La Madonna della Difesa feast opens at Our Lady of Grace


As part of the La Madonna della Difesa Feast this weekend, the café at Our Lady of Grace Church will open today at 5 p.m., featuring an Italian-American menu that will expand as the week goes on.

The four-day event is held annually the first weekend of September at Our Lady of Grace Church, 15 George Waterman Road in Johnston.

“This will be the 85th feast,” said Joanne Burley, who is co-chairing the Roman Catholic Church’s Italian Feast and Festival. “It was originally named La Madonna della Difesa and held on Lafayette Street. The Madonna originated in the little town of Casacalenda in Italy where some miracles occurred. Some people from that village later settled in Johnston and others went to Canada.”

The feast menu will range from a plate of macaroni and meatballs to sausage, rabe sandwiches and lasagna.

“It’s an exciting time for our parish and priest,” Burley said, adding this is the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Grace Church.

Burley said Rev. Peter J. Gower, the church’s new priest, has only been there since July 1.

“Father Gower is very excited to be in our parish and also to experience the fest,” she said. “We’re all looking forward to a successful feast.”

While a carnival-like atmosphere will prevail, there will be a myriad of food and entertainment offerings, beginning with tonight’s schedule featuring music by local disc jockey Gary Salzillo and foods such as tripe and soffritto.

Tomorrow’s schedule begins with the 5 p.m. opening of carnival rides, games and food booths, with foods such as fish and chips, linguini and quahogs. Ambrosiani, a band that plays a lot of Italian songs that features lots of audience participation, will play from 7 to 11.

“We had Ambrosiani for our 100th anniversary celebration,” Burley said. “It’s nice the way the band involves lots of people and asks them to sing. They’re quite popular in Italian churches.”

The entertainment will continue on Saturday when Brother to Brother, a local group that does oldies and pop, takes the stage at Festival Field on Sheridan Street. The group will perform from 6:30 to 10:30.

Saturday’s food feature, in addition to the main menu, will be steak sandwiches, calamari, polenta and sausage and peppers.

Sunday’s schedule will begin with a solemn mass in honor of La Madonna della Difesa. Father Gower will be the principal celebrant along with Pastor and Rev. Alfred Almonte, CS. A procession with Holy Image of La Madonna della Difesa will pass through the streets of Johnston.

The festival will run from 12 to 9 p.m., and the day’s food feature will be the festival’s homemade lasagna.

Johnston entertainer Vini Ames will have his trio on stage from 2 to 4 p.m., playing Italian melodies. Jeff Jarvis Entertainment will take over the main stage from 4 to 7 before Ames returns from 7 to 9.

This year’s feast and festival will also offer chowder and clam cakes, stuffies, doughboys, pizza, mini spinach poise, Arancini (rice balls), and beer and wine in the Beer Garden.

Admission is free and all events will be held rain or shine.

“Everyone is welcome,” Burley said. “Sunday will be really special and the drawing for our grand raffle that features $7,000 in prizes will be drawn at 9 o’clock.”

Anyone who’d like further information should call Our Lady of Grace Church at 231-2220.


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