Ask Peter Brunelli if anything’s different in this year’s St. Rocco’s Feast from the last, and the first thing he mentions is the food. He knows everything that will be served, down to the last ingredient. Take the calzones, for example.
“We’re changing the calzones a bit,” says Brunelli. “We’re bringing back the one with the original recipe, one that Paul and I had come up with 35 years ago – with pepperoni, black olives, provolone cheese and a secret ingredient. Once we had someone else making it, we kind of forgot about the secret ingredient, but that will be back.” Brunelli also goes into detail over the other types of calzone –one with Italian sausage, ricotta and sweet peppers with sauce, as well as the spinach and cheese. He even explains how they will be presented. Only the traditional Italian cold cut calzone will be sliced, he says. The rest will be personal sized calzones.
Food is what the annual Feast of St. Rocco is all about. That, and family. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the feast, which takes place across from the Franklin Town Common behind the Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School. Brunelli, who takes care of all of the food ordering, is one of the original organizers of the event. This year, he’s working with Michael DeGrazia, Thomas Olsen, and Frank Fiorillo. One former volunteer, Vinny DeBaggis, passed away this year, says Brunelli, but his favorite pastry, Baba-rum, will be featured at the Italian pastry booth.
“We haven’t’ had that in years, but it was his favorite,” says Brunelli. “Where he’s no longer with us, his grandkids and his wife, Alma, wanted to bring that one back.”
A number of other classic Italian pastries will be on hand, as well as such foods as fried dough, Italian sausages, Italian meatballs, manicotti and calzones, eggplant parmesan, fried clams, clam chowder and clam cakes, stuffed quahogs, toasted ravioli, buffalo wings and corn, just to name a few and not mentioning the festival standbys of French fries and onion rings.
The festival boasts everything from eggplant Parmesan to Belgian waffles and everything in-between. Seafood lovers will enjoy fresh quahogs, clam chowder, clam cakes and fried seafood, and landlubbers can opt for the famous “Rocco Dinner” of chicken, corn and fries or onion rings, perhaps with a side of Phyllis’ homemade Italian tomato salad. Variety ensues with toasted ravioli, fresh- squeezed lemonade, fried dough, mozzarella sticks, and of course, an array of Italian pastries, including lobster tails. Oh, and then there’s Xangos, or fried cheesecake sticks.
The North-End style Feast celebrates Saint Rocco, the patron saint of the sick and impoverished, who was born (with a red cross birthmark) in Montpelier, France toward the end of the 13th century. Saint Rocco is said to have inherited great wealth, but gave up his material possessions. A man of great faith, he is said to have devoted his time and effort to the infirm, healing the sick.
A statue of St. Rocco, donated by Nick Verna in 1959, stands on the grounds where the annual Feast is held. As a child, Nick had been very ill. His mother took him to a shrine of St. Rocco, and when he recovered, she believed that Verna had the patron saint to thank for his life. The St. Rocco statue, in fact, is featured as part of the festival on the final day, when, after a 10:30 a.m. mass, a procession will carry the statue back to the festival grounds.
Opening Mass for the celebration will be held at 10:30 a.m. on August 4th, the Sunday prior to the feast, followed a Mass for the Sacrament of the Sick on Saturday at 10 a.m., and the closing Mass is on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s Parish runs all the food booths, along with the help of nearly 600 volunteers, before, during and after the feast each year. Some volunteers work as few as three hours, while others might work the entire feast. In fact, St. Mary’s, over the years, has accumulated all of the equipment, from tables and chairs to tents and stoves.
The annual celebration starts on August 8th, from 6-10 p.m., (although there is an opening Mass as St. Mary’s Church the Sunday prior to the feast at 10:30 a.m.), runs Friday, August 9th from 6-11 p.m., Saturday, August 10th, 10 a.m.-11 p.m., and Noon-9 p.m. Sunday, August 11th. Volunteers from St. Mary’s Church run the entire event, with the only outside company being Fiesta Shows, which provides all of the rides. The event will feature also feature a chocolate chip cookie contest, Maggie the Clown, and entertainment each night, as well as a raffle, which will be drawn on Sunday night at 8:30 p.m.
This year’s raffle is something special, says Brunelli. In addition to some beautiful ceramic pieces, he says, “One lady donated a dollhouse on display at Dean Bank, and another lady donated a Patriots quilt. You should see it,” he says.
Raffle tickets cost $2 each or three for $5. Tickets are available now at Dean Bank and will be available during the Feast at the Italia Booth. Proceeds benefit St. Mary’s Church.
Those who still wish to volunteer for the feast may do so by calling Peter Brunelli at (508) 528-3087, or the rectory at (508) 528-0020.