• Joseph F. Berenato

Entire Mt. Carmel Festival returning


Despite COVID-19, a crowd gathered to walk and observe the procession on July 16, 2020. (THG/Betsey Karl. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—After being drastically pared down in 2020 in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel will be held in its full glory from July 15 through July 20.


Louis Pantalone, the president of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, noted that, though there was no accompanying carnival last year, the religious aspect of the festival continued.


“I promised that we would have a procession, regardless of whether we had anything else; we were not going to break that tradition—and that’s the most important thing. Our focus is the religious aspect. Everything else is secondary and we celebrate that after, but we have to maintain that tradition. That’s why it’s lasted for 146 years, because that is the focus of our society: our Blessed Mother. She’s the one that lets us do everything. That’s the foundation of why we exist, and we’ve been following that tradition since 1875 and we hope to continue that in perpetuity,” Pantalone said.


Susan Davidow, the director of marketing for St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish, said that hopes are high for better attendance.


“We think it’s going to be absolutely mobbed, because of people wanting to get out and party and have a good time ... We did very well last year—very well—and I was shocked, for it only being four days, and that was only two half-days and two full days. We did so well,” Davidow said.


The Rev. David Rivera, the parish’s pastor, agreed.


“We did half as well as we did the year before, which means that we were basically on target—which is a great blessing and a big surprise. It didn’t seem as busy, but we had a very consistent flow of people—and, of course, the nights were slammed. This year could be different ... With the pent-up demand for activities, we might be slammed,” Rivera said.


Rivera said that the parish will begin observing the feast with a Solemn Novena on July 7, starting with an inaugural Mass at 9 p.m.


“A novena is nine days of prayer seeking the intercession, in this case, of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in which we as a parish, and anybody can join and add their intentions to seek her favor or prayers for certain needs. It’s also an act of thanksgiving for her eternal care over us as Christians. That will be 6 p.m., except for July 15; that’ll be at 5 p.m. We’re going to have that spiritual activity, and part of that will be the rosary, preaching and we’re going to bless everyone with the blessed sacrament, which is called benediction. That’ll be every night leading up to the feast,” Rivera said.


Rivera also noted that there will be a living rosary with a candlelight procession to the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at 5 p.m. on July 15.


Pantalone said that, on July 16, the members of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel society will begin their day by attending Mass for deceased members at 8 a.m. at St. Joseph Church.


“Following that, our tradition is that we go out to our monument on Pine Road, where we re-commemorate the initial site and procession where it all began,” Pantalone said.


Afterwards, Pantalone said, the members will return to the society hall at 1 Mount Carmel Lane before beginning a morning procession with their band.


“We visit Veterans Park, and we’ll play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ there to honor our veterans, then we’ll go over to town hall and raise the flag with the mayor and the police chief. From there, we’ll go up through town, and—we’ve been doing this since I can remember as a kid—we’ll visit with the Mazzas at Mazza’s Furniture, then we’ll come up Orchard Street and go over to visit the Knights of Columbus; from there, we’ll go to the Sons of Italy and visit with them before returning to the hall to get ready for the procession at 4 p.m.,” Pantalone said.


Pantalone noted that Masses were to be held at St. Joseph Church throughout the day.


“There’ll be a 10 a.m. Mass in Italian, there’ll be a noon Mass in Spanish and, once the procession gets in, there’ll be a Mass to close out the day at the church,” he said.


Rivera also said that this year will see the return of the 2 p.m. Mass on the 16th of July.


“Last year I didn’t have it, because I didn’t feel it was warranted, but, this year, Lou Pantalone called me because he was getting phone calls from people who can’t go to the early one and can’t go to the one after the procession. I hadn’t originally intended to have one, but if we’re getting people who are asking, then we’re going to have a 2 p.m. Mass,” Rivera said.


Also, as is tradition, Pantalone said that the 16th of July will near its conclusion with a fireworks display at 10 p.m.


Rivera noted that there are two sides to the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.


“There’s the spiritual aspect, then there’s the entertainment aspect,” he said.


Pantalone agreed, and highlighted several points of interest.


“We have increased the size of our beer garden this year, so we’re hoping, based upon the compliments we got last year from the people that attended that liked the bigger area, we’re making that larger to accommodate more people more comfortably,” he said.


Pantalone said that there will be entertainment at the society hall each night, as well.


“We’ll go back to our two stages: one in the beer garden and one on the side of the hall. We’ll have great entertainment there every evening ... People love Jerry Blavat, he’s there on Monday, Lou Costello’s there on Tuesday. We have Bob Pantano on Friday with the dance party, Goodman Fiske Tuesday night as well and Stealing Savannah on Saturday, so there’s a lot of great entertainment this year,” Pantalone said.


A full list of the entertainment on both stages may be found on the society’s website at mountcarmelsociety.org.


Pantalone said that the carnival will be held each night, starting at 6 p.m.


“Wristband nights—well, handstamps now—are on Monday and Tuesday, July 19 and 20. They can ride the rides all evening for $25. Right now, we have advanced tickets on sale, so they can get tickets that are discounts. They’re being sold at Casciano’s, at ShopRite and at our hall. If people see us there, we’ll be happy to sell them,” Pantalone said.


Advance tickets may also be purchased by emailing OLMChammonton@gmail.com.


Pantalone said that this year will also see the return of another attraction: the Wall of Death.


“It’s an attraction where a person rides a motorcycle straight up and down around a wall and do tricks—no hands, sitting side-saddle, standing up—it’s pretty creative. I believe there’s a go-cart, too, that goes up there. It’s really neat. It was one of the fixtures back in the day; as a kid, I loved it. I was able to get it back in 2019; we would have had it last year, but because of COVID, we couldn’t have anything,” Pantalone said.


The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society will also be serving food each day of the feast week. On weekdays, the stand will be open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and it opens nightly at 5 p.m.


“A lot of times, people come to our place for lunch, but on Saturday and Sunday we’re not open for lunch. The other days we are, but not then. We’re going to dry-run it on Wednesday, July 14 to get all the kinks out, so we’ll be open for lunch and dinner then, too,” Pantalone said.


The food stands and other booths at St. Joseph Church will also be open each day of feast week.


On July 15, 19 and 20, they will be open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. From July 16 through July 18, they will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.


Rivera said that there will be several new food offerings on the 16th of July.


“On the day of the feast itself, we’re going to be selling arancini, which is the Italian rice balls. We’re only making 200, just for the day of the feast—first come, first served. If it sells out, it sells out, because we’re experimenting with them to see if people like them. If they go, then maybe next year we’ll increase that. We’re also going to add panzerottis to the menu this year, both the regular size and the minis. Again, it’s just to test it out and see how it goes; if they sell well, maybe we’ll have them again next year. Churros might make a special appearance at some point over the feast, too,” Rivera said.


Rivera also noted that there is still time to volunteer at the church’s stands.


“We’re always looking for volunteers who like to cook, clean, cut vegetables and whatever we need. If somebody wants to get involved, please let us know,” Rivera said.


Interested parties, he said, can email Susan Davidow at susan3734@comcast.net.


There will also be plenty of live music at the church, Rivera said, starting with Class of 84 on July 15, then continuing with Vic Rubino and Don’t Call Me Francis on July 16, Gypsy Train on July 17, Project: Analog on July 18, The Deck Band on July 19 and Suitcase Murphy on July 20.


However, Rivera was quick to note that the entertainment aspect should not overpower the religious aspect of the 146th Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.


“People should take advantage to come pray and make an act of thanksgiving that we’re finally getting out of the pandemic—that it seems like we’re really on the other side of this—and this gives us an opportunity to turn back to God in thanksgiving, to return to our faith, to return to church, to rebuild our town, to get excited again and move forward,” Rivera said.