by Michael Grillo & Raymond Guarini of The Italian Enclaves Historical Society


One of the quintessential aspects of any Italian Enclave’s summer is the feast.  The smell of zeppole, reminiscing with old friends and the traditional Italian songs and hymns are all beloved aspects of summer and links us to our storied traditions in the Italian American community.  For many, these feasts are anticipated all year and it is hard to imagine what any given summer would be like without a feast.

This year, sadly, in the age of a pandemic, the Italian- American community was faced with the question: how we can continue our traditions while keeping everyone safe?  It was an especially hard decision for many churches and independent societies who rely heavily on proceeds from annual feasts to fund their parishes year round. Gladly, for many churches and societies, the processions and feasts went on, albeit differently in light of a silent enemy.


Society members carry the statue of Saint Rocco during the 131st annual procession held without interruption since inception


The statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Downeck, Newark’s Italian enclave being held from Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel church.


Our Lady of Mt. Carmel procession being held in Williamsburg Brooklyn out of the Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel church.


Devotees of the Our Lady of The Snow society in Williamsburg, Brooklyn process their patroness from their society clubhouse. Photo credit: Sabino Curcio of Growing Up Italian


Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Melrose Park, Chicago being processed through the streets during the pandemic. Photo credit: Lou Phillips, Italian Enclaves Historical Society member


The 100th procession of Saint Rocco from Santa Maria Incoronata church in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, a former Italian enclave. Photo credit: Lou Phillips, Italian Enclaves Historical Society member

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn parishioners and clergy of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish maintained their procession of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the Our Lady of the Snow society’s devotees dutifully carried on their procession as well.

Chicago carried on their procession for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the Melrose Park Italian enclave as well as the 100th feast procession of Saint Rocco from the Santa Maria Incoronata Church.

The Saint Rocco Society of Potenza procession in Little Italy, New York was able to successfully hold a socially distanced procession and mass at the Church of the Most Precious Blood to celebrate their 131st year on August 16th. Meanwhile, other churches and societies have reluctantly opted for online streaming to remain in compliance with state mandates and to carry on despite the expectation of low turnout due to the pandemic.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Newark, NJ is one such church that was able to live-stream and publish recordings of their novena and services online for the first time.  While church attendance was limited, many at home were able to enjoy the novenas to Saint Anthony and Our Lady of Mount Carmel live streamed via Facebook and YouTube.  The Rev. Monsignor Joseph Ambrosio and his committee led by Eric Lavin also introduced online candle sales during both novenas.

“These candle sales allowed those unable to join us to still partake in the tradition of lighting candles for special intentions that have been part of many of their families for generations.  We tried as much as possible to bring every aspect of the novena and our 130-year old  feast to those who were not able to join us in person, many for the first time in their lives” said Lavin, an Italian teacher and Ironbound Newark historian.

Many others feasts have planned or are planning to have small in-person celebrations while live-streaming the events for devotees and parishioners at home.   These include Saint Anthony and Saint Lucy’s Feast in Boston’s North End.  According to the North end waterfront website the committee has planned a weekend full of online activities including culinary demonstrations of our favorite feast foods prepared by some of our favorite North End restaurants, bakeries and shops, a live-streamed Mass from St. Leonard Church, (Saturday, August 29 at 12 p.m.), Italian-American music, and videos featuring highlights of the best of Saint Anthony and Saint Lucy’s Feast.

For more information visit :

This coming Sunday will be a procession in Montclair, NJ for the feast of Saint Sebastian who is also venerated in Italy for his intercession during plagues. Unfortunately, mass will not be celebrated.

While it is disappointing that we will not be able to meet in person this year, it is wonderful to see so many of our traditions being kept alive during these challenging times. Especially important this year is that even though the vendors of the feasts are not opened for business, the religious aspects of the feasts are being maintained with masses and/or processions. After all, the processions and the church are the points of origin for all of our Italian enclaves and also the common bonds of faith that thread us together.  We can only hope that we will meet once again on the streets next year, and stronger than ever.  Viva la festa e viva Gli Italoamericani!

To help support the Italian Enclaves Historical society, please purchase copies of New York City’s Italian Neighborhoods published by Arcadia publishing. All proceeds are given to The Italian Enclaves Historical Society and the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza (both organizations are 501c3 non-profts).

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