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June 9, 2011

 

Parishioner looks to St. Anthony for strength

NataleBob Ellis/staff photographer
Eighty-one year old Armando Natale plays his accordion at his Tompkins Street home. Natale will be playing in this weekend’s procession during the St. Anthony’s Festival.

By KATIE HALL
Living and Leisure Editor
For Armando Natale, the St. Anthony’s Festival is more than the food, the entertainment, the fun.
It’s about the patron saint himself.
“They’ve got to come to see St. Anthony,” said Natale, 81, of Cortlandville, who is known as the Cortland church’s resident accordion player.
“The festival, everything, it’s OK. But the saint comes first. Don’t come just for food or drink. That comes second. That’s what I feel. St. Anthony is the root.”
St. Anthony’s Festival, a Cortland tradition for decades, will take place Saturday and Sunday at the 50 Pomeroy St. church grounds. On Saturday, there will be a spaghetti dinner 4 to 7 p.m. at 5 p.m. a traditional Italian Mass, followed by the festival from 6 to 10 p.m. Fireworks will take place at 9:30 p.m.
On Sunday, a 9:30 a.m. Mass will be followed by the religious procession around Cortland and benediction. The festival will follow at the grounds from noon to 9 p.m.
St. Anthony of Padua is known for his devotion and preaching in the 1200s. A disciple of St. Francis of Assisi, Catholics say he’s a miracle worker, reconciling deadly enemies and getting thieves to make good on their debt.
Natale, a member of St. Anthony’s Church since 1969, has manned a float in the annual parade, a feature of the festival, the last 20 years, playing Italian and American tunes on his accordion, surrounded by his family.
“You know who likes me the most?,” he said in his Italian accent: “Children and old people. I am the only one that plays the accordion around here,” he said.
The self-taught musician joked and sang and his eyebrows wiggled when he was asking a question, a little smile on his face. He plays piano, harmonica, guitar, trumpet — “Anything I touch. Once I make the scale, I go,” he said.
At the church, he plays at special times, during Christmas and Easter.
The church is everything to him, he said. His dedication is not about this pastor or that, who may come and go through the years. “I go for St. Anthony.”
Natale came to the U.S. in 1956 from the province of Abruzzo, Italy, living in Ithaca about 11 years, coming to Cortland in 1967. He operated Armando’s on W. State St., a beauty salon, and through the years operated five salons, including one in Cortland. He and his wife, Livia, have three sons, David, Mark and Eric, and a daughter, Lisa, and two grandchildren. The kids grew up in the church, the boys serving as monks in the festival Mass, where the boys dress up in robes for the event. Armando served as an usher. “It’s our roots. It’s our tradition, St. Anthony’s,” said Livia.
The couple turned to their faith in time of need. Armando Natale is a leukemia survivor, in remission five and a half years. When he was in an Ithaca hospital, getting treated for the disease, his life was in peril.
“They had told me I wouldn’t live. They offered me experimental treatment,” said Natale. His wife said at one point she asked doctors, ‘How does it look?’
“’It can go either way. We’ll know in three weeks which way it’ll go. He can survive at the most a couple of years.’ I said, ‘Don’t write him off. He’s in pretty good standing up there,’” she said, pointing heavenward. “They looked at me like I was nuts,” she said.
“He believes in St. Anthony,” said Livia Natale. She said the saint is not only the saint of finding lost items, which people will pray to him for help, but also the saint of miracles.
“He saved my life,” Armando Natale said. “I dreamed of him one night in a dream,” he said.
“The day after, the doctor came and said, “I got good news. You are in remission. I didn’t know what remission meant in English.”
“It was probably the worst time of our life,” said Livia, of the cancer battle. “We came through World War II. We were there for the bombings. This was worse. Then, it was everyone in the same boat.”

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