Our Lady of Grace feast & festival promises epicurean delights

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“Mangia, mangia!”

That’s the invitation, of sorts, Rev. Peter J. Gower issued during a special luncheon inside Fioretti Hall in Johnston.

Father Gower almost insisted that a dozen plus Our Lady of Grace parishioners, who were working feverishly slicing green peppers that will be used for sausage and pepper sandwiches during this weekend’s annual Italian Feast and Festival, take a break and to enjoy freshly made calzones and frittata.

The moment was, in fact, yet another excellent example of how Father Gower has created a sense of community coming together during his tenure as Pastor at the Roman Catholic Church.

So, there was small talk – mixed with work – during the fun-filled luncheon that set the stage for OLG’s fun and food fest that will open its four-day run tonight beginning at 5 o’clock at Festival Field located on Sherman Avenue behind the church.

The festival, which has also been called the “Pride of OLG”, is an Italian Feast and Festival featuring some of Rhode Island’s best homemade foods and held to honor the La Madonna della Difesa.

“This marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the feast society, named for the hilltop in Italy where, according to legend, four men who had seen the Virgin Mary in a dream later met each other there and discovered skeletons – the remains of a chapel, an altar and a marble inscription – as they had been promised in their dream,” offered Father Gower.

So, the carnival rides and games have been set up inside the outside the famed “Big Top,” a huge cathedral tent that will be filled with entertainment and various booths similar to the one where OLG volunteers will be selling tickets for the Grand Raffle with a total of $7,000 in cash prizes.

“Our Grand Prize will be $5,000,” Father Gower explained. “We’ll have a Grand Jewelry Table featuring diamond earrings set in 14k white gold and there will also be a deluxe New England Patriots raffle.”

But the main focus – or feature of OLG’s famous festival – will be that always-delicious Italian food cooked in the Festival Field kitchen and served special each of the four days and nights of the event that will be held, Father Gower let it be known, “rain or shine!”

Tonight’s featured food, OLG’s resident Chef Joe Quartino, noted, “will be two-fold”, as the schedule lists Tripe and Sofritto people can enjoy while listing to noted area disc jockey, youth sports aficionado and local businessman Gary Salzillo play music.

As an example of just how much planning goes into the annual festival, Quartino announced “we’ll have 200 pounds of Tripe and 100 pounds of Soffrito.”

The festival menu, in fact, is so extensive that as Father Gower mused during Tuesday’s kick-off lunch: “We needed two pages to list every item we’ll serve through Sunday.”

Quartino, meanwhile, added: “We’re well-prepared; we’ve made upwards of 2,000 meatballs and we’ll purchase over 3,000 rolls for our sausage and pepper sandwiches and meatball sandwiches.”

The food fest will continue tomorrow when the feature food is fish and chips as well as linguini with quahogs. Steak, along with calamari and Polenta, will be Saturday’s food and with OLG’s famous homemade lasagna folks can enjoy while listening to the sounds of legendary entertain Vini Ames.

Father Gower said tonight’s festival will run from 5 to 9 p.m. and tomorrow and Saturday it’s 5 to 11 p.m.

Sunday will be the “biggest” day, as a mass in honor of La Madonna della DiFesa will be held at 10:30 a.m. with Rev. Msgr. David G. LiPuma serving as the main celebrant and Homilist as well as Father Gower.

The annual post-mass procession, with parishioners carrying the statute of the Madonna through the nearby streets in Johnston, will be held and the festival will run from 12 noon until 9 p.m.

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