Crowds return for Mt. Carmel Feast
Faith, food, fun, family, friends & fireworks
HAMMONTON—A throng of faithful came out to participate in the 146th annual religious procession celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, held at 4 p.m. on July 16.
After a pared down celebration in 2020 due to the pandemic, this year’s celebration—which ran from July 15 to July 20, complete with carnival games, midway games, food stands galore, the aforementioned procession and fireworks at 10 p.m. on July 16—was a return to form.
“We’re very blessed to have the ability now to do it like we’ve always done it. Last year was something that we all had to adjust to, but I’m proud of the members in our organization that we’re able to continue that tradition,” Louis Pantalone, the president of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, told The Gazette on July 16.
Pantalone said that the members of the society were grateful for the opportunity—and the size of the crowds—despite oppressive temperatures.
“We are grateful—although it is extremely warm, so we’re worried about that for a number of reasons, but we’ll take the appropriate safety precautions. We anticipate the crowd to be in excess of 30,000 today. We’re really excited. Last night was a record crowd for an opening night, and we probably had close to 12,000 or 13,000 people here for that. We’re thankful that everybody still remembers, and they want to be a part of it,” Pantalone said.
Susan Davidow, the director of marketing for St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish, said that things “are great this year.”
“On our opening night, we had a fantastic night. We were very crowded; it was a good crowd. We ran out of food. It was excellent; it was beyond our expectations. It was great,” Davidow said.
One of the draws to the food stands at St. Joseph Church were the Tarantini Panzarottis. Frank Tarantini, whose mother first brought the fried delight to the United States, was on hand for their production and distribution.
“My mother used to make them by hand. Now, we have a machine a mile long to make the panzarottis. We mass produce them, and we came up with the minis, the little ones. People love them. They’re better than the big ones; I sold more than 400 between last night and this morning. In another hour or two, we’ll sell out,” Tarantini said.
For many who attend the festivities on July 16—like Michele Allesandrine and her mother, Marian Allesandrine—food is a large part of the tradition.
“It’s a tradition on the 16th for the Feast. We always come for the Feast—and for sausage and peppers and pizza,” Michele Allesandrine said.
Marian Allesandrine agreed with her daughter, noting that the stand itself didn’t matter as long as the food was good.
“I’ve been coming here about 40 or 50 years. This was the first one we saw, and we were hungry,” she said.
Things were also busy at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society hall on July 16, as people eagerly awaited the start of the procession.
“I’ve been coming to the carnival all my life; my family belongs to the Mt. Carmel Society,” said Kathy Longo, who was seated with her son, Chuck Palmieri, and their friends Frank DeMarco and Brian Dunnigan.
DeMarco echoed Longo’s sentiments.
“I’ve been coming here for a long time, and I love it. I love the whole place over here,” DeMarco said.
In advance of the procession, Davidow said that they were anticipating even higher numbers to frequent the parish’s food stands.
“Today’s Feast Day, so, if we thought we were busy yesterday, we’re probably going to be twice as busy today. Between here and Mt. Carmel Society, it’s been great,” Davidow said.
The Rev. David Rivera, the pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, concurred with Davidow.
“We did very well for opening night. I think people were just anxious to get out; they’re excited to go do something. We’re expecting larger-than-average crowds for the whole feast, and it seems that everyone is reporting that. Assumption Society ran out of food, we ran out of food at some booths, so it’s good stuff. It’s good to see people out again,” Rivera said.
Sal Mazza, the president of the Our Lady of Assumption Society, confirmed Rivera’s assessment.
“We’ve been really busy, thank the good Lord; we’ve been super busy,” Mazza said.
That stand opened two days in advance of the feast proper, and began selling food on July 13. Mazza attributed the success of the stand to the individuals who volunteered their time.
“I’m so happy that we got the volunteers to help us out, because it’s really hard to get volunteers out here. We’ve really been working hard, and it’s fantastic this year. Everybody’s telling me that they’ve been cooped in and they want to get out,” Mazza said.
The various food stands aren’t the only reasons that people flocked to the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
For Dana Marinari and her daughter, Deanna, the carnival rides held their own allure.
“I used to go to St. Joe, and my mom taught there, so this is our thing. We come to the carnival every year,” Dana Marinari said.
For Pantalone, the one aspect of the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel—and the one part that continued unabated in 2020—is the religious procession itself.
“To us, that was the most important part. Whether we had the carnival or food stand or anything last year, it was the procession that mattered, and that’s why we’re here,” Pantalone said.
One change in last year’s procession that continued this year was the use of the society’s statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in lieu of the one in St. Joseph’s Church.
“Last year was probably the first time we used our statue, and we’re using it again. The reason for that is, working with Father, we thought it’d be important that people who can’t get here, or they come while Blessed Mother is on the road, they’ll be able to see her in there. We’re using ours for the procession, and the Blessed Mother will remain in the church for people to see all throughout the day,” Pantalone said.
Rivera commented on the relationship between the parish and the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society.
“It’s amazing. The Mt. Carmel Society was the one that started this feast, and they’ve been faithful to the procession for 146 years. It’s great to be pastor in which, in the parish boundaries, you have such a great society that does such a beautiful thing. Of course, the parish participates in that, and we have our part of the action here, and we have a great relationship with them. We’re just proud of what they accomplish here, and we’re happy and proud to be a part of that, and to continue the tradition that they started so long ago,” Rivera said.
At the start of the procession, Rivera welcomed those in attendance. As volunteers pushed each saint’s float down Third Street, Rivera gave a brief explanation of the saint before joining members of the society and other clergy at the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
As the procession continued along its traditional route—from Third Street, to Fairview Avenue, to Egg Harbor Road, to Bellevue Avenue and back up Third Street—many of the faithful walked either next to representations of their favorite saints or with the crowd that followed the rear of the procession.
Among them was Joanne Pullia, who has walked with the procession each year since 1994. She and her husband, she said, were “married eight years and no babies.”
“I made a promise. My mother-in-law and my Aunt Dot promised St. Anne, the mother of Mary, because we couldn’t have babies. They said, ‘We’re going to pray to St. Anne that you have babies, and we’ll walk every year.’ I had three babies, and here I am walking. I’ve been coming every year since,” Pullia said.
Not everyone walks with the entire procession; some who live along its route look forward to watching it pass by—like Bill Link, who was watching near a house in the 200 block of N. Egg Harbor Road.
“I grew up there every summer since I was 8 years old until I was about 13. We used to be able to walk out our front door, and there it was. I watched it from this block as a little boy, so this is the spot we come to,” he said.
Link’s mother, Pauline, said that she has been walking in or watching the procession for close to 80 years.
“I’ve been coming ever since I was a little girl. It’s a part of me. I grew up with it, all these years,” she said.
The Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is also a popular time for many native Hammontonians living out of town or out of state to return home.
Joe Panarello, who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area, said that he makes the trip back to Hammonton every year for the celebration. Panarello said that he grew up watching the procession from his grandfather’s house. This year he attended with his son, Joe, and his niece, Kaili.
“It’s a good time; everybody gets together. Everybody comes home for the 16th of July, more so than Christmas or Thanksgiving. We used to give water for years at my grandfather’s house, but we don’t do that anymore; we just came to check out the procession, see old friends from high school. It’s a good little reunion of sorts,” Panarello said.
Panarello was just one among many who made the voyage back to Hammonton for the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Also in attendance were several members of the Religious Teachers Fillippini, who were a fixture in Hammonton from 1922 to 2020.
Sister Betty Jean Takacs, the former principal of St. Joseph Regional Elementary School, said that they were happy to be back, if only for a short time.
“We are here just for the day. We wanted to come back to the Feast and celebrate with the parish. Hammonton is a wonderful place to be. The people are wonderful,” Takacs said.
The Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel also continues to draw new visitors annually, like Maria Santone of Springfield, Pa.
Santone said that she was excited to attend “the age-old festival.”
“We’ve never been here, and we’re very happy and excited to be honoring Our Lady. We heard it from Italian family, generation to generation,” Santone said.
Marianne Calabrese, who journeyed with Santone and with Mary Anne Calabrese, said that she was “really excited to be here.”
“It’s been wonderful. We had our sandwiches, we had our laughs,” she said.
Santone said that they were determined to take part in the procession this year, and that the weather was not going to deter them.
“It’s July 16. What do you want, to go sledding? You’re honoring the Blessed Mother. Mary and Joseph didn’t have air conditioning, did they? No, they didn’t. Make a sacrifice,” Santone said.
The procession started to arrive back at the church at 6:30 p.m.; by 7 p.m., the procession concluded.
The Rev. Joseph Capella, the chaplain of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, offered his congratulations to the faithful.
“We finished the 146th year, so God bless you all,” Capella said.
Capella expressed his appreciation to the various individuals and organizations that helped to make the procession successful.
“I’d like to thank the police department of Hammonton, so thank you to all the law enforcement. We’d like to thank all of the firefighters from the fire department of Hammonton; we thank them, as well, for their support and their patience. We’d like to thank Fr. David Rivera, who is the pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. We’d like to also thank the priests, the deacons, the seminarians and the altar servers that helped as well. To all those who serve as first responders, we thank you as well for your support and your help,” Capella said.
Capella also voiced his gratitude to those in attendance, particularly the members of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society for “their dedication to keep this tradition and this feast going every year.”
“Thank you to all of them for their support,” Capella said.
Capella closed by offering a prayer of thanksgiving.
“Let us pray for our country and for all of those in the armed services, who place themselves in harm’s way, and also for all of our deceased loved ones, and all those who work for peace in any way ... Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us. The Lord be with you. May the Lord bless each of you through the intercession of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel,” Capella said.