June 8, 2013


Steeped in tradition

St. Anthony’s Festival draws on rich Italian heritage

FestivalJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Philomena Corsi views a framed photo commemorating the St. Anthony’s Festival’s heritage Friday at St. Anthony’s Church in Cortland. The festival begins at 4 p.m. today with a spaghetti dinner, and fireworks will be held around 9:30 p.m. It runs all day Sunday.

Staff Reporter

The St. Anthony’s Festival that takes place this weekend is full of traditions that date back years and instill in the community a sense of pride and belonging.
Lifelong parishioner and an active planner of the festival, Philomena Corsi, pointed to the St. Anthony’s banner displayed in the church Friday, saying the high bidder will be able to carry the antique item and lead the annual procession Sunday. This is a tradition that has been carried on since the earliest days of the festival.
The festival in honor of St. Anthony of Padua has been held in Cortland since 1905. It predates the church, which was started in 1917.
Stephanie Passeri-Densmore, assistant church historian, said the original banner dates back to 1905, when it was brought back from Italy. That banner is now enshrined and it has been replaced by another banner that was brought from Italy in 1958, and is still used.
Also strung along the sides of the church are banners representing the 20 different regions of Italy. In 1997, Corsi said Mario Venturini, an art teacher in Groton, made the banners which have been carried in the procession each year since then.
Some people like to carry banners that represent the region that they are from, she said.
The procession will take off after Sunday’s Mass and benediction, winding through the streets of Cortland’s East End . The statue of St. Anthony is carried and three floats will process.
The theme of this year’s festival is “St. Anthony’s Church: Home Of Our Faith.” Passeri-Densmore said the theme was chosen because the Vatican chose faith in the Catholic Church as this year’s theme and the church is the heart of faith for the community. One float will center on that theme.
“We do see St. Anthony’s as not just a church but as our family and extended family. Our other home, our extended home that fosters our faith,” Passeri-Densmore said.
Food is a large part of the festival, with a spaghetti dinner from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. today and sausage and pepper sandwiches sold Saturday and Sunday.
Mike Pizzola, chair of this year’s festival, said the food is something that also has long-standing roots in the festival. Traditionally the festival was a chance for the Italian shops around town to compete with one another in making the best sausage. St. Anthony’s carries on this tradition by making sausage from a parishioner’s recipe, Pizzola said.
“We try to make it as traditional as possible, we check to make sure it tastes the way it should taste, we cook it ourselves and it’s ... bigger than regular sausage and flavored differently,” Pizzola said.
Another tradition is the baking of homemade Italian cookies.
“Every year we have parishioners bake fresh Italian cookies,” said Pizzola, whose own family made over 2,000 cookies for the festival.
These are special Italian cookies that cannot be bought in the store, he said.
This year five different types of gelato will be offered, made by the Contento family, which also provides the catering of traditional Italian fare.
The Old Timers Band performs Sunday night beginning at 7 and it is another long-standing tradition of the festival, he said.
Pizzola said for many the festival offers a reason to come back to the area after having moved away. He said people are visiting from Florida for the occasion and he is constantly greeted by people who fondly recall the festivities from childhood memories.
“I have had I don’t know how many people every day coming up and saying, ‘thank you for doing that, I remember it from my childhood,’” Pizzola said.
Some find the festival to be a family reunion of sorts, he said.
“As long as they can remember, it’s been a staple in the community and they are excited,” he said.


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