The youngest of 10 children of Capt. Salvatore Favazza (1881-1973), Sara Favazza says she's eager for the 2012 St. Peter's Fiesta to begin — even at the age of 82.
Her father, you see, was the son of a fishermen, who came from a long line of fishermen in Italy.
And he was the one who commissioned a statue of St. Peter from a sculptor in Charlestown — the statue that remains the centerpiece of today's Fiesta, which kicks off in earnest tonight in St. Peters's Square.
Sara Favazza grew up at 33 Commercial St., in the neighborhood on the working waterfront where the fiesta began in 1927.
Sara Favazza's father, born in Terrasini, Sicily, first came to the United States in 1902, when he arrived in Detroit. That had been a common destination for immigrants at the time, and he found work laying railroad track.
A few years later, he returned to Italy, and married Maria Lucido. The couple moved first to Boston in 1907, where he took up fishing after working as a fisherman in Italy — and later moved his young family to Gloucester.
To the Favazzas and others, the idea of establishing a local fiesta dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen seemed natural. When Fiesta 2012 opens tonight, it will mark the festival's 85th year.
"He saw the fiesta they had in Boston, and thought why can't we have our own," she said of her father.
In 1926, Salvatore Favazza commissioned a statue of St. Peter, and in 1927, Gloucester celebrated its first St. Peter's Fiesta. The first one, Sara Favazza says, was held near the storefront of her uncle, Peter Favazza, who sold supplies for commercial fishing boats.
"They all took their kitchen chairs out onto Commercial Street just before sunset and sang the rosary in Sicilian dialect," she said, recalling that her father always carried a small statue of St. Peter on his fishing boats.
Her father served as the "first guardian" of the St. Peter statue, and he marched in the processions from 1927 to 1966, when he was 85; he lived to be 92.
Sara Favazza estimates there are about 400 members of the immediate Favazza family in Gloucester and elsewhere; the names of relatives reading like a Who's Who of Gloucester's Italian-American enclave. She said her lone living sibling, her sister Mary, married Dominic Novello of Gloucester and that they reside in Florida.
Favazza has a lifetime of memories, beginning around the age of 4 when her father gave her a bouquet of roses and then lifted her up to present them to the band leader performing on the altar stage.
She has been a lifelong participant in the Novena, the nine days of prayer that still draws generations of women and leads into the main Fiesta opening. This year's Novena closed Tuesday night at the Lester Wass American Legion Hall.
Joe Novello, president of the St. Peter's Fiesta Committee, noted that Sara has always been a part of Fiesta.
"I've known her all my life, and more so now that I've been involved with the Fiesta Committee," he said. "She's always there — she is very encouraging to us — and says thank you for keeping it going."
Among the stories Favazza shared related to the saint is one about a trip to Italy because she wanted to visit the Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican where she had her heart set on seeing Pope John Paul II.
She succeeded — the trip was planned, and she was on hand as scheduled on May 13, 1981, the day the pope was shot as he blessed the crowds in St. Peter's Square. Standing just a few feet away, Favazza had a spot at the rail.
"I shook his hand and then he picked up a baby, and when he went to the next person, he was shot," she said. "I saw the blood come out of him onto his clothing. I saw the Swiss guards swoop down and the police engulfed all of us," she said. Later, she was interviewed on Italian television, when she was asked how she felt.
"I said it felt like they shot my father," she recalled.
Now her links to St. Peter are focused on Gloucester's yearly event. Looking forward, she said she wonders how Fiesta will be affected in light of plans to redevelop the waterfront.
"But Fiesta will always take place in the hearts and minds of the people and the prayers will always go on," she said. "My father always wanted the St. Peter's Fiesta to be part of the heritage of Gloucester and I think it has happened — and I think my father would be proud."
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or email@example.com.