Despite pandemic, St. Mary's Feast remains '#CivitaStrong'

Posted 7/16/20

The Executive Board of the St. Mary's Feast Society, located in the Knightsville section of Cranston, has released its plans for the 115th annual Feast. And those plans look like this year's feast will be atypical of the huge weeklong celebration that

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Despite pandemic, St. Mary's Feast remains '#CivitaStrong'

Posted

The Executive Board of the St. Mary’s Feast Society, located in the Knightsville section of Cranston, has released its plans for the 115th annual Feast. And those plans look like this year’s feast will be atypical of the huge weeklong celebration that envelopes the neighborhood year after year.

“Our plans for 2020 had to be massively scaled back due to the COVID-19 crisis,” society president Matthew Volpi said. “This is not the feast we wanted to run to honor our blessed mother. But the current health crisis and stringent, but absolutely necessary, regulations on social distancing left us little choice.”

Typically, the feast celebration takes over the Knightsville neighborhood with the focal point on the corner of Phenix Avenue and Cranston Street at the society property. Hundreds of families have parties and cookouts, marching bands process through the streets, visiting those parties, and feast officials estimate that nearly 50,000 people make their way to the Knightsville neighborhood during the festivities. The Greene Avenue field, at the corner of Greene Avenue and Briggs Street, houses dozens of carnival rides and games, and the Feast Society parking lot is transformed into a “restaurant row” where visitors can enjoy Italian cold cuts, broccoli rabe and provolone grinders, snail salad, chicken parm and of course a sausage and pepper sandwich, just to name a few. The sounds of bands from the main Feast Stage compete with those from area restaurants, as well as the gazebo.

And just down the street, at St. Mary’s Parish, the faithful flock for a sacred Triduum of three special weekday evening masses. An outdoor Mass on Friday evening takes place outside the church, followed by a candlelight procession where men carry the statue of the Blessed Mother through the streets, with a marching band in front of her, and people walking by candlelight behind her. An annual Patronal Mass takes place on Sunday, followed by a parade, where thousands line Cranston Street to witness the entertaining parade, and see statue of the Madonna della Civita again be carried by members of the feast society through the streets.

The weekend always culminates with a gigantic fireworks display on Sunday night at 10 pm. from Atwood field.

But not this year. Not in 2020; not for the 115th anniversary of the celebration here in America.

“It’s sad, and I feel as though there is a gaping hole right in the middle of my summer,” said Chris Buonanno, the former society secretary who was recently appointed as the group’s treasurer. “I should be frantically making preparations both for our family party and the neighborhood celebration this week. Instead, it’s a normal week.”

The plans for this week are reduced drastically. Volpi said the society is “doing a little something” just to maintain the tradition, so it can be said that the year was not totally skipped. But it is not the celebration all are accustomed to.

Simply put, the feast society building will be open for “Food To Go” starting at 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. on Sunday. Menu items include doughboys, clam cakes and chowder, stuffies, and of course, sausage and peppers.

The Masses traditionally held at St. Mary’s Church will be by reservation only, and seating will be limited. The Friday evening Mass will take place at 7 p.m., but indoors and it will not be followed by a candlelight procession. The Annual Feast Mass will take place Sunday at 11 a.m. and instead of being followed by a massive parade and procession with marching bands, a dozen floats and many processors, only two floats will process. The statue of the Blessed Mother, which is normally carried, will be driven by a vehicle to make the rounds this year. Onlookers must remain on the sidewalk, and won’t be allowed to approach or touch the statue, as they are usually encouraged to do. There won’t be any society members marching either. What usually takes two to three hours will only take about 30 minutes this year.

“The regulations from the city and state are stricter than we anticipated, but this is a necessary scale back to maintain public safety. Our president emeritus, Richard Petrella, fell victim to COVID-19, passing away in April, so we know how serious this is. This is absolutely essential to ensure everyone’s health,” Volpi said. “But it hurts. It hurts on an emotional level, and it is hurting our society as well.”

Buonanno is concerned about the finances of the Feast Society as a result of the abbreviated feast this year. “We are trying creative techniques this year to make up for lost income, but we have a long way to go. We have adopted the saying ‘Skipping this year to make sure we are all here next year.’ But when we take a year off, our income takes a year off as well. We are doing things we never needed to before, and we need them to succeed in order to make sure we survive.”

Feast Society vice president David DiSegna organized a GoFundMe to try to make up the difference this year.

“On the one hand, COVID has forced us to get back to our roots this year and scale our feast down to the core elements that existed in 1905, namely a Mass and procession in honor of the Blessed Mother,” he said. “While I hope our community can gain a greater appreciation of where we came from this year, the pandemic has also forced us to bring our fundraising efforts into the 21st century. We’ve had to get creative and look for new ways to raise money, because our typical in-person fundraisers and social events had to be cancelled. We have to continue to be imaginative, and we need the community’s support.”

The society, at the suggestion of Buonanno’s wife, Kristen, made “booster signs” to adorn people’s front lawns. For a donation of $20 or more, residents get a sign that reads, “Skipping this year to make sure we are all here next year. #CivitaStrong.”

The society has even ordered masks, which will be for sale for $5, with the likeness of the Blessed Mother on them. “We are trying everything, and more,” Buonanno said.

Society secretary and past president Alfred Crudale, though, held out hope for the future.

“Of the top four officers of this organization, I am the only one over 40, although not that far over,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve watched these young men grow up in this society, Chris [Buonanno] at his grandfather’s knee at the age of 6 putting up flags, Matt [Volpi] since he was 10. David [DiSegna] I remember as an infant when his father was involved. They are here for the long haul, and there is no quitting in them. They want the same feast for their children as they had when they were young. I know when we look back at 2020, it will be the anomaly year. With the help of our Madonna della Civita we will come out on the other end of this crisis as a much stronger feast society, and a stronger society in general.”

“But we need help from the people of the community,” Buonanno said.

“Lots,” Volpi concluded.

To learn more, follow the St. Mary’s Feast Society on Facebook.

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