‘Buona festa’

Set for 110th year, St. Mary’s Feast renews focus on religious roots

Daniel Kittredge
Posted 7/15/15

As the story goes, it was St. Luke who centuries ago bestowed to his native city of Antioch, located in present-day Turkey, a painting of the Madonna.

That painting, according to tradition, made …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
‘Buona festa’

Set for 110th year, St. Mary’s Feast renews focus on religious roots


As the story goes, it was St. Luke who centuries ago bestowed to his native city of Antioch, located in present-day Turkey, a painting of the Madonna.

That painting, according to tradition, made its way hundreds of years later to Mount Civita in the town of Itri, Italy. In 796 A.D., a deaf and mute shepherd in the town is said to have approached and looked into a tree, where he saw the painting of Mary and the infant Jesus – and, upon witnessing the sight, was cured of his muteness.

The community built a hut, and later a temple, to protect the image in the tree, and celebrated the event as a miracle. In 1777, Pope Pius VI formally commemorated the sacred occurrence, officially crowning the Madonna as “Maria Santissima della Civita” – the Blessed Mother of Mount Civita.

In the early years of the 20th century, as immigrants from Itri settled in Cranston’s Knightsville neighborhood, the memory of the miracle, and the desire to hold on to such a core piece of their identity, remained strong. On July 21, 1905, working with St. Rocco’s Church in Johnston, the first feast of the Madonna della Civita – St. Mary’s Feast – was held.

The decades since have seen the Itri immigrants, and the Cranston feast they created, forge a new, proud chapter in the long tradition. St. Mary’s Church was established in 1925, and the annual July gathering has become an integral part of the community, drawing thousands in celebration of faith, family, and the summer season.

This year, as the feast marks its 110th year, its organizers are hoping to place a renewed focus on the gathering’s religious and cultural beginnings.

“The meaning’s about the Blessed Mother,” said Thomas A. DeSio, a St. Mary’s Feast Society trustee and grand marshal of the feast.

“It’s grown exponentially over the years. This year, we’re going back to our roots,” said Christopher E. Buonanno, secretary of the society. “It’s a miracle that happened in the city that my family’s from, that Tommy’s family’s from.”

The festivities have been slightly scaled back this year. There will be no road race – although it may be revived in the future –and the Sunday parade will be limited to the traditional religious procession from St. Mary’s Church.

The familiar staples of the five-day celebration, however – food, music, a carnival, fireworks – all remain.

Buonanno said planning for the feast, which is expected to draw between 70,000 and 100,000 people in all, is a yearlong venture. The society and its Ladies Auxiliary have a total combined membership of roughly 600 men and women, and a core group of 10 to 15 undertakes much of the preparation. Fundraising efforts continue throughout the year to support the festivities.

“The whole thing is a celebration…we’ve very happy that it’s become a community event,” he said. “This feast has a lasting impact on the neighborhood, and I hope it continues to.”

DeSio agreed, pointing to the positive impact the feast has on local business and the countless get-togethers throughout Knightsville held in conjunction with the festivities.

“The whole city gets involved…it’s one big community event,” he said.

Over the years, the feast has become a generational – and emotional – endeavor, particularly for those most closely involved. Buonanno first became involved in the society through his grandfather, Nicola M. Spirito, when he was six years old. More than two decades later, he remains deeply engaged in the group’s efforts, along with his mother, Jane Spirito, and his wife, Kristen.

“When I do have children … I want them to be involved somehow,” he said. “It’s a way for my to remember my grandparents … that’s what they gave to me.”

The bonds built through the society are equally important, Buonanno said.

“We become each other’s family,” he said. “We’re always working together.”

Religious services during the feast are conducted in cooperation with St. Mary’s Church. A triduum – or three-day period of prayer – in honor of Maria della Civita began Monday at 7 p.m., with services also held the following two nights at the same time.

On Friday at 7 p.m., the traditional outdoor Mass and candlelight procession will be held. A Mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Sunday, followed by the traditional procession beginning at 11:30 a.m.

The entertainment this year has been consolidated in the area directly in front of the society’s building at the corner of Cranston Street and Phenix Avenue. The schedule is as follows:

Gazebo entertainment

Wednesday, July 15: Ronnie Sands & MaryLou, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday, July 16: Janine Andrews, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, July 17: Mac Odom & Chill, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 18: Dance Studio, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, July 18: Sophisticated Swing, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, July 19: General Centracchio Band, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Feast Society’s main stage

Wednesday, July 15: DJ Vito Georgio, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Thursday, July 16: Kim Thomas & Illusions, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, July 17: Chris Jason as Frank Sinatra, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, July 17: Tribecca, 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday, July 18: Robert Black, Elvis tribute, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, July 18: Wolfgang Brass Band, 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday, July 19: Robert Black Duo with Debbie Lewis, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, July 19: Brother to Brother, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The feast concludes with a fireworks display on Sunday at 10 p.m.

For more information “like” the St. Mary’s Feast Society on Facebook.


1 comment on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Justanidiot

    Exodus 20:4

    Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

    god is not happy with you.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2015 Report this