Seeing the Mother of Grace statue carried down the main aisle toward the St. Peter’s Fiesta altar, Phyllis Moore, 90, shouted one of the first among dozens of “Viva” chants that reverberated Sunday across Gloucester’s downtown.
It was 9:30 a.m. — a half-hour prior to Fiesta’s annual outdoor Mass, let alone the noon procession. But the spirit of celebration was already in the air.
“I would never miss any of this,” said Moore, who grew up Phyllis Orlando in the Fort neighborhood and was born the same year Gloucester’s statue of the patron saint of fishermen was created. “I can’t sing, but I sure can holler: Viva, San Pietro.”
Moore had lot of company in her enthusiasm. Under bright, sunny skies and with temperatures in the low 80s, the Mass and Procession of St. Peter through the city’s streets capped a banner 90th edition of Fiesta. Lifelong Gloucester residents joined with visitors and, in many cases, visiting family members to celebrate and pay tribute to both the saint and to Gloucester’s fishing and Italian and Sicilian ethnic heritage.
‘Speaks to the community’
Maria Cusumano Stewart, who arrived with husband Tom and their three children on Wednesday from Detroit, said she was also looking forward to checking out events such as the Greasy Pole Walk and seine boat races. But it was the passing of the procession and the statutes of more than a half dozen saints that especially took her back to her last Fiesta — at around age 6. While she has returned to Gloucester over the years, this was her first time back for the annual five-day late June celebration centered around St. Peter’s Square.
“I think it’s wonderful that they have the other statues (in the procession) with St. Peter,” said Stewart, now 39, and citing icons such as the tiny statue of Our Lady of Aparecida, considered the patron saint of Brazil. “It brings everyone into it; it speaks to the community.”
Just a few yards away, several members of the extended Brancaleone family savored the procession as well.
“This all about family, all about tradition,” said Christina Brancaleone, who watched with nieces Amanda Cotter, Alyssa Harris and their children. “I grew up right on Columbia Street; I heard that music coming into my room my whole life.”
Harris said she made it a point to have her children — Gavin, 13 and Averie, 11 — be a part of Fiesta’s main procession in addition to riding the Fiesta Shows carnival rides and watching the Greasy Pole.
“I just like the tradition of this,” she said. “I think as time passes by, it’s more important to hold onto some of our traditions like this, so I keep bringing (the children). I think it’s good to for them to be part of this.”
Of fishermen and saints
The procession was led by children and adults carrying upwards of 50 oars, each emblazoned with the name of a Gloucester fishing boat past or present. Many of the oars were brought to the procession by the families of those who fished off the boats, said Tom Aiello, who coordinates the annual effort. Others are carried in honor of those who no longer have families to carry them — like former fishing captain “Buzzy” Bertolino, who passed away earlier this year Aiello said.
The procession’s musical units included St. Alfio’s Band and the Italian-American Band, both of Lawrence, the Boston Firemen’s Band, and the Sons of Italy Drum & Bugle Corps of Haverhill. The bands were inter-spliced with the parading saints’ statues, and related floats.
The presentation for Our Lady of Fatima not only included a parading of the statue, but a float featuring a live depiction of Our Lady. Ashley Gelvin, 25, a Gloucester native who now lives in Wakefield, came back to play the saint as part of the float offered by Diane Rodolosi. Rodolosi said the float was in honor of her father, Gloucester fisherman John Parisi.
“I used to march in this all the time when I was very young,” said Gelvin, adjusting her tiara alongside the float while it was still parked on Commercial Street. “So it feels good to be part of it again. It always was something that brings people back to Gloucester, and brings people together.”
‘Think about new things’
The spirit of community and togetherness also dominated the morning outdoor Mass, which drew up to 1,000 people who essentially filled the main stage chairs and bleachers and spilled out onto the Rogers Street sidewalk.
In his homily, the Most Rev. Mark O’Connell, auxiliary bishop for the North Region of the Archdiocese of Boston, spoke of the character and challenges faced by St. Peter, who was a commercial fisherman but was also called upon to be the first pope of the Catholic Church.
“So much of Peter’s life was coming out and doing new things — not settling for what made him comfortable,” said O’Connell, who delivered the Mass. He was backed by the Rev. James Achadinha, pastor of the Catholic Community of Gloucester and Rockport and thus the head of both Our Lady of Good Voyage and Holy Family parishes.
“So today, as we celebrate Peter, let us choose to think about new things,” O’Connell added. “Have the courage of Peter, have your own personality, but at some point, step out of being comfortable and help to declare the word of God.”
O’Connell endeared himself to the Fiesta gathering from start.
“My name’s pretty Irish,” he conceded, “but I’ll do this for today; instead of Mark O’Connell, I’ll be Marco, OK?” He also said he’d be willing to “try anything (at Fiesta) except for that slippery pole thing,” drawing laughs from the crowd.
In the Mass’s final moments, however, Achadinha told the gathering that Sunday not only marked the Feast of St. Peter, but was O’Connell’s birthday as well. The auxiliary bishop turned 53.
With that, before the recessional hymn, Achadinha led the crowd in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705 or email@example.com.
More inside, online
Fiesta sports: Greasy Pole, seine boat races, Page 9.
More Fiesta photos, Page 11.
Online: Video of the procession, Mass, Blessing of the Fleet, the Greasy Pole contest, and seine boat races, as well as more stories.