By Rosalie Tirella
I drove by Our Lady of Loretto Church just now and saw the last, gargantuan, big top tent … empty, covering nothing, but still erected on the church parking lot. With its “points” glistening in the sun and seemingly poking into the clouds, it looked a lot like those pointy “material girl” bras Madonna wore in the 1990s during her concerts and in her MTV music videos. But today I was thinking of a different Madonna – the patron saint of the little Italian-American church on the city’s East Side. It had just capped off its full-to-capacity, four-day Italian Festival.
I drove by the fest each day, and it was really hopping the final two days and nights, with people coming in cars, baby carriages, wheel chairs and on foot, from all over Worcester. The old, the middle-aged and the young converged on this joyful gathering. Everyone got along, people were smiling and laughing – all together again! A community event that was on hiatus for two years due to the global pandemic roared back to life this past weekend as we humans expressed the most social sides of ourselves. TOGETHERNESS! Heaven!
So, sitting here, as I listen to the tent’s thick ropes and cords banging up against the tent’s poles (there’s a summer breeze), I am grateful for the old Worcester. The old Catholic traditions – the church fests, the fall novenas, the pre-autumn visit to local shrines to pray to obscure saints, then … to socialize and knosh – on everything from doughnuts to calzone, courtesy of the good church folks – or vendors! The cousins get to run wild on the church lawn, playing hide and seek among the outdoor Stations of the Cross again – as we did decades ago every August at the St. Ann’s shrine in Leicester. My mom and aunt always took my two kid sisters and me to the church’s end-of-summer outdoor Novena, held in their beautiful chapel (made of stones, cupped by a little forest of trees) where we always met up with our Uncle Mark, Aunt Ann and their kids, our favorite cousins. At the end of Mass the nuns would let each of us attendees walk up to the altar and take a long pink or white or yellow gladiola from the big vases they had set up before the altar. You’d kneel on the kneel rest and say a brief prayer before grabbing your glady – but that was part of the fun, my favorite part of the evening, after the doughnuts that were set out by the boy orphans that lived in the dormitory behind the church. They also had a school on the grounds. The boys seemed kind of serious and some of them looked too big for their shirts, but I was 10 years old and focused on flowers and candy …
Kids need religion and religious traditions like the Our Lady of Loretto festival even if, like me, they grow up and leave the physical church to ponder, for decades: WHAT IS GOD? The festivities, church processions, catechism classes, First Holy Communions, outdoor masses and novenas give children a foundation: through Catholicism, they learn to be kind to animals, love the poor, respect your parents, don’t steal … sing!!
So this past weekend it was, I believe, not so much the great Italian-American eats that drew the huge crowd to the Our Lady of Loretto Church Italian Festival. It was a hunger for traditions, especially after COVID times. We all missed community … shared music, shared crafts, shared food … and happiness.