Feast begins on July 11
HAMMONTON—Volunteers are preparing for the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. With many counting down the days until the day of the feast, the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society has been updating people on Facebook about the event. The Feast this year will be the 147th annual, and is the longest running Italian festival in the country.
The festival begins Monday, July 11 with a carnival by Amusements of America, food stands, entertainment and more.
The Feast Day, Saturday, July 16, begins with a morning Mass in Italian at 10 a.m., and a noon Mass in Spanish. Two other Masses at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. are scheduled for this year, however, the procession starts at 4 p.m. The procession will begin at Third Street and French Street in front of St. Joseph Church, and will follow the traditional route that has been used for decades.
One of the main attractions of the Feast is the carnival, which will promptly open at 6 p.m. during the week. The carnival itself is free entry, but guests can purchase tickets (before the Feast week begins or at the carnival) for each ride. Wristband nights will be July 12, 13 and 14 and the cost is $30.
There will be entertainment nightly at both the Society on Tilton Street and at St. Joseph Church of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish on Third Street. The Sons of Italy Hall will also be open to the public on July 15 and 16.
The Gazette had the opportunity to talk with Mt. Carmel Society President Lou Pantalone about the feast this year, and some of the history behind the festival.
“In 1875, on July 16th, our ancestors… migrated to Hammonton. On that day, they took a picture of the blessed mother, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and they did a procession through the fields of where they were living, to thank the blessed mother and our Lord for their safe passage here,” Pantalone said.
He said that they also prayed for the growth of crops, as well as thanking the Lord for the opportunity to be in a country where they could prosper.
“From that day forward, every year on July 16, there was a procession. That continued out in that area on Pine Road for 10 years, until the first Catholic church was built in Hammonton,” Pantalone continued.
St. Joseph Church on Third Street was the first church built in Hammonton, and soon became the focal point for the Feast. According to the website of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, the group was chartered as an independent organization in 1905. In 1955, the organization built their meeting hall and present location on Tilton Street, a portion of which was renamed to Mt. Carmel Lane in honor of the Feast and organization.
The Society itself keeps the feast a tradition, with many volunteers and members working closely together yearly to organize the event. The organization has a closed membership of 50 members, and usually the membership passes down from father to son. The membership allows for a close relation with the organization, however planning the event can be a difficult task with only 50 members.
“Last year we probably had close to 80,000 people come through our little town of Hammonton during the week, but it’s an all-year event for us. As this year is occurring, we’re thinking about next year, so there’s a lot that goes into it,” Pantalone said.
Pantalone mentioned having to prepare for entertainment, but more importantly the religious aspects of the Feast. He said that getting everything ready for the procession on July 16 is the main focus, and everything else is a byproduct of it.
“We’re there to continue the tradition that our ancestors started, back in July 16, 1875. To be very thankful, to the intercession of our blessed mother and to continue that tradition,” Pantalone explained.
Pantalone said that the town of Hammonton supports the festival, and many people have been participating for many years.
“When you grow up in Hammonton it’s like Christmas,” Pantalone said.
He explained that it’s an event that people look forward to, and people that move away still come back to the town for this event in particular. Pantalone said that he had a personal relationship with the festival, as his grandfather was in the organization as well as his father, brother, uncle and two cousins.
“It’s very impactful from that religious aspect. They really did a lot to continue to preserve that special day for us … and to show that you have to have faith, you have to have respect and you have to have ethics. Work ethics, pride, all of those things that teaches us, and we carry that through to our children. It’s very important to keep that tradition going,” Pantalone said.
Mt. Carmel Society Vice President Frank Italiano, finds that the organization itself is a crucial aspect of the festival.
“That’s super special to us, the guys who are in the Mt. Carmel Society, that’s a super special bond too. You’re all basically relatives, or kind of relatives, and it’s a great week. It’s tiring, these guys work day and night for a whole week, they work coming up to it,” Italiano said.
The work put in by the Society does not go unnoticed, as many Hammontonians and visitors from all-around flock to the event each year.
To add to the Feast week, the Sons of Italy will be hosting two open house events during the week.
The lodge at 427 N. Third Street will be open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday, July 15 and Saturday, July 16.
Stealing Savanah will be performing July 15 beginning at 7 p.m.
Hammonton’s favorite DJ Nicky G will be playing music beginning at 6 p.m. on July 16.
Food will be available after 11 a.m. T-shirts and tank-tops will be for sale as well.