The Feast of Saint Rocco

The Power of 40 – Celebrating the people of St. Rocco and looking ahead

The change of seasons brings about reflection, introspection and new vision and this was especially felt this fall by the multitude of volunteers who had brought the Feast of St. Rocco to life every August for the past 40 years.

The Mass and reception on October 6 brought 40 years of faith, family, community and tradition full circle. Fr. Michael Guarino, the brainchild of the event in 1979, was the principal celebrant of the Mass. His moving homily was built on the theme of the number 40 in the Bible. He pointed out that the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years; Moses, Elijah and Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days; and the great flood lasted 40 days. “In the bible, the period of 40 days, weeks or years often precedes an event in which God himself speaks.” He encouraged all present to “look for what God is trying to say now. How is he speaking and what is the message?”

The atmosphere in the church evoked memories through the decades. Various clergy who were instrumental in festival highlights throughout the years concelebrated with Fr. Guarino. Distinguished guests, including 40-year volunteers like Peter Brunelli, were seated in the front row. Music Director Terry Kerr obtained an audio copy of “Glorioso san Rocco”, traditionally sung in small villages in Italy during the Feast of St. Rocco, and transcribed it so the St. Mary Choir could sing it for all to enjoy. Even the flower arrangements in the sanctuary – red carnations and white football mums sparsely arranged among greenery – were recreated from pictures taken at the original Mass.

Following the Mass over 300 guests, made up of St. Rocco volunteers from throughout the years and their families, attended a reception of appreciation at the Guidrey Student Center at Dean College. The hall was decorated with appreciation and love. Small details brought back emotions from individual and collective festivals – a memory banner with names of deceased volunteers, food banners from booths, aprons worn by those serving food, St. Rocco t-shirts from throughout the year – all provided the backdrop for the celebration. “The decorations were us,” said Roberta Trahan, one of the original “Rockettes” and 40-year member of the DeBaggis family Italian pastry booth.  “It was like walking into Rocco.”

Table decorations included pictures from the festival taken throughout the 40 years, affixed to red, white or green cards. These memories lent to discussions and sharing. Additional special memorabilia on Fr. Guarino’s table added even more memories. Everything was a conversation piece. “It was like a Franklin community homecoming, a class reunion of sorts” said John Ristaino, longtime volunteer and long-time volunteer at the Italian sub booth.

Tim Hurdelbrink, vice-chair of the parish council, thanked all who were involved over the years. He noted that “the parish is like one big family, and how do families celebrate when they get together? Over Food!” He presented Peter Brunelli, long time chair and 40-year volunteer, with a commemorative plate in the name of all volunteers. After the presentation Hurdelbrink joked, “What better award for a festival that celebrates with food, than a commemorative plate!” These plates were also presented to other 40-year volunteers, festival chairpersons, and founding festival members after the reception.

The decision to end the 40-year festival celebration was done so to preserve and advance its original intent, “to celebrate a religious, social and cultural event” as described in a letter from Fr. Guarino the first year. “This is an important moment in history for the future of the parish, to honor the goal set forth by the founder 40 years ago” reflected Fr. Brian Manning, pastor of St. Mary Parish. “Our parishioners will have a fond memory of how it all ended and will create new traditions that reflect the essence of our parish family today.”

With the closing of the last Festival of Food and the honor to all volunteers bestowed, a new tradition will take shape. The Feast of St. Rocco, an official feast day in the Catholic faith, will still be celebrated during the second weekend in August at St. Mary Parish. It will include a special Mass of healing and hope, beginning with the presence of a Statue of Saint Rocco in our sanctuary.

But those faithful who have an affinity to the patron saint of healing will be able to enjoy a time of reflection all year. The statue of St. Rocco that has been permanently located “in the field”, the location of the festival grounds for 40 years, is about to begin a new journey. Donated by parishioner Nick Verna in 1959, who credited his recovery from a long illness to the patron saint of healing, the statue will soon  assume permanent residence outside the new church addition in the “Piazza di San Rocco” which will be a beautifully landscaped area for prayer and reflection. It will be a lovely place to pay tribute to the beloved saint of healing at any time. As one tradition ends and another begins, Fr. Brian encourages everyone to “listen and pay attention to what’s next. Good things from God if we listen and look.”

Continue reading to find more information about the Feast of St. Rocco over the years.

Rocco through the years

The Feast of St. Rocco Festival began in 1978 as the brainchild of Father Michael Guarino. He sought to create a religious, social and cultural event in Franklin that followed the format of traditional Italian festivals. On a visit to what were once the grounds of the St. Mary School convent, Fr. Guarino found a statue of St. Rocco and his idea found a saint to celebrate in such a festival.  St Rocco, the patron saint of healing, was born in the 13th century to a wealth family in France but gave away his inheritance and set out as a pilgrim who ministered to the sick, especially those suffering from plague. Having healed many people through intercessory prayer without contracting the disease itself, he finally succumbed to illness and in his great suffering, went away to a small hut the woods, so as not to be a burden on others. He was ministered to be a dog who brought him bread daily, and a spring miraculously appeared near the hut providing him with water.

Ironically, with the feast focused on healing, accessibility is a major challenge for many parishioners. Change is taking place not only with the evolution of the festival, but also within the physical building of our church itself. During the Festival Finale, construction will be in full swing for an addition to the church that will include an accessible entrance, indoor elevator, restrooms on both levels and a food service area. This addition to the church will also feature a permanent location for the statue of St. Rocco to reside, where people can visit with the saint and pray year-round in good weather and bad.

Since its inception, the festival has always included three separate Masses. Kicking off the week of the feast is the Opening Mass at 10:30 on Sunday, August 5 at the church. This Mass is celebrated for the deceased friends and family listed in the St. Rocco program book.  At this Mass, rolls that have been blessed are given out to all who attend, just as St. Rocco’s faithful dog brought him bread when he was sick, that helped him survive.

The following week on Saturday, August 11, an Anointing Mass will be held at 10:00 under the tent on the Festival Grounds behind the school across from the church. According to Paula Coughlin, long-time volunteer and Parish Administrative Assistant, “This always attracts a large, reverent crowd. There is something moving about seeing all these people attend Mass and receive an anointing for healing, even as the booth volunteers are readying their booths to serve the people coming for lunch.”

This year, the 40th and final Closing Mass for the Feast of St Rocco will be held on Sunday, August 12 at 10:30 at the church. Following Mass, a procession will carry the statue of St. Rocco from the church to the field.

As the food and festival portion of this feast comes to an end, we can look forward to new traditions and ways to celebrate our faith, family and friends. Fr. Brian Manning, pastor of St. Mary’s explains it this way: “As we conclude the Festival of Food portion of the Feast of Saint Rocco this year, we will continue to honor in new ways the vision of faith that Fr. Michael and his many lay volunteers shared with all of us then and through all the years.” With changes to the church, the statue of St Rocco will be permanently housed in the addition where people can pray at any time. And while our faith and town community may not see the food booths and rides on the fairgrounds next year, new traditions will bloom that are compatible with today’s lifestyle and culture.

Don’t miss this historic event. Come for the rides, Come for the people. Come for the healing. Just come… be a part of the St. Rocco Festival Food Finale.