Joseph F. Berenato
Faithful drawn to July 16th
Crowds for Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
HAMMONTON—Legions of the faithful gathered in Hammonton to participate in the 147th annual religious procession celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, held at 4 p.m. on July 16.
This year’s celebration ran from July 11 to July 16 and included carnival rides, midway games, food stands galore, the aforementioned procession and fireworks at 10 p.m. on July 16.
Louis Pantalone, the president of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, said that attendance for the week-long celebration was “very, very good.”
“We’ll probably have close to 70,000 people. Last year, those who never came before have come back, and those who continue to come are still coming. We’ve gained a lot more of an audience throughout the tri-state area,” Pantalone told The Gazette on July 16.
The Rev. David Rivera, pastor of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish, agreed with Pantalone.
“I think a lot of people discovered us last year, or finally said, ‘I’m going to go check this out,’ because there was nothing else going on. It opened up a lot of new avenues for us, and that’s great, too,” Rivera said.
Rivera said that this year’s Feast Week was a good one.
“I’ve been pleased, especially, with the turnout in church. I feel like there’s been more people at Mass and coming in for candles. We’ve had some more spiritual booths, and people have been taking advantage of that. And, of course, all the fun stuff, too. People have been buying food and enjoying the good music,” Rivera said.
Rivera said that this year’s Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was the first “normal” one since the rise of COVID-19.
“Even last year, we were still trying to figure things out, but now the Mt. Carmel Society got the whole carnival back and it feels like we’re back to normal,” Rivera said.
Pantalone attributed some of the success this year to the availability of parking.
“We set up free parking at the middle school on Liberty Street with shuttle service continuously throughout the day. Parking is very difficult here in the town, and we didn’t want anybody to be scared off because they couldn’t find a parking place. It’s there, and it runs constantly through the Feast,” Pantalone said.
Pantalone also credited the members of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society with making this year’s Feast a success.
“There’s been a tremendous showing from our membership; the membership is just phenomenal. We have 41 members—we have a charter of 50—and all but one was able to make it today,” Pantalone said.
Membership participation has been high since setup for the Feast began in May, Pantalone said.
“Most organizations, if they get 10 percent of their membership to come out for work parties, that’s great. I am so blessed that our work parties are 80 percent or better,” Pantalone said.
Rivera noted the absence of the Rev. Joseph Capella, who served as the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society’s chaplain and who died on June 21.
“He’s walking the procession with us from Heaven now. In a special way, our hearts go out to his family, to the Mt. Carmel Society, to our fellow priests in the diocese. It’s going to be a big, missing spot in the procession today. I know a lot of people look forward to seeing him every year—it’s their once-a-year ‘Hey, Joe! How you doing, Father?’ kind of thing—so it’s a big loss, but he’s now with the Blessed Mother herself, so it’s not his loss; it’s our loss,” Rivera said.
Pantalone echoed Rivera’s sentiments, and attributed the week’s cooperative weather to Capella.
“We had a little scare on Tuesday, but I think Father Joe helped us out big time, and enabled us to get that night in, which was wonderful ... Father Joe was a significant loss for us. Father Joe was a member before he was the chaplain. It was traumatic—and it still is—but he bailed us out Tuesday night; he took care of us. It’s a unique thing, the way the families and the membership work together to make sure we can continue this, and we’re very blessed that way,” Pantalone said.
Though the weather forecast called for thunderstorms on July 16 to coincide with both the procession and the fireworks, Pantalone was certain that the bad weather would hold off until the end of the night.
“Father Joe’s up there working his magic, so we’ll get it done,” Pantalone said.
Susan Davidow, the director of marketing for St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish, expressed a similar concern.
“We’re hoping we can keep the thunderstorms away. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is not going to permit it,” Davidow said.
Indeed, though there was light rain near the conclusion of the procession and then more light rain at the start of the fireworks, the weather did, in fact, cooperate.
Davidow said that, in addition to good weather, Feast Week had been going very well at St. Joseph Church.
“We had a very busy night Wednesday and Friday night. Today, we’re hoping that this is the topper. Once the procession starts at 4 p.m. we’ll be busy. Mass will start when they get back, and then things’ll start happening. Everybody’s pleased. The bands are good. It’s going well,” Davidow said.
Theresa Triola, the parish’s event coordinator for Feast Week, said that the food stands were very popular.
“We’re into 1,000-plus pounds of sausage already. We are running out of pizza, so people are coming,” Triola said.
Among those who visited St. Joseph Church’s Italian food stand on July 16 were Nicole McCann and Tiffany Logan, both of Philadelphia.
“This is actually my first Italian festival in Hammonton; I’ve gone to ones in Philly a bunch of times, but this is awesome. It’s a great day,” McCann said.
Logan said that her family has been attending the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel “forever.”
“It’s been at least 100 years. It’s a tradition of ours to come out every year on the 16th of July,” Logan said.
Like Pantalone, Triola credited much of their success to their volunteers.
“They’re awesome. They stay from start to finish ... the patrons that come have been very gracious in thanking us volunteers. For me, that’s very nice—when somebody I don’t even know says that. We’re very fortunate to have a great group of volunteers. The kids are just awesome; I couldn’t ask for a better group,” Triola said.
Sal Mazza, the president of the Our Lady of Assumption Society, credited both the quality of their volunteers and the quality—and variety—of their food.
“I think we’re doing great this year. Everybody’s talking about how great our food is. Everybody’s saying, ‘Go to the blue stand,’ and I’ve got a bunch of great help. We’re doing a good job this year. We’ve got eggplant—we make that ourselves, and that’s a big seller. Uncle Louie’s Special is a big seller,” Mazza said.
Louis Caruso, a founding member of the Our Lady of Assumption Society and the creator of the aforementioned sandwich, described the Uncle Louie’s Special.
“It’s got roast beef, oregano and a little garlic. Then you put tomato sauce in it, you mix in Pecorino Romano cheese, and then you add provolone cheese and onions and peppers on the top and melt it together, then you hit it with a little more red sauce to give it a little color and you put it in a sandwich. It’s delicious. I make it in four minutes,” Caruso said.
Amanda Giamporcaro, of Washington Twp., ate at the Assumption stand on July 16 with Ryan Henskens, Alexis Giamporcaro-Henskens and Sophia Giamporcaro.
“We normally come every year for the clams, but we decided to spice things up a little bit this year,” she said.
Giamporcaro-Henskens commented further.
“I like the roast pork with the broccoli rabe; I come every year for it,” Giamporcaro-Henskens said.
Henskens, however, was far more general in his culinary selections, but stated precisely why he chose the Assumption stand.
“The grub, man,” he 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.
“We come out every year for the food and to support the local community,” said Ray Giannascoli, who sat with Alex Mazzo and Chris Giannascoli.
Dan Sacco, the president of Order Sons of Italy Giuseppe Garibaldi Lodge 1658—which opened to the public and served up food and entertainment on July 15 and 16—said that everything was “fantastic.”
“Every year it gets better and better. I’m honored to be a part of it,” Sacco said.
Andrea Ford, of Williamstown, attended the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel with Nancy Demaris and Mike Lignelle. While the food was part of the draw for her, she said that she was attending for more religious reasons.
“We like a good Italian festival, because we’re Italian, but my grandmother came here 40 years ago because her husband was sick. She put her wedding band on a statue in hopes that it would help her husband get better. I wanted to come and see the statue,” Ford said.
Pantalone said that the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel for the procession would once more be the one that the society owned in lieu of the one in St. Joseph Church—a newer tradition that began in 2020.
“We have to be very cautious. The statue we have at the church is like a relic. We want that to always be intact and undisturbed, and not broken. It’s hard to make sure. Now, we put her right up at the center of the altar, and she will be there so that, even when we’re away, she’ll be present so people can see her and visit with her. We’ll use our statue for the procession, to make sure that the original statue will never be damaged,” Pantalone said.
Pantalone said that the statue in the church is likely more than a century old.
“In today’s age, with the way society is, not everybody has the same respect for religion—and we don’t want to take the chance of somebody coming out there and trying to damage it in a malicious way. I know some people think we’re not carrying the tradition, but we’re thinking of tradition in doing this. It hurts us that we don’t have it the way we used to, so we’re trying to replicate that the best we can while also protecting what our ancestors preserved,” Pantalone said.
Tradition was a major motivating factor for Veronica Cappella, who attended the Feast with her husband Domenic and their daughter, Mia.
“This is a big, huge tradition. I come out with my hubby, because we used to live in Hammonton—but I’ve been coming since I was a wee little lady with my family,” Cappella said.
Others, like Richard and Mary Arcuri of York, Pa., were excited to celebrate Hammonton’s tradition for the first time.
“It’s excellent to celebrate our heritage, and for this to be 147 years of existence, that tells you the impact that the Italian community has on society,” Richard Arcuri said.
Mary Arcuri, who was born in Sicily, agreed.
“It’s pretty great. It’s very authentic. This is a very close-knit community here,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2), who was in attendance for the first leg of the procession, also commented on the Hammonton community and the impact of the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
“This is what America’s about. It’s about faith and family and freedom. It’s about good things. These are people that love their church, love their faith, love their neighbors and really do good and wonderful things,” Van Drew said.
Pantalone emphasized that the entire purpose of the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which is very dear to the members of the society, is “because of the Blessed Mother.”
“Everybody understands the dedication that you have to have to be in the society is to perpetuate her presence with our ancestors and how they paid homage to her because of what they have here in the United States. For that, we don’t forget—and for that, we’ll always continue,” Pantalone said.
Pantalone said that the Mt. Carmel Society is already making preparations for the 150th Feast in 2025.
“We have a lot of great things planned. We’re real excited about continuing to make this another staple for not only the town of Hammonton but for those in the surrounding areas,” Pantalone said.
At the start of this year’s procession, Rivera gave an explanation of each saint while volunteers pushed that saint’s float down Third Street 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 Marie Fucetola, who walks each year with the statue of St. Martin de Porres.
“That was my parish,” Fucetola said.
Fucetola said that the 16th of July is of great importance to Hammonton.
“It’s a special day,” Fucetola said.
Alison Brita and her daughter, Bella, walk with the statue of Our Lady of Assumption every year.
“We walk with some of the members. It’s a great tradition; we love it here. Buona festa,” Brita said.
Frank Grasso, who watched the procession from his front lawn on Fairview Avenue, said that he’s been attending the event for as long as he can remember.
“Probably all my life, and I’m 82. My family gets together, and I’m happy about that,” Grasso said.
His sister, Anna Musumeci, watched the procession with him, and had a more direct reason for attending annually.
“It’s my faith,” Musumeci said.
Joe Mazza, a member of the Our Lady of Assumption Society, said that he has attended or walked in the procession each year of his life, as well. Now 80, Mazza is recovering from a broken neck but refused to let that keep him away—and mirrored Musumeci’s reason.
“It’s my faith,” Mazza said.
Montanna Gallardo traveled from Atco with her children Nicolino and Magdalena to watch the procession.
“I’ve been attending since I was little. I went to Hammonton School District and our family is very Italian, so I come every year,” Gallardo said.
Kristen Holte walked in the procession with her husband Michael and their daughters Aubrey and Ava, as well as with Berkley and Brinnley Strickland.
“We enjoy following the traditions every year for our family and our Italian heritage. This is their first time. They’re liking it. They’re all here and engaged, and we’re doing it,” Holte said.
Linda Franchina watched the procession with her mother, Gilda.
“She comes every year. She was from Florence, Italy and moved here in 1963, and has been here ever since,” Linda Franchina said.
Like so many others, Franchina said that she has been going to the procession of saints since childhood.
“Why would you not? You’re a Hammontonian. This is our Feast,” Franchina said.
The procession started to arrive back at the church at 6:30 p.m.; by 7 p.m., the procession concluded. Rivera expressed his appreciation to the various individuals and organizations that helped to make the procession successful.
“Thank you all for joining us for this 147th Mt. Carmel Society procession of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I want to thank all of our police, first responders, firemen and everyone—county officials, state officials, local officials—who cooperated to make this possible, this beautiful tradition in Hammonton of faith, of family, bringing us all together. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us,” Rivera said.