Saturday, July 12, 2008

Feast with fine history: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel beckons the faithful and hungry

WATERBURY — In 1957 Claudia DePalma slipped on a piece of fried dough while wearing high-heeled shoes during her first visit to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church's annual feast in Town Plot.
More than 50 years later, the church, 785 Highland Avenue, is celebrating the 70th anniversary of this feast, and DePalma, 67, of Waterbury, said she has come every year since her messy slip.
DePalma spoke excitedly Saturday as she reminisced with old friends about past feasts and described the procession that takes place today. A statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be carried by parishioners and onlookers will pin money on it as it goes by. She said her husband, Richard, will be driving his purple Model A, and others will be driving trucks or walking in the procession.
Hungry parishioners and visitors from surrounding towns lined up right at 5 p.m. Saturday, the third night of the feast, to be first in line for the food and festivities. Feasters, especially the men, flocked to the soffritto, which is cow hearts boiled then cooked in vegetable oil and mixed with tomato paste and spices. Despite the possible turnoff of eating heart, the cooks have perfected the mixture so it has a meaty taste and texture, with just a little kick.
"You tell them what it is and they don't want it, but when they taste it.. Oh boy," said Frank Porta, 83, of Waterbury.
Porta, a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, has been at the feast from the start. Porta is the kind of man this feast was originally meant to honor. Louise Varanelli, president of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society, said the feast was first held in 1938 by a group of women "who prayed to have their boys return from the service."
"It is a great accomplishment that the tradition has been carried on so many years without any stopping," Varanelli said.
About 30 parishioners gathered in the church hall Saturday spreading dough that would be deep fried and covered in marinara sauce or confectioner's sugar. At $5 for a serving of light and puffy fried dough that measured about one foot in diameter, these churchgoers were creating one of the best-sellers of the feast. Homemade pastry, candy, ice cream, pizza, grinders and other Italian treats were also available. There was musical entertainment as well as face painting and a bounce house for the kids.
The event will continue today with a procession at 2 p.m. Food and entertainment will follow until 8 p.m. All money raised will support the church.

Originally appeared 7/12/2008 in the Republican-American©

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