Our Lady of Grace set to party

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Our Lady of Grace Church, located at 15 George Waterman Road in Johnston, will record several mighty milestones during the next four days.

“This will be the 89th Feast,” said Joanne Burley, who is co-chairing the Roman Catholic Church’s Italian Feast and Festival that opens tonight at 5 o’clock and runs through Sunday at Festival Field on Sheridan Street. “It was originally named La Madonna della DiFesa and held on Lafayette Street.”

Burley, who has been planning plenty of excitement as well as a fantastic food menu for the event along with co-chairman and parish workhorse Joe Quartino, explained, “The Madonna originated in the little town of Casacalenda in Italy where some miracles occurred and some people from that village later settled in Johnston while others went to Canada.”

While the Feast and Festival, which is known to serve some of the best homemade Italian foods in the state, will reach its 89th year, a popular parishioner named Anna Iamondi Bucci – so Rev. Peter J. Gower proudly notes – “has been around almost all of those years.”

“Anna has carried on the tradition for many, many years,” Father Gower said Tuesday amid a committee luncheon inside Fioretti Hall. “There’s a lot of history with Anna.”

For starters, she is 85 years old and, as Father Gower said the other day, “has been a member here for over 80 years. She is active in every part of parish life, most notably as a cantor and choir member since she was a little girl.”

Every year, when it’s Feast and Festival time, Bucci can always be found serving pasta with a smile on her face, and she works that booth for hours and hours.

“Anna has served thousands who come to this great feast of ours, which we celebrate in honor of Our Lady under the title of Madonna Della DiFesa,” Father Gower said. “It just wouldn’t be a success without Anna Bucci.”

Bucci, who also enjoyed a 50-year career as a nurse while also raising seven children, enjoys a special title for the feast and festival.

“Anna is Captain of the Pasta Booth,” Father Gower said. “She ever so special and she does this duty because she lovers her church and our parishioners.”

Yet another side to Bucci’s remarkable story of volunteerism is, as Father Gower emphasized Tuesday: “Anna still lives in her family homestead right across from the church on Lafayette Street.”

A further example of Bucci’s devout dedication through the years at Our Lady of Grace was, “I guess you could say I’ve done a lot of things here; I’ve even painted the walls and other parts of this [Fioretti] Hall.”

However, the soft-spoken Bucci, who Father Gower said “is loved by young and old alike here at OLG,” prefers to be known as “Macaroni and Meatball Annie,” a title she has earned for much of her 85 years.

In keeping with tradition, this year’s menu will range from a plate of macaroni – that Bucci said is cooked fresh every day – and meatballs that are made from scratch inside Fioretti Hall to sausage, rabe sandwiches and lasagna.

“It’s an exciting time for our pastor and parish,” Burley was saying Tuesday. “This is the 104th Anniversary of Our Lady of Grace Church and Father Gower is excited about his fifth feast here.”

Quartino added, “Father Gower is very excited to be in our parish and also to once again experience the feast. We’re all looking forward to a successful festival and we are all thankful for each and every volunteer who will reach a record number this weekend.”

Father Gower, who loves events like the festival because it brings the church community together, said, “Volunteering at our feast is a rite of passage for our parishioners. For four nights, more than 200 people will work hard grilling sausage, cutting pepper and serving everything from homemade pasta to pasties.”

While a carnival-like atmosphere will prevail beginning tonight and continuing each evening until Sunday, there will be a myriad of food and entertainment offerings beginning tonight with music featuring local disc jockey Gary Salzillo and foods such as tripe and soffritto.

Festival hours for Friday and Saturday are 5 to 11 p.m. and Sunday noon to 9 p.m. This year’s festival will feature a variety of quality music and can also enjoy such foods as chowder and clam cakes, linguini with clam sauce, doughboys, pizza, mini spinach pies, arancini (rice balls) along with beer and wine that will be served in the Beer Garden.

Admission is free and all events, and Quartino said it would be held rain or shine.

“Everyone is welcome,” he said. “Sunday will be really special and the drawing for our Grand Raffle that features $7,000 in prizes will be held at 8 p.m. Other prizes include a New England Patriots package replete with tickets to the Oct. 22 game vs. the Atlanta Falcons, and the seats are only 18 rows off the field.

Sunday’s schedule also includes a solemn mass at 10:30 a.m. in honor of La Madonna della DiFesa with Monsignor Carlo Montecalvo – the former pastor at OLG – as the principal celebrant and followed by a procession through the streets of Johnston.

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