March always brings me back to my childhood. Always.
Some of my most cherished memories growing up are from times spent with family and friends celebrating the Feast of St. Josephs at Great Uncle Mike and Aunt Vinci Militello’s home on School Street here in Gloucester.
For as far back as I can remember…. March 11-19th was spent in their home honoring St Joseph with traditional song and prayer. All recited in Sicilian. My aunt and uncle’s home altar was one of many set up throughout the city. Dozens of families shared this 9-day tradition honoring St. Joseph.
Twenty five years ago…. there were over 30 families…. who constructed religious altars within their homes, in and around central Gloucester. Each home was open to family, friends, and neighbors who wanted to participate in the 9-day devotion honoring St. Joseph. Women and children gathered and prayed for a special intention every afternoon and or evening around the handcrafted altars.
Each altar was uniquely draped in silk fabrics, Italian lace, and fragrant fresh flowers, which were replaced routinely throughout the Novena.
The shrines were brightly lit from the glow of vigil candles. These vigil candles were lit by guests who were praying for a special intention. The construction and setup of each family altar, was, and still is a monumental event, marking the years kickoff to St. Joseph’s Feasts and all its festivities. The process of washing the saints, selecting a theme color, making adjustments to the altars design to accommodate new statues, and setting up the home to accommodate large crowds of people, remains a special hosting family tradition today.
Years ago, most every Sicilian family living in Gloucester celebrated St. Joseph’s Day like it was Christmas. On March 19th, many adults stayed home from work and most Sicilian children were allowed to stay home from school to celebrate the feast with family and friends. Over the years, the numbers of family altars, in and around Gloucester, have sadly dwindled down to a mere dozen.
After the death of my Uncle Mike, Aunt Vinci continued to host the family altar for a few more years. But it simply wasn’t the same without Uncle Mike’s presence. Eventually my cousins stowed away Uncle Mike and Aunt Vinci’s treasured statues, saints, and angels in vetrina Cabinets, in the living room, where they remained until last year.
I spent years quietly reciting the St. Joseph rosary by myself from March 11-19th. Then, one year, my dear friend Rosalie Orlando extended an invitation to me to join her family at their altar on Prospect Street. Thrilled and honored to participate once again, in a true customary way, I joined their family with my daughter Amanda and son BJ in tow. Filled with emotions I sat next to Zina Saputo, Rosalie’s aunt, who took me and my daughter under her wing and guided us nightly, through the prayer service, clarifying pronunciations as needed. Within days my kids were humming the songs on our morning drives to school, and I felt a sense of peace knowing my children were experiencing this amazing tradition that has always been dear to my heart.
Last year… after 6 nights of the same vivid dream of a red and white altar….I called my Militello cousins and shared the details of my vivid altar dream. With only (5) saints of my own on hand, my husband Barry constructed my *vision* in our living room the very next day! My cousin, Eleanor, packed up Uncle Mike and Aunt Vincie’s treasured altar valuables and gifted them to me. Last year my family and I hosted our families St Joseph Altar after twenty years in retirement. It was truly an inspirational and spiritual event.
My hope for this year, is that people (like me), who once faithfully celebrated this deep rooted Sicilian tradition growing up (and have longed to have it back in their life), find their way to our family’s altar with their special intentions, and participate in the nine day St. Joseph Novena with us.
This past Monday evening I posted a list of questions on Facebook: Did you grow up celebrating the Feast of St Joseph during the month of March? Do you still celebrate St. Joseph’s Day? How many years ago did you or your families stop celebrating? Are you longing to expose your children to this Sicilian tradition you were raised with?
Peter Favazza responded to my Facebook post with this share ~ I have not done a 10 day novena for St. Joseph since I moved away to Las Vegas my grandmother in Gloucester down the FORT Giovannini &Tom Misuraca celebrated St. Josephs day for 50 years to this to this day I collect Saints and statues and celebrate in my own way when the going gets tough it works every time
Photo below provided by Peter Favazza
Gina Parisi Wingerter shares her thoughts and photo~Felicia I have the best memories at my beautiful aunts home celebrating St. Joseph’s day.
Viva San Giuseppe! Luv this pic of my beautiful aunt who hosted our
family’s celebration for decades! We are carrying on with our own tribute
tonight. When I was asked for the documentary what this day meant to me…,I
answered with one word “commitment”. We will never forget or take our
blessings for granted. Happy St. Joseph’s Day!!
Sista Felicia~ Thank you for sharing Gina, What a beautiful photo of your aunt and her altar!
What are your fondest Feast of St. Joseph memories or stories? Please share your story and photo. I know we all would benefit from hearing these traditional stories during this time of year !