WESTERLY — A 93-year-old, deeply-revered, local religious tradition will have a bit of a different feel in 2021.
This year will mark the first Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel celebration in more than six decades without the involvement of the late Antonio "Junie" Trebisacci Jr., a longtime member of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast Committee, who died in February of this year.
"He was one of our favorites," said Committee President Mike Breslin Friday as he discussed plans for this year's festival, which kicks off Wednesday. "He was a good friend, our chaplain, our historian and our oldest member."
Trebisacci was also part of Feast Committee royalty. His late father, Antonio P. Trebisacci Sr., was a founding member of the committee, which was formed, according to the history of the committee, to commemorate an 1892 miracle that took place in the village of Toreannugita, Italy, where farmers — desperately trying to survive during a 19-month long drought — stopped their work and began to pray for rain.
Their prayers were answered when the rains came pouring down, the history says, on July 16, the day Roman Catholics recognize as the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In Westerly in the late 1920s, the Rev. Henry Bruno, the then-pastor of Westerly's Church of the Immaculate Conception — whose parishioners have traditionally been largely Italian American — tasked a group of 12 — along with Trebisacci, the original group included Frank Regine, Natale Emanuel, Nicole Lupica, Nicole Feringo, F. Samuel Nardone, Pasquale Pellegrino, John Salimeno, Frank Toscano, Antonio Turco, Natale Turco, and Joseph Turco — with raising enough money to purchase a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for the church. When enough money was raised, a tradition was born.
Every year since 1928, families have gathered to pray together, feast together and march together in the Sunday procession through the streets of Westerly. Over the years, the feast has grown into a four-day celebration that begins with a Wednesday night Mass and the "Crowning of the Blessed Mother" statue and ends on Sunday with the procession during the day and a band concert and fireworks display at night.
Last year, said Breslin, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still raging, the feast day activities were scaled back significantly and only a limited number of residents were allowed to join the procession.
Everything is back on track this year, he said on Friday, with a few changes and additions.
"We'll follow all state and CDC recommendations of course," he said, "and people who are vaccinated will not have to wear masks."
But there's another change, which was inspired by the pope, he added.
For the first time in procession history, a statue of St. Joseph will be placed on the trailer alongside the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
Earlier this year, Breslin said, Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, proclaimed 2021 to be "A Year of Saint Joseph."
"Saint Joseph was the husband of the Blessed Mother," he added. "And we've invited members of the St. Joseph Committee, and the Maria Assunta Society (from neighboring St. Michael Church) to join us in the procession."
The Knights of Columbus, too, he said, will participate, as will members of the Westerly Band. Another change will involve the band, whose members have long participated in the festivities, playing during the procession and again before the fireworks display.
This year, Breslin said, band members will ride aboard a trailer during the procession, instead of walking the roughly 3-mile route.
The feast will begin Wednesday with a 7 p.m. Mass at Immaculate Conception church to be celebrated by the Rev. Giacomo Capoverdi, the church's pastor. The crowning of the statue will take place after the mass. The celebration will continue on Thursday with a 7 p.m. healing Mass to be celebrated by the Rev. Joseph Pescatello and on Friday with a 7 p.m. mass which will be celebrated in both English and Italian by Msgr. Carlo Montecalvo. A short candlelight procession will then take place around the streets around the church, followed by a short reception with refreshments inside the church.
On Sunday, July 18, an 11 a.m. Mass will be celebrated by the Rev. Francis Santilli in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel before the 3-mile street procession begins.
The procession begins in front of the church, heads up Narragansett Avenue, left on Tower Street, left on Oak Street, right on High Street, left on Pierce Street, right on Turano Avenue, around Columbus Circle, up Pond and Pierce Streets, left on Pleasant Street, right on West Street, left on Friendship Street, right on High Street and back to the church.
Typically, marchers then head home for traditional family picnics before heading to Cimalore Field at dusk for a band concert courtesy of the Westerly Band and the fireworks.
As always, Breslin said, the public is cordially invited to participate in any or all parts of the celebration.
Committee member Thomas Gomes of Westerly, whose grandfather, Natale Turco, and two of his great uncles, Joseph and Antonio Turco, were founding members of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, said participation in the festivities has been part of his family's tradition for his entire life.
Gomes said he is even expecting his Aunt Claire Peduzzi, who is 96 years old and wheelchair-bound, to participate in next week's celebration.
The family of Junie Trebisacci will also be participating in all the festivities next week, Breslin added. Kenneth Trebisacci, Junie's only son, has stepped into the role of chaplain, and Carolyn, his wife, will crown the "statue of the Blessed Mother" on the first night of the feast.
"It's an honor," Carolyn said in a phone interview Friday morning. "It's an honor and it reminds me that Tony will be there with us. I know he will be there."