Scaled-back St. Mary’s Feast goes back to its roots

West Bay

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — St. Mary’s Feast in Cranston will be significantly scaled back this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 115th celebration this weekend will include masses at St. Mary’s Church, a small procession of the blessed mother and Italian food to-go.

“Our plans for 2020 had to be massively scaled back due to the COVID-19 crisis,” St. Mary’s Feast Society President Matthew Volpi said. “This is not the feast we wanted to run to honor our blessed mother, but the current health crisis and stringent, but absolutely necessary, regulations on social distancing left us little choice.”

St. Mary’s Feast began in Itri, Italy and is only celebrated there and in its sister city of Cranston. For the families of Itrani immigrants in the Knightsville section of the city, the third week of July usually means there will be a large gathering in the area to celebrate the feast.

“This is the first time we won’t have a party in almost 100 years,” St. Mary’s Feast Society’s Treasurer Chris Buonanno said.

Feast officials estimate nearly 50,000 people normally make their way to the festivities, enjoying the carnival rides, food, procession and fireworks.

“It’s sad, and I feel as though there is a gaping hole right in the middle of my summer,” Buonanno said. “I should be frantically making preparations both for our family party and the neighborhood celebration this week. Instead, it’s a normal week.”

Centuries ago, the feast began as a religious celebration of the Madonna Della Civita and, as a result of the virus, that’s how it will be this year.

“We are bringing us back to our great roots. The procession and the honor of giving glory to Mary is at the foremost of what this community is all about,” St. Mary’s Church Father William Ledoux said.

St. Mary’s Parish normally holds weekday evening masses throughout the celebration, including an outdoor mass on Friday followed by a candlelight procession and an annual Patronal Mass on Sunday followed by a parade. The outdoor mass, though, will be held inside this year.

The masses this weekend are reservation only and all are currently sold out. Both Friday night and Sunday morning’s services will be streamed live on Facebook for anyone who was unable to secure a reservation.

The Blessed Mother, normally carried in the parade, will be driven by a vehicle this year. Typically during the procession, people touch the Madonna Della Civita and put flowers on the religious statue, but this year that is not allowed.

“As she comes by, they can in many ways give her the homage she should,” Ledoux said. “We are just trying to protect everybody.”

The feast society will also be open for “Food To Go,” starting at 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. on Sunday to help raise money for next year’s festival.

The society is also selling yard signs to help with fundraising.

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