Story by: Noelle Tate
Photos courtesy of Vito Zarrillo and ST. Ann’S Church
The Ultimate Reunion
This July 23rd-27th, an extraordinary tradition will continue, reuniting the community to keep the faith alive in the streets of Hoboken. This will be the 104th Annual St. Ann’s Italian Festival hosted by St. Ann’s Church. Many could not imagine Hoboken without this yearly gem—without the feast and the music and the unimaginably delicious zeppole, of course. However, what’s special about this festival runs much deeper than entertainment and food—those extras are just the icing on this beautiful time for the church. The joyful festivities stem from a prayerful nine day novena for St. Ann, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus, and rejoins those who have been part of this celebration over the years.
Father Remo DiSalvatore, the current pastor at St. Ann’s, is in awe at how this tradition has been handed down through generations for over 100 years. “I think Hoboken is such a wonderful place to be right now— a mix of the old and the new—and St. Ann’s Festival offers the opportunity for the blending of these groups. I think it actually helps Hoboken. Everybody’s part of it and everybody’s welcome,” he says. “The parish family, neighborhood people, and the element of faith have made this possible.”
Fairly new to Hoboken, Father Remo’s personality and practices fit perfectly with the community and intention of the feast. Marie Stinson, married by Father Remo and long time member of St. Ann’s Guild, describes him as “a person that you should feel very proud to represent your church. He gives a lot of legitimacy to the religious community. He’s old school, down-to-earth, and believes in respecting the Church and traditions. We’re lucky to have him.”
Vito Zarrillo, member of the Holy Name Society, explained that the feast is planned by parishioners of the church, particularly of the Holy Name Society and St. Ann’s Guild. According to Vito, “It’s fantastic. When people say ‘Hoboken,’ the St. Ann’s Italian Festival is inevitably something that people know us for. It’s a great way for people to get together even if you don’t see each other throughout the year. It’s one of those moments—multi-generational—that happens every year.” The Holy Name Society at St. Ann’s is run by the men of the parish and is devoted to advocating greater reverence to the Holy Name of Jesus. Similarly, St. Ann’s Guild is an organization of women who lead the Church’s fundraising efforts, and promote devotion to St. Ann.
Leading the festival are chairpersons Marie Totaro and Mario Ferrara. Marie has been a chairperson for 25 years and Mario began working alongside her in 2001. When one festival comes to a close, they begin planning the next one, and so on. It is their largest fundraiser with proceeds funding outreach programs and the upkeep of the church. Built in 1925, the structure is currently being restored—a preservation campaign for the landmark has begun.
The Novena & Flower Presentations
Novena comes from the Latin word for ‘nine’. A novena comprises nine days of intense prayer, as did the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary upon the ascension of Jesus until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This particular novena honors St. Ann, patroness of unmarried women, childless couples, mothers, pregnancy, housewives, women in labor, grandmothers, and cabinet makers.
It all begins with an emotional first night. The Holy Name Society carries a 600 pound statue of St. Ann down the aisle to the altar where she remains throughout the novena, all while singing the Italian hymn Dell’Aurora Tu Sorgi Piu Bella, meaning ‘you rise more beautiful than the dawn’. Each night following, there is a 7 o’clock mass with a beautiful flower presentation and a special prayer for novena. Parishioners believe this a profoundly powerful time for prayer. St. Ann is adorned with a new stole of pink roses every evening. Each stole is donated by one of the faithful with a specific intention—perhaps in prayer or remembrance of a loved one—and they may take them home thereafter. On the last day, a stole of white roses is bestowed by St. Ann’s Guild in memory of their members passed. Donated flowers also grace the church alters and walls. Stop in to see them all, admire the multitude of lit candles, and offer a prayer.
Jewels of Intention
Over the years, women struggling to conceive or be wed would offer jewelry to St. Ann believing their prayers would be answered. Gold earrings, rings, and charms are pinned to a powder blue satin cloak draped over the statue of St. Ann the night before the feast day. Guild members are honored with this special task of dressing the saint.
Marie Totaro recalls a miraculous story about a female photographer taking photos at the feast about 20 years ago. This particular woman was of Jewish faith and confided in Marie that she wanted to conceive but was not able. Marie said to her, “I’ll give you a piece of St. Ann’s old cloak. Pray to her, and you will become pregnant.” Marie did not want to discard the older cape, so she cut it into pieces to give away for these purposes. The photographer gratefully took the cloth and prayed and soon after did become pregnant. She named her daughter Ann in honor of the saint. “There have been many who have seen the miracle of St. Ann,” says Marie, “She has helped so many women.”
St. Ann’s Day
The novena culminates with St. Ann’s Feast Day where the word ‘feast’ refers to an annual religious celebration on a day dedicated to St. Ann herself. A solemn mass begins in the morning at 9am and is offered by the Archbishop. You must be very early to the mass to attend as it is always packed with members and even those who used to live in Hoboken years ago still returning just for this mass. If you attend, you will see the St. Ann’s Guild members dressed all in white to match the stole around St. Ann. After mass has ended, the famous 5 hour procession starts and members of the guild carry the saint out into the streets followed by parishioners and Holy Name Society members. Women of the guild who are older and unable to support the weight of the statue are still able to take part in processing with St. Ann now that the 600 pound statue is on a cart and pushed with poles down the street. Years ago, women with prayers for pregnancy carried the statue barefoot on the hot cobblestones as a sacrifice to the saint.
During this celebration of faith, people in the streets will offer money to members of the church as a donation or reach out to touch St. Ann. Hours later, as the statue returns to the church, the band outside plays, “When The Saints Go Marching In,” welcoming her back. A small ceremony is performed and everyone empties into the street to enjoy the last night of the festival together.
There are so many things to do at the festival, from its center at 7th & Jefferson expanding to Madison and Grand. A lively beer garden in the parking lot boasts music and a specialty drink of red wine and peaches. Lou Tiscornia and his wife Linda run this awesome spot for those of age. There are food vendors including delicious sausage and peppers by Tony, a member of the Holy Name Society. Crafters line the streets along with carnival games for the kids. Last year, the notorious 50/50 raffle, run by Louise Chardos, produced a prize of over $17,000. Musicians fill the streets with song from the large stage outside of the church. This year’s headliners include The Nerds, Dave Arellano, and as always, a Sinatra tribute. In the past, performers such as Connie Francis, Chuck Mangione, Pat Cooper, Judice LaRosa, The Belmonts, The Duprees, and The Drifters have played at the festival.
Save the best for last – Zeppole
Oh, yes, you know the zeppole at the St. Ann’s Italian Festival, and if you don’t, you should run there this year. Run. And then wait on the long line surrounding the booth. It’s worth it. This renowned zeppole booth is run by current president of the St. Ann’s Guild, Margaret Milizzo and in the past by Madeline Saulino. The guild members work the booth during the festival and make all of the zeppole. The recipe is a secret, but I did find out the secret ingredients: love and devotion. I assure you: in that heat, with women all the way up to their 80s slaving over stainless steel vats of dough, love and devotion are certainly a big part of the zeppole. Love and devotion are a part of the whole festival. Hope to see you there!
The magic of the feast has already begun. A few years ago, a photo of a headlining musician was to appear on the cover of the Reporter. Somehow, when the paper came out, there was a huge photo of St. Ann printed instead. No one knew how it got there, but Marie Totaro was certain—St. Ann is the main event and she tends to like the publicity! And how remarkable—this hMAG is to published for July 17th, which happens to be the first night of the novena for St. Ann. ••