Six years ago my daughter Amanda and I attended the Orlando Family’s St. Joseph Novena in their home. We had the pleasure of sitting next to a family friend, Zina Saputo. Zina, with her beautiful voice, has celebrated and honored St. Joseph through prayer and song for decades. Each night of the rosary, between reciting prayers and singing of songs, Zina would clarify the correct pronunciations of both the Sicilian and Italian words, and would often give short translation summaries to the younger generations in attendance. It was just as the older generation of Novena attendee’s did at my Aunt Vinci and Uncle Michael Militello’s St. Joseph Rosary years ago.
Amanda and I loved listening to her sing, and especially loved her warm embrace and nurturing ways. Sitting next to her during the rosary each night at the Orlando’s Altar, brought back childhood memories of sitting at my great aunt and uncles altar next to elder relatives who, like Zina, translated and taught the younger generations the beautiful rosary. The Rosary brought here from Sicily by relatives settling in Gloucester generations ago. Although the number of altars in the City of Gloucester has dwindled from 36+ family altars to todays 8-9 altars, the prayers and songs, sung each night of the Novena and the devotion to honor St. Joseph, with this deep rooted Sicilian tradition, remain the same. It was that year, I realized how important it was to document the Feast of St. Joseph for generations to come. I realized that with the passing of each of one of our elders, this tradition became closer to extinction. Not only was my generation at risk of losing something so incredible special, but the future generations of our families were as well. The sad reality is that there are only a few handfuls of mentors left in the City, who have a real understanding of the old Sicilian dialect that so many of the songs are written in.
Five years ago I sat down with my brother Joey to talk about the importance of documenting how our Sicilian community celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph held annually March 10-19th. I am unaware of any other community in the US that celebrate St. Joseph like Gloucester, Massachusetts. We discussed how important it was to highlight, embrace, and educate others on this special tradition celebrated in our community. With it being such a big part of our childhood, we knew firsthand just how important it was to get it documented before it was too late.
At the recommendation of my brother Joey, I reached out to GMG contributor Kim Smith, for assistance with 3 goals in mind. The first goal was to document the prayers and songs sung in the Sicilian language along with translations. The second goal was to interview each and every family in the city who still hosted a family Altar, and document their family’s St. Joseph altar history, and the stories and memories surrounding the feast of St Joseph. My third goal was to highlight the traditional foods and ingredients, along with their significances, surrounding the tradition. Kim loved the idea and immediately jumped on board and accepted the goals I had in mind for the documentary.
Although Kim had never experienced the tradition herself, she was eager to learn and help me document one of my most cherished Sicilian traditions for future generations. After mapping out a plan together, I contacted every family, with the help of our dear family friend, Sefatia Romeo Theken, to arrange a time and place for each family interview. Over the course of a week, I introduced Kim to each family, and she stood faithfully behind her camera attached to a tripod (sometimes not in the most comfortable of positions) and videotaped my interview at each home. I was honored to have each family’s trust and was truly touched by their openness to the idea of sharing their priceless stories and precious memories with me for this documentary.
I vividly remember walking out of the first night of taping at the Orlando Families Novena with Kim wholeheartedly thanking me for asking her to be a part of this journey. She was overwhelmed with what she had experienced and I could completely understand knowing it had been her very first time attending and witnessing a Sicilian Rosary. It’s one of the most beautiful and spiritual things to experience both physically and emotionally. I think we would both agree that the process of documenting each altar history and their family’s stories was heartwarming, uplifting, special, and exhausting. Together we worked hard, laughed and cried, but felt so honored to be the recipients of this material. Kim has the footage we taped together, along with the release forms everyone graciously signed for us. Over the past few years, Kim has continued to film additional footage about St. Joseph’s celebration in Gloucester and has presumably spent countless hours piecing the documentary together. Kim’s work is amazing and she is very aware of how meaningful this documentary is to me and our Sicilian community. Although I am not personally involved in the editing of this documentary, I want the families who put their trust in me and shared their stories, to know I have the highest faith in St. Joseph, that Kim is taking special care of our work, and doing her absolute best to highlight each and every family with respect and just honor. I have no doubt the final product is going to be absolutely incredible.
One of the most important goals when beginning this documentary was to have the traditional songs recorded and translated. Knowing the meaning of what we were singing would be so powerful to all of us. At one point, we thought about going into a studio to tape audio of the songs, and Kim actually reached out to a friend to coordinate a studio recording time. Sometimes things happen for a reason, and I believe that nothing could replace the authenticity of the song and prayer footage taped at the Orlando Family home during that first night almost 4 years ago.
For the past couple of years, I dreamed of adding a short English translation to our prayer books, next to each Sicilian and Italian prayer and song. This year, Abbey Mathews, one of our rosary’s youngest Novena attendees, daughter of GMG contributor Bridget Mathews, and Italian language teacher with the Winchester School Department, took it upon herself to make my dream come true. One afternoon, over February school vacation, Abbey and I sat down to start to translate the prayers and songs. She translated, I typed. We ended our meeting with a short list of questions and a few fill-in-the-blanks areas. This past Thursday night, after our First Rosary, Abbey sat me down at the kitchen island, and presented me with a sneak-peek of a power point presentation she had been working on since our meeting in February. As she passed through the slides I was completely moved to tears.
At our Rosary last night, Abbey shared her labor of love with our faithful, and presented a beautiful slideshow of translations projected adjacent to the altar. We all sat in awe as we read her beautiful words. Abbey Mathews, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for all your hard work, countless hours, and total dedication to this project. Thank you for making my dream come true and for making last nights rosary so extra special. You will forever be a part of the St. Joseph’s Novena history in Gloucester. Your efforts and hours put into this project are so greatly appreciated, and will be enjoyed by all, for the next 30+ years. Most importantly they will be passed to future generations and help this important tradition carry on. You are simply the best!
Teaching the next generation Ella Tucker how to make
Novena Coffee Time Espresso
Sista Felicia’s Pistachio Macaroon Cookies
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