day had been lovingly created. The tour was organized by Sefatia Romeo Theken, who later became the mayor of Gloucester. I was immediately taken with and deeply touched by the beauty of the altars, and the special care, devotion, and time it took to build each altar.
The following year, Joe’s sister requested that I make an audio recording of the Orlando novena for she and her family, so that she in turn could learn the prayers and teach her family. I was happy to accept the request and believe that they used the audio recording for the next several years. The Orlando Family’s deeply devotional novena inspired the desire to document not only their traditions, but the traditions of the families who each year open their hearts and homes to the community to view their altars.
Through the family interviews, it is revealed why the altars are a vital part of their traditions and how each family began their altar. Not all Sicilian-American families in Gloucester create altars for the novena, but each family that does shares a unique and powerful story of hope and devotion. During the novena, many of the homes are open to all members of the community who would like to pray to Saint Joseph.
Filming at the Groppo Family’s celebration to Saint Joseph was simply beyond beautiful and I have a trunk full of memories I will treasure all my life. My most heartfelt thanks to Nina and Frank Groppo, and to their their extended Family and Friends for more than just allowing filming during their cherished Feast of Saint Joseph preparations, novena, and feast day, but for making me feel welcome and completely at home! The thing is, they make everyone feel that way. Many come to the Groppo’s Saint Joseph Feast straight away from work; fisherman and marine railway workers eat alongside businessmen in suits, and all are welcome at the Groppo table.
After the novena, the most beautiful of all prayer services was held in the late afternoon on Saint Joseph’s Day at the Groppo home, where at the conclusion everyone stood shoulder to shoulder, holding hands, singing, and praying. Nina gave a most heartfelt speech of thanksgiving and then everyone embraced. The loving spirit of Saint Joseph, and the love and kindness of family and friends sharing a tradition together, was felt by all.
Some of the most touching scenes captured filming are of the youngest members of each family eagerly participating in cooking and food preparation, and especially in learning how to make pasta. The older generation teaches the younger and I think you will be utterly charmed by both generation’s enthusiasm!
Words cannot accurately express my gratitude and appreciation to all the families that participated in the filming of Gloucester’s Feast of Saint Joseph community film project. My sincerest hope is that the film will hold stories and moments for all to treasure.
Some notes about the history of the Feast of Saint Joseph ~
The feast honoring San Giuseppe originated in Sicily. The old Sicilian legend has it that during the late Middle Ages there was a drought, the worse the island had ever known. Where once had grown wheat, fruits, and vegetables, only cracked stalks, withered vines, and barren fields remained. The famine was so great that Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph. At long last rain fell, sending life-giving water. The people of Sicily rejoiced and, to give thanks and show their appreciation to St. Joseph, made offerings of their finest crops, to both honor their patron saint and to feed the orphaned and the poor. They prepared a table laden with an assortment of harvested foods. As time went on the tradition took hold and grew to what it is today. Through Sicilian immigrants this beautiful custom of La Tavola di San Giuseppe came to Gloucester more than a century ago.
Gloucester’s maritime industry—not only fishing, but ship building as well—was strengthened by the waves of immigrants from Italy, Portugal, and Finland. Many of the European traditions continue today, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Italian-American community where Italian traditions and celebrations are woven through the fabric of their lives.
You may have heard of Gloucester’s Saint Peter’s Fiesta, the five-day celebration devoted to St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, and of the famous greasy pole contest. The fishermen worked weeks and even months on end, and these special feast days were their only days off and cause for grand celebration. The Feast of St. Joseph and the nine days of novenas leading to the feast are considered by many in the community to be the most special celebration of all.