June 9, 2008
St. Anthony’s ‘young monks’ reunite
Church parade includes reunion of monks involved in 80-year tradition
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Young monks Chase Davis, left, and Thomas Gibbons lead a group of past monks, including Brett and Dan Miller, right, who hold a banner with a photo of a previous parade. The Miller brothers were monks in the 1990s. A large group, who had once portrayed the monks, gathered for a reunion Sunday at this year’s event. It was part of the St. Anthony’s Festival this weekend.
It’s been more than 20 years since brothers Michael and Marc Passalugo participated in the St. Anthony’s Festival monk precession, in which young boys dress in traditional monk robes representing St. Anthony.
But this Sunday, with their sons in front of them, the Passalugo brothers again marched in the annual St. Anthony’s parade.
“It’s tradition,” said Michael Passalugo, adding that their father portrayed a monk in the parade in the 1950s.
This was the first year that the St. Anthony’s Festival had a reunion of the monks, honoring a tradition that is about 80 years old. Thirteen young boys dressed in monk attire were accompanied by between 15 and 20 past monks.
Michelina Gibbons, a member of St. Anthony’s parish who organized the monk reunion, said she thought of the idea several years ago but really pushed for it this year because the men who participated as monks in the past are getting older and because of the potential merger of St. Anthony’s and St. Mary’s parishes over the next five years.
“It may be the last shot with the church issues,” Gibbons said.
The two Roman Catholic parishes in Cortland are awaiting a decision from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse on a recommendation to merge.
With the backdrop of a pending decision, the community came to show its support for St. Anthony’s Church, wearing buttons and holding signs that stated, “We love St. Anthony’s.”
The weekend’s festival is a longtime tradition the church has held in honor of St. Anthony of Padua, which was started in Cortland in 1905.
“I think that with everything talked about with the church, a lot of people feel that they wanted to make it a good festival,” said Vivian Colongeli, who is the co-coordinator of the young monk precession. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
A decision on the church merger is expected to be announced this month. Parishes across the diocese are being reorganized because the region’s population is dropping and a priest shortage is expected.
Philomena Corsi, chairwoman of St. Anthony’s parish council, said she thinks this year’s festival was more important than previous years because of the merger talks.
“I think this year more-so to show the presence St. Anthony’s has in the city of Cortland and community,” Corsi said. “Most of us hope that this continues on.”
The monk reunion was a highlight of the two-day festival. Saturday included a spaghetti supper and live entertainment in the church hall, and a poker tournament Saturday evening. Sunday featured local crafters, entertainment inside and outside the church, ethnic foods, a novelty booth, cake wheel, children’s games and a raffle.
“I think it showed people that belonged to the parish at one time and have since moved away still have a connection with St. Anthony’s,” Corsi said of the monk reunion.
Bartolo Spano, 74, came back from North Carolina to take part in the parade after hearing about the reunion through friends in Cortland.
“I have such fond memories here and a lot of old-time friends I grew up with,” said Spano, who originally marched as a monk from 1941 to 1946. “This gave me the chance to see it all again.”
Donald Colongeli also participated in the festivities, being one of the original monks after his mother helped implement the tradition in the early 1930s.
“In those days it was prestigious to be a monk,” said Colongeli, whose sister-in-law Vivian now coordinates the young monks each year. “I was in it right from the beginning.”
Colongeli, who still lives in Cortland, said his mother and aunt came here from a village in Italy called Ferrazano.
“There was a St. Anthony’s Church there, too,” he said. “They wanted to carry out the tradition from Italy.”
Colongeli hand sewed monk robes and hats and sold them in the 1930s.
Colongeli said over the years he has noticed the changes in the church.
“In the old days when I was a boy, this church was 100 percent Italian,” he said. “Now we have many new generations in the church and they’re doing a heck of a good job and donating to the needs of the church. It’s too bad that the bishop, Diocese in Syracuse find the need to take it (the church) away. It would be a terrible tragedy and loss to the community and especially the parishioners who go to this church. It would kill the continuity of the whole thing.”
Colongeli added that his mother, Maria Fazio Colongeli, and aunt would turn over in her grave if the tradition of the monk precession ceased to exist.
“I think there is a constant fear and thought that this could be the last St. Anthony’s Festival,” Colongeli said.
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