The St. Mary of Carmen Society’s 87th annual festival culminated Sunday in a procession through the streets of Nonantum.
The five-day festival brings together the close-knit Newton village through an extravagant celebration of friends, family, and Italian-American heritage. This year it featured performances from bands like Swinging with the Rat Pack and Seabreeze with Stephen Savio, as well as carnival rides, games, and authentic Italian food and drinks at Pellegrini Park on Hawthorn Street.
In celebration of Italy’s Roman Catholic roots, a statue of the Virgin Mary was paraded through the streets in Sunday’s procession. Attendees pinned death notices and money to the statue to honor passed loved-ones and help the Society raise money for charities and scholarships.
Despite the religious aspects of the parade, Charles “Chuck” Proia, festival chairman of the St. Mary of Carmen Society, ensured that the celebratation was an opportunity for people of any background to take part in Nonantum’s traditions.
“No matter where you come from [or] where you’ve been, once you come and be a part of this festival and come to Nonantum, you’re always going to be a part of the tradition and the history of the festival and the Society,” Proia said. “That’s what this celebration was all about, families and friends in the neighborhood.”
Franco Battista, the president of the Society, agreed.
“We always say no matter what race, color [or] creed ... whether you moved out or whether you’re new to the neighborhood ... everybody is just celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel today.”
While the modern day festival welcomes attendees from Massachusetts and beyond, Proia said the event was originally intended for Italian immigrants to find support and community after coming to the United States during the 1930s.
Patrick Marrocco, 68, whose grandfather Pasquale was a founding member of the Society, explained that the organization helped recently arrived Italians forge a home away from home.
“[Italian immigrants] would greet each other and help each other get acclimated,” Marrocco said. “So that’s how [the Society] started.”
The first informal St. Mary of Carmen Society festival was in July, 1935, and the organization was officially founded in November of that same year. Every summer since, except for the cancellation of the festival in 2020 due to the pandemic, the festival has served as a time for the Italian families of Nonantum to reconnect and celebrate.
Richard Cucchi, 67, is one attendee whose family has always held the Nonantum festival near to their hearts. Every year since 1956, the celebration has been a crucial part of how Cucchi spends the summer season. This year, Cucchi was excited to have his grandchildren be a part of the tradition, which means four generations of his family have attended the event.
“Every year you come back and you see the same people, people who grew up here for 50, 60, 70 years,” Cucchi said.
Like Cucchi, Laura Collins grew up in Newtonville and has been attending the festival for as long as she can remember. Even when Collins worked as a travel nurse and lived in California, the festival was an important way for Collins to stay grounded in her Italian roots and maintain her connection to “the Lake,” a term natives use to refer to Nonantum.
Although she currently lives an hour away in Salem, N.H., Collins had no qualms about making the drive to attend the event. For her, the festival is a reminder of what’s truly important in life.
“It’s just one of those things that just kind of pulls at your heartstrings,” Collins said. “No matter what you go through, you always come back to your roots.”
In an effort to make sure the community’s next generation feels the same affinity toward Italian culture, Collins brought her son to the festival, explaining that the event is the perfect place to emphasize the importance of togetherness after the pandemic created a world of isolation.
“In this day and age of post-COVID, where families [and] friends have been separated and disconnected, I just feel it’s so, so important to let this generation know that it wasn’t always like this,” Collins said. “It’s really important to stay together and stay connected and to make sure that you carry on these really special traditions.”
Richard Sauro, 60, also emphasized the importance of staying connected to his community as he hauled the statue of the Virgin Mary under the blazing sun during the procession. His family has been involved in the St. Mary of Carmen Society since its founding almost nine decades ago, and he’s honored to do his part as a committee member of the Society.
“This is a neighborhood tradition that we cherish and love and try to keep propagating,” Sauro said. “I was born into it and now I do my share to help community.”
Although Sauro currently lives in Medfield, the festival is a chance for him to reconnect with his roots, especially since the procession passes by his childhood home. Since the festival is a time to rekindle meaningful relationships with friends and family, Sauro was pleased to see such a large turnout to the event.
“Because [of] COVID, we had a couple of weak years,” Sauro said. “It’s really strong this year, people are getting out in the community, and it’s nice to see.”
During the procession, community members stopped periodically to greet their friends and family in the neighborhoods, and honor the legacies of community members who recently passed away. The local celebration was complete with music from the North End marching band alongside fireworks, singing and cheering.
The 87th annual St. Mary of Carmen Festival is the quintessence of Nonantum’s exciting and culturally rich spirit.
“What once was the Italian-American neighborhood [and] the Catholic neighborhood has evolved, and so has the festival,” Proia said. “It is truly a celebration of family.”