Soon after Rosalie (nee Parisi) Laiachino arrived in Gloucester as a 10-year-old from Sicily in the late 1930s, she met Grace "Gracie" Misuraca Favazza. It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted more than 80 years.

They grew up in "The Fort," the name given to the waterfront neighborhood that was home to many immigrant fishermen and their families over the years. 

Both were blessed with a long life. Favazza, 93, and Laiachino, 91 recently died — within two weeks of each other.

This week would have been the 93rd celebration of St. Peter's Fiesta, the patron saint of the fishermen. It began as a time when the fishermen stayed dockside, painted their boats and awaited the blessing of the fleet. It was a time that mothers bought their children new clothes, prepared their homes for guests, and prayed.

These two friends represent an entire generation of women devoted to their families and their faith.

"There were so many others like my mom and Gracie who did the same thing — they loved their family, they just raised their children and taught them about what the devotion to St. Peter meant," said Phyllis Parady, Laiachino's daughter.

Favazza and Laiachino joined the St. Peter's Women's Auxiliary when they were 16, taking part in the St. Peter's Novena. The nine days of prayers to the patron saint remains a central part of Fiesta.

'They just made do'

"For my mom, Fiesta was a devotional time for St. Peter," said Parady. "My mom and Gracie, along with a group of other women, would recite the rosary in Sicilian for the nine days. It was devotional but it was also a happy and social time. 

"My dad and her father were all fishermen. It is the typical story of immigrants coming from Sicily arriving here, and the work they knew was fishing, and the women were home and when they were able to work their work was on the waterfront. They packed fish," said Parady. "They were simple women and yet they knew how to do everything — they cooked and sewed and just made do with what they had. They knew how to keep their families going with little or no money. They raised us with love and the simple joys of life." 

Gina Rowland, one of Favazza's children, applauded that entire generation of women and her mother and Laiachino in particular. Her mother was one of more than a dozen siblings, and Rowland's uncle is among the countless fishermen who lost their life at sea. But Rowland has a lifetime of stories to cherish as she mourns and commiserates with many others who have lost family. Those emotions are heightened at the time of St. Peter's Fiesta because of what it meant to her mother.

"The old Fiesta I remember as a child was all about prayer, food and family," she said. "It was about dancing, too. The altar used to be next to my grandfather's shop, a fishing supply store, and the St. Peter's statue was in his store, and when the novena started, all the older ladies started praying. My father told me the story of when he threw water on the roof and the women thought it was raining and they'd run into the store and when the water stopped falling they would come out again. But when the found out, they chased him away."

Sharing traditions

Fiesta had another welcome aspect.

"It was a joyful time for my mother and Gracie partly because it was a social time with all the women they grew up with," said Parady, whose father was a lifelong fisherman. "They loved people and being with family and friends, and, of course, they marched in the parades and we marched too, often in our communion outfits. Fiesta was just a happy time for everybody."

Favazza and Laiachino were also original members of Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, Parady said.

"The Fishermen's Wives organization grew as time when on," she said. "These women went to grocery stores, like the old A&P, where they were allowed to cook fish in the lobbies to teach people how to cook underutilized species of fish, besides haddock or cod. They loved being part of organizations, like church groups and these other groups. It was social and it meant something as well."

Rowland said the two women, besides being best friends, had a lot in common. Both were active in, among other groups, the Madonna Del Rosario Society, Our Lady of Good Voyage parish, St. Ann's Women's Guild and Seafood Retirees.

As the children of fishermen grew up, went to school and found work in other professions, Parady said it became more important to share the meaning of Fiesta traditions.

"The outdoor Mass is one of those traditions that you didn't want to miss. I brought my mother to every Fiesta Mass and sometimes you would even cry because it meant so much," she said.

Rowland said she shares in the grieving of so many families this year during Fiesta time and sends her sympathies to them.

"Our mothers, like so many others, were all about helping other people and lifting spirits up with support, love and laughter," she said. "People need to remember where they came from or else you get lost."

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.

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