History has it, people like the seemingly ageless John Ricci will tell you, that the annual Saint Rocco Feast & Festival is a century-old tradition and began as a backyard bazaar when the Roman Catholic Church was located off Clemence Street in Johnston.
It was nothing like the music, food, fun and fireworks extravaganza St. Rocco Church will host beginning next Thursday, Aug. 17 and continuing until Sunday, Aug. 20 at famed Festival Field that’s located behind the church which was founded in 1903 and reconstructed in 1951 at 927 Atwood Ave.
That’s about the time Ricci, now 88 and still going strong despite recent back surgery, finished serving in the military and began what has been a storied career of volunteerism that he still enjoys today while serving as co-chairman of the feast and festival with Richard Montella.
When asked how old the St. Rocco Feast & Festival is, Ricci smiled saying: “No one really knows!”
What people like Ricci do know, as he was saying Saturday while previewing what promises to be an exciting 2017 event that benefits the parish and St. Rocco School which was founded in 1963, is: “The feast started as a small bazaar and volunteers even made booths where people sold food and other items.”
Since those early days, the event has become one of the best food and fun-filled feasts and festivals in Rhode Island that has become known for its homemade Italian delicacies ranging from sausage and peppers to meatballs, eggplant and much more and offers top-notch entertainment under the “Big Top” that was erected Tuesday morning by staffers from the Newport Tent Company.
The three-day event will again feature the popular carnival, beer garden, games of skill and annual raffle that features a Grand Prize that is being solely sponsored by Don DePetrillo, who owns and operates The Original Italian Bakery next to St. Rocco Church who also donates the dough for the festival’s famous doughboys.
“Don has always been very, very generous to our parish,” Ricci wanted it known. “This time he’s donating a two-year, 21,000-mile use of a 2017 Ford Escape.”
Ricci said the drawing will be held on Sunday, Aug. 20 and tickets are $2 each, 3 for $5 and 7 for $10. The second prize will be $1,500 in cash and third prize is $1,000 in cash.
While the annual feast and festival is held in honor of St. Rocco, Ricci said there’s a special religious part of the annual celebration that will actually begin this Monday, Aug. 14 inside the under-construction church that will soon feature murals hand-painted by Harley Bartlett of Scituate who owns and operates Bartlett Fine Art Ltd.
Bartlett, in fact, based his design on the four sides niches on murals that Guido Nincheri painted and has four angels under the Holy Spirit that are taken from Raphael’s mural – “The Disputa” which Nincheri painted in the Vatican and they are holding the books of four Gospels of the New Testament. The murals will be glued to the Apse inside St. Rocco Church.
At present, scaffolding blocks the view of murals that were the idea of Rev. Angelo N. Carusi, the popular pastor of St. Rocco Church, who spent part of Tuesday morning erecting the Italian flag – the feast and festival’s signature piece – above the church entrance with Jim Okolowitcz and Eric O’Connor.
So, all the pieces are falling into place for the 2017 St. Rocco celebration that Ricci – and people like Father Carusi – will tell you begins with the preparation for the Feast of Saint Rocco with a Triduum of Masses that will take place on the first three days of feasts week beginning Monday evening at 7 o’clock.
Monday’s 7 o’clock Mass will be celebrated by Rev. Stephen Battey, Assistant Pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Bristol.
Tuesday’s celebrant will be Rev. Joseph Upton, Chaplain at the University of Rhode Island while Msgr. Robert K. Johnson, Rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Worcester, Massachusetts will celebrate Wednesday’s Mass that be followed by the annual Candlelight Procession.
The Candlelight Procession, which is has been an integral part of the feast and festival for years, will follow Wednesday’s Mass and include a rosary outside the church ending up back inside Saint Rocco’s with benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
The social side of the 2017 feast and festival will be held nightly from 6 to 10 o’clock beginning Thursday, Aug. 17 through Saturday, Aug. 19 from 6 to 10 p.m. The fireworks shows are scheduled for Saturday evening, Aug. 19 at 9:30 p.m., while on Sunday, Aug. 20, the event will be open from 1:30 to 10 p.m.