As bearers carrying the statue of St. Peter and a sea of onlookers, donned in white, chanted “VIVA!” in front of Our Lady of Good Voyage Church during the Procession of St. Peter Sunday afternoon, the voice of a beloved leader raised in prayer was missing from the steps of the church.
The Rev. Eugene Alves, who died in February, had prayed over the procession each June during his 60 years as a priest at Our Lady. To honor his part in the tradition and impact on Gloucester, this year’s St. Peter’s Fiesta is dedicated in his memory.
“He was on top of everything,” said Julia Garcia, a member of the Our Lady of Good Voyage Women's Guild and a lifelong parishioner of the church. “He loved (the procession), and we loved him.”
“He was like the commander-in-chief, and he ruled with an iron fist,” said Bob Cloutman, a member of the Holy Name Society at Our Lady. “He made sure everything was done and in a big way. He would have had it a lot bigger than what we have now.”
Just as The Rev. Alves no longer prays over the statues of the Madonna and other saints after they have made their way down Prospect Street from St. Ann's Church, fewer men carry the statue of St. Peter and no floats were a part of this year’s procession. But while the procession has seen changes over the years, its spirit remains constant.
“This doesn't really happen anywhere else,” said Dave Harrison as he sat outside of St. Ann’s Church on Sunday. “They have (a procession like it) in Boston in the North End, and we've been to that one before, but something about this one is just very hometown. It's got a very homespun feel to it.”
Harrison moved to Gloucester in 1987 and has attended the procession every year since. He was first introduced to it when he heard parade noises from his old home on Pleasant Street one morning. Having no idea about the event, he stumbled outside to find a man dressed as Jesus hanging from a cross on a float.
He always encourages his friends from out of town to watch it with him. This year, he even brought his father-in-law, a retired Baptist minister, to the procession for the first time.
Vincie Rodolosi, like many Gloucester natives, was born into the tradition she has now attended for 77 years. She helped make religious floats for the procession for several years, and her father was a member of the Fiesta Committee.
“When you grow up with it, all we knew was Fiesta weekend,” said Rodolosi from her lawn chair settled in front of McPherson Park. “This is my father's favorite weekend and that's the way it's been. … I feel fine (watching the procession) until I see the Fiesta committeemen walk by and I don't see my father there. It's sad, but I've still always loved the parade.”
Pasquale Frontiero, an 87-year-old retired fisherman, comes from a family who deeply cherished Fiesta. His uncle, Sal Favazza, brought over the original statue of St. Peter that was used in the procession from Terrasini, Sicily.
“I’d like to think my uncle would like the tradition to go on,” said Frontiero, who was waiting for the procession in front of Mondello’s shoe repair shop. “There isn't the same support (Fiesta) had years ago when there were a 1,000 boats and everybody donated. Now there are a 100 boats. But Fiesta itself stands for something that I grew up with … it should be carried on.”
While the procession is a reminder of the old days for people such as Fronteirro and Rodolosi, it has given others a chance to make new traditions.
Carmine Gorga and his wife, Joan, moved to Gloucester 50 years ago and try to attend the procession every year. Gorga is happy to see new cultures take part in the tradition.
“The integration of the Brazilians (in the procession) now is very important,” said Gorga as he sat on Prospect Street. “The community should be together. We should respect each other, understand each other and get to know each other.”
Children like 11-year-old Pascal Fishburn and her little sisters, Iona and Sigrid, enjoy the excitement of the procession and the newfound feeling of tradition it gives them.
“I like it because it’s something you can look forward to all year, and it’s sort of a landmark in the year,” said Fishburn, looking around at the crowd on Prospect Street.
As she waited for the parade to reach her and her family at the intersection of Prospect Street and Railroad and Maplewood avenues, Caryn Ryder said she hopes the procession will never lose its original meaning.
“For us, Fiesta is a religious thing,” said Ryder. “It’s good to know what the foundation of it is. Fiesta isn't a carnival, it's a religious time, and that's why I think people should come out and see (the procession), even if they're not spiritual. It’s just something nice.”