There weren’t any Rockwell Amusements carnival rides or games of chance featuring stuffed animals last weekend at Festival Field in Johnston.
There was, though, the huge “Big Top” that Our Lady of Grace Church rents every September for its annual Feast of La Madonna della Difesa. In keeping with tradition, the festivities featured what the Rev. Peter J. Gower referred to as “great homemade Italian food made by parish people with Joe Q at the helm, and people enjoyed everything from pasta to tripe.”
However, OLG’s fun-filled fest took on an entirely different look from those that the 100-year-old-plus Roman Catholic parish has become known for through the years.
Everywhere people walked they saw banners hanging on the “Big Top” that read, in part: “Social distancing rules in effect and face masks are mandatory.”
As Father Gower, who is credited what many people called “the perfect plan so we could enjoy our annual feast,” explained while adjusting his facemask: “Everyone was very compliant with hand washing, mask wearing and maintaining social distancing.”
Although there were the usual lines of people who waited to enjoy rice balls, calamari, and sausage and meatball sandwiches – and, of course, no OLG festival would be complete without the signature doughboys – the four-day event’s food service took on an entirely different look, and as Father Gower related, “We had take-out, car pick-up and dining under the tent.”
The car pick-up was set up well for OLG’s celebration of its feast held in honor of La Madonna della Difesa.
“The cars,” as Berkshire-Hathaway Real Estate agent Dan Robbins offered while filling to-go containers with everything from pasta and meatballs to sausages, “are the VIPs of this year’s feast. People pull up in their car, place an order we fill quickly, then volunteer runners scoot back and forth for the deliveries.”
Robbins was joined in OLG’s outdoor Italian kitchen by longtime cooks Phyllis Gelsomino, Joe Grasso, Joanne Burley, Joann Resnik, Joanne Buffi and Dennis Ventetuolo. They worked as quickly as possible filling each and every order with pride.
The same held true for Renee Rinaldi, Stacy Guenette and Michelle DeCesare, who showed their mettle by – as many festival-goers concurred – serving perfectly grilled hot dogs and hamburgers they carefully placed in fresh rolls.
Then there were proud parishioners like Ted Richard and John Raposa, who helped OLG maintain its terrific tradition of serving those golden, deep-fried doughboys.
OLG’s family put its best foot forward under such difficult times due to COVID-19 so that people who have been denied their usual social lives could enjoy what people like Chef Joe Quartino will tell you “is a tradition unlike any other around these parts.”
Although festival hours were much shorter than usual, parishioners like Ron Geraghty – who people called the fastest-running non-stop volunteer here – enjoyed dining under the Big Top at 8-foot-long tables that were placed to meet the state’s social distancing requirements.
Father Gower, meanwhile, also said, “It was a wonderful success and witness to the faith of our parish community. The proceeds of our feast day celebrations will be used for the general operations of the parish. I would like to personally thank all our sponsors, our major donors and all who purchased tickets in our various raffles. A special thank you to all parishioners who participated and volunteered to make our feast truly a celebration.”
The popular OLG pastor, who celebrated Sunday’s 10:30 mass which was followed by the traditional but shortened procession and led by the Johnston Police Color Guard, went on: “We are blessed here at Our Lady of Grace with all who continue to support our parish with your presence, prayers and financial support. Our unity and coming together as one community and as family of God reflects what God calls us to be. We are a community of faith, empowered to serve God and grow together as missionary disciples.”
Father Gower, who spent all four days and nights of the feast thanking many festival goers, then, paused before adding: “I am looking forward to next year’s feast day celebration. May the Lord reward you with his bountiful blessings for your generosity!"