'Fiesta as a tradition will keep on going'

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/St. Peter’s Fiesta President Joe Novello, shown with granddaughters, from left, Sofia, 9, Gia, 4, and Juliana, 7, in 2016, says the Fiesta Committee needs new blood, but that St. Peter's Fiesta will go on. 

Less than 12 hours after the St. Peter's statue was returned to the club that bears his name, Joe Novello, the 66-year-old president of the Fiesta Committee, was back at work on the St. Peter's Square grounds.

But on Monday, Novello wasn't serving as a ceremonial host or directing colleagues around the alter and stage, as he did during last week's 90th St. Peter's Fiesta. He was behind the altar, taking down the electrical equipment — and already looking to next year's 91st Fiesta and many more to come.

"There will be a 100th, and I'm sure there will be a lot more after that," said Novello, who works as an electrical engineer at Applied Materials/Varian Semiconductor Associates. "But we will take maybe two weeks, and then start planning already for next year. It takes a year to put it all together."

The efforts in the coming weeks will include sorting out finances from the 90th edition. The committee's 2017 bills are expected to approach $150,000, said Lucia Sheehan, director of Gloucester's Rose Baker Senior Center and longtime secretary for the Fiesta Committee.

Novello has also expressed his concern over the last few years about the need to bring new blood into the 11-member committee to take over leadership of future Fiestas.

Bringing in help

The committee gets outside management help from the Cape Ann YMCA, which has taken over operation of the Thursday night Fiesta 5K road race. And the Catholic Community of Gloucester and Rockport — the merged parishes of Holy Family and Our Lady of Good Voyage — coordinates the Blessing of the Fleet and the outdoor Mass. But Novello says the committee has struggled to attract younger members willing to put in the year-round time to run the festival.

"We've tried and tried to bring on some younger members," he reiterated over the weekend, "but the guys in their 20s and 30s who want to get involved are more interested in walking the Greasy Pole or rowing the seine boats, and they're not at a point in their lives where they're looking to carry on with the other duties.

"For someone with a young family, it's a lot of time and a lot of work, and they can't commit to taking that on," he said.

Novello's son, John, who is 41, echoed his father: "You'll find a lot of people who want to step up, but once they see what it involves, they step down pretty fast." He might be a logical candidate except that, while his work as an electrician frequently brings him to Gloucester, he now lives in Woburn. He is not part of the committee, and, while working Monday with his dad at the Fiesta site, said he doesn't see how he could be.

Chris Palazzola — who heads C.A.P. Construction of Gloucester, and, at 52, is one of the committee's youngest active members — said the committee is always looking forward, including to recruiting new members and organizers.

"We always think of that, and when we feel it's time to put someone on who's been helping us over the years, we evaluate and bring someone in," Palazzola said. "But it runs pretty much all year long, between scheduling things, getting prices on things ... there's a lot to be done."

'Support of the people'

Sheehan noted that none of the committee members receive stipends for their work, and Palazzola said anyone brought onto the committee or taking on a leadership role must understand the depth of the Fiesta spirit.

"It can't just be anyone," Palazzola said. "It needs to be somebody that has Fiesta in their heart and soul."

Asked if he could see himself taking on a greater leadership role, he said, "only time will tell."

"It's a select breed," he said. "It's not for everyone."

Novello said he recognizes that some Fiesta traditions are fading. There has long been a diminishing turnout for the Blessing of the Fleet — largely because of a shrinking Gloucester fleet. Also, next year's Fiesta is losing its best-known food vendor. Ambie Scola, who has been serving up Ambie's Sausage sandwiches for 28 years from just off the Fiesta grounds, confirmed Sunday he is bowing out and selling his equipment.

"But Fiesta as a tradition will keep on going — I'm convinced of it," said Novello, who has served on the Fiesta board since 1983 and as its president since 2000. "When the time comes, somebody will step up to run it — just like there were people here doing this long before us.

"We have the support of the community, the support of the people," he said. "That's what means the most."

Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.

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