The OLMC Festa Story

OLMC 20    
When Father Fennell came to Mt. Pritchard in 1960, he found a wilderness. Most of the families living in the area were Italian immigrants and they lived in small to medium sized farms.

The Italian parishioners felt that although they were so far from their home towns back in Italy, they would like to keep their faith and their traditions alive here in Australia, whilst at the same time showing their children a sign of their faith and the traditions and festivals they held back home.

Continuing The Italian Festa Tradition

The celebration of the traditional Feast, called Festa, has been a part of Italian culture for centuries. The Festa encompasses the secular and religious rituals that surround the commemoration of a particular saint or holy day. Throughout Italy, but particularly in the south, communities honour saints on their feast days and celebrate Church holydays through Festas which typically include liturgical and para- liturgical celebrations, festive communal meals, games of chance and skill, elaborate processions through the local streets and some of Marian devotion.

Everywhere that early Italian immigrants have settled they have brought with them their traditions and the strongest of these bonds to the Old Country, was the Catholic faith and its adherents to its calendar of saints feast days. The focal point of these festivals is usually a particular saint that is significant to the community, be it a local patron saint or a saint dedicated to a local occupation.

Many of the traditional festivals still hold a nine-day session of the rosary known as a "Novena" before the actual feast begins on that particular saint's feast day. Once the feast begins (usually with a mass), festivities can range from solemn processions to boisterous parades, from Italian music and games to a full-blown carnival.

italian festa

In 1959 a committee was formed to arrange the presentation of their tradition, here at Mt Pritchard.  The biggest problem was choosing 'Which Saint'?; After some discussion all agreed that 'A Lady on the Mount' was the most appropriate, this being the one renowned as a 'Lady of Miracles', when shown great devotion...Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Some time later John Gerardis and Adelfo Bonanni on behalf of the committee met with the new Parish Priest, Father Fennell to seek permission to bring out the statue and hold the festival. Father Fennell advised the committee that he did not have the authority to approve their request and that they would need to obtain the Cardinal's approval. At that time Father Fennell had only just arrived in the Parish.

A few days later the committee met and decided to hold a collection among the Italian Community to raise the money required for the purchase and transport of the statue.

With the kind assistance of two Pauline nuns, an appointment was made for the president of the committee, John Gerardis, to see Cardinal Gilroy to seek his approval.

At the meeting, Cardinal Gilroy willingly granted permission and provided a letter of confirmation for the Parish Priest and one for the Committee. He then asked that he be advised when the statue arrives as he would have a surprise for them on its arrival.

The collection continued and once the amount required was raised, Bruna Calderan and Luigi Armenio, on behalf of the committee arranged the purchase from a little village in the Dolomite Mountains named "Ortisei", in the province of Bolzano in northern Italy, where a well known architectural firm employed a renowned Sculptor. The statue cost approximately 144 pounds (this was prior to decimal currency) plus the cost of transport of the statue from Italy to Mt Pritchard.

The Italian shipping line "Flotta Lauro" kindly donated the full transportation costs including from the Sydney docks to the Mt Pritchard Church site. The statue arrived sometime in September of 1961 (according to an early church bulletin), however the committee decided to leave the statue unpacked until the day of the blessing.

A few days after its arrival, a letter was sent to the Cardinal advising him of its arrival and inviting him to bless the statue. A couple of months later, the Cardinal came and blessed the statue and later that year the first Festa and procession were held.

The Italian Bulletin "Squilli Mariani", a Bulletin commenced in 1961, written by Rev. Padre Bonifacio Zurili OFM. the Capucin Chaplain at the time, had a section called "Notiziario Locale" or "Local Notices" , in which the Secretary of the "Madonna Del Rosario" Confraternity, reminds members that although the Festa is not until December, they should not leave things until the last minute to organise the program for the day.

The second notice which includes a mention of the movie to be screened on the 7th January after the Italian Mass and was probably printed in late December 1961, thanks the committee of the Confraternity of The Madonna Del Rosario for having organised a good festa of Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

This seems to indicate that the first Festa and procession was not held until December 1961  making it possible that a meeting was in fact held with Father Fennell seeking his permission for the Statue and the Festa. The photos below confirm he was there to celebrate the Mass and joined in the procession.

1st Festa in 1961

1st Procession 1960Father Fennell Celebrates The Mass

1st Procession 1960a
Padre Bonifacio Prepares to Lead The Procession

The mass was celebrated in the old St Peters school, as it was each Sunday back then, followed by a procession around the block and then the Festa in the old school grounds.

On the 3rd of December 1961 a celebration was held for the laying of the foundation stone for the new church. The Cardinal was invited, however he was unable to attend that day and he asked Bishop Thomas Muldoon (Rip – Dec: 13th Jan 1986), Auxiliary Bishop, to represent him.

When the Bishop unveiled the foundation stone, the surprise, hinted on by the Cardinal, when permission was originally sought from him several months earlier, had been granted by way of a new name for the Parish.  Bishop Muldoon stated that the new Church would be called "Our Lady of Mt Carmel" and not St Peters as it had been previously.

And so began the yearly event we now hold in October in honor of our Patron.