We’ve survived the winter months and celebrated Easter with its spirit of renewal and rebirth, and the best way to celebrate that spirit is with a procession. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about the processions of our youth. With the Catholic parishes representing the multiethnic makeup of Roseland, there were many processions held throughout the warmer months.
Throughout my childhood, I experienced Kensington’s St. Anthony of Padua’s processions. After I graduated in 1961, I headed straight into studying for the priesthood for the first year and a half of high school. I attended the Scalabrinian Order’s Sacred Heart Seminary in Stone Park, just 30 miles northwest of Roseland. This was a great time for me as a product of Roseland because I got to experience and see more of Chicagoland than I would have if I had gone straight into one of Roseland’s high schools.
There were many Scalabrini parishes throughout Chicago and we seminarians, along with ordained priests and brothers, were invited to attend every major ceremony and procession at those parishes. I recall being in attendance at parishes like Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Santa Maria Addolorata, Our Lady of Pompeii, Santa Lucia and Santa Maria Incoronata. A number of Chicago area parishes have been closed or combined, but the memories of those feast days with processions are still strong. As a matter of fact, if you want to make the effort, there are still parishes where the former parishioners join with current parishioners to continue their feasts and processions.
Processions have always been a part of St. Anthony’s calendar and I recall my mother taking part in numerous feasts when I was to small child. My mother belonged to the Holy Rosary Society like almost all the women of the parish did. It was a great social event for the women to dress up in their Sunday best. They would form up and say the rosary as the marched behind the statue of the Blessed Mother in May and St. Anthony in June.
St. Anthony having both Northern and Southern Italians parishioners, there was a stiff competition for naming rights of the parish and name-sake feast. In the early 1900s, St. Anthony won out over St. Alexander when a supporter of St. Anthony jumped up and pinned a winning donation amount to the alb collar placed around the statue’s neck at the last minute.
The processions I recall at St. Anthony lasted a couple of hours. The two that stick out in my mind were the May Crowning for Mary’s month and the Feast of St. Anthony’s that took place on the Sunday closest to June 13, the actual feast day. The procession would begin from the church and head east on Kensington because that was our Italian version of The Ave (Michigan Avenue) shopping area.
As the procession passed by Pat & Matt’s (coffee, candy, news, snack shop, restaurant, bar), across from the Verdi Show and the Penguin Snack Shop, we would come upon Gasparini’s Shoe Repair Shop. Seeing Fortunio Gasparini was always a highlight because he kept the Kensington Band going. It was made up of local musicians who practiced in his shoe shop. As far as everyone was concerned, they were our Italian Band and they were a part of every procession that I recall from my childhood. I was well into my adulthood before I realized that the Italian marching band was a tradition brought over from Italy and enjoyed by many Italian parishes.
Every organization that met through St. Anthony’s had a place in the procession, including the St. Alexander Society, Holy Name Society, Holy Rosary Sodality, Young Women’s Rosary Society, Veneti nel Mondo, Piemontese Women’s Club, Cesuna Club and I’m sure I missed a few.
Those were the good old days everyone talks about where people actually got together face-to-face rather than remotely through the advancements of technology. The camaraderie and familial feelings those times engendered are a major part of what we are missing today. Organizations are struggling to maintain membership and to attract new members. We are very fortunate to have our memories of those processions and feast to lean on when we look back.
The St. Anthony Feast celebration typically ended with one of the best carnivals the South Side had to offer. Roseland residents from all parts of Roseland would look forward to it. Young people would cruise The Ave, waiting for the evening to bring their hip, happening cool selves down the hill to the carnival to see and be seen. The carnival was the place to be.
I don’t recall St. Anthony’s having a beer garden, but I wasn’t old enough to seek one out at that time. I do remember the raw oyster and Old Style tent. I was pretty impressed seeing the members of the Holy Name Society, who we all knew because they were the parents of our classmates, standing around the tent shelf, talking, drinking and smoking and eating those raw oysters. I’ve never acquired the taste, though I’ve come to realize that swallowing raw oysters whole is a favorite pastime at many Italian carnivals across the country to this day.
The best memory I have as far as carnival food is concerned is of the bingo pizza, which was available every night the carnival was going on. Bingo pizza is the rectangular pizza the St. Anthony cafeteria ladies made for sale on Friday nights when bingo was being held in the school hall. The slices were 50 cents apiece and my sisters would always send me down to get a few slices so they and their girlfriends would have something to eat before going out.
If the urge to attend an Italian festa with all the benefits I’ve mentioned comes over you, pick up a Fra Noi at your local Italian market or checkout Fra Noi online to see the current listing of processions or Italian fests taking place throughout Chicagoland. All the patron saint festivals will be listed in the June issue and the summer festivals will be listed in August.
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