June 18, 2012
St. Anthony’s celebrates tradition
Annual festival at East End Catholic church dates back to 1905
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Stephanie Passeri-Densmore carries a religious banner in the St. Anthony’s festival procession on Sunday following morning Mass at St. Anthony’s Parish in Cortland.
When most people think about the annual St. Anthony’s Festival, they think about tradition.
At the center of it all is the St. Anthony of Padua Church on Pomeroy Street, a cornerstone of Cortland’s Italian-American community for more than 100 years. Before it became a place of worship, the church was a spaghetti house.
Many feel Cortland’s Italian-American culture is not as prevalent as it once was. But active St. Anthony’s parish member Stephanie Passeri-Densmore says the Italians were the most flavorful and dominant in leaving their “ethnic stamp” on Cortland.
Mary Ann Fadale, who co-chaired this year’s St. Anthony’s Festival, agrees.
“I do think it’s the Italian heritage,” Fadale said. “It’s a small church and because it’s small, the people in it are close. It’s like family.”
Those who showed up this weekend were fed like members of the family. There was a spaghetti supper in the church basement. There were other pasta dishes, sausage and pepper sandwiches, meatball subs.
And few could leave out the cannoli, courtesy of the East Side Bakery, which was handing out other baked goods.
In addition to food, music, a traditional Mass in Italian, there was the St. Anthony’s Day Procession on Sunday that started outside the church and continued around the east part of Cortland.
Passeri-Densmore said St. Anthony’s Festival started out in 1905 as just a religious event. The Italians who came to Cortland for the factory jobs stuck to the kind of celebration they were raised with in Italy.
By the 1940s and 1950s, the festival, especially the processional around town, added some other American parade elements — like floats.
“You’d have a religious float, but it’s a float,” Passeri-Densmore said. “This parade was gigantic.”
It still covers a lot of ground, but decades ago it covered a lot more, said Bella Fabrizio.
Today the St. Anthony’s celebration might hearken back to the old traditions, but Fabrizio, 95, remembers those old days like they were yesterday. She lives in the same Elm Street residence where she grew up.
“In those days the church was your life in terms of activity,” Fabrizio recalls. “On St. Anthony’s Day, they would close school and that was on June 13, the actual feast day.”
The parade went from the church, eventually to the South End of Cortland, to Comando Avenue and Hyatt Street, then back to the church on Pomeroy Street, Fabrizio recalled.
Then everyone filed into church for Sunday Mass.
“Can you imagine all that walking?” Fabrizio said. “When you got to the South End of town, people would always be handing out cold drinks. Then at Comando Avenue someone would treat us. The celebration was just like being in the big city.”
St. Anthony’s Festival might have started out as a uniquely Italian-American celebration, but its participants proudly say it is now one the whole community has embraced.
“When anyone comes to our church, they’re embraced as family,” Fadale said.
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