THE HISTORY OF THE FESTIVAL OF ST. MARY OF CARMEN IN NEWTON
In the village of Nonantum, in what had been an Irish immigrant community for a generation, the last of the great European immigrations came from Italy to America, with the hopes and dreams of a better life. In adopting their new homes, they found bits of their new culture lacking in traditions, as well as finding American organizations to be often exclusive with their mem- berships. Hence from 1900s through the 1930s, Italian ethnic and religious organizations saw a dynamic increase in these new communities and neighborhoods. These organizations helped to maintain a connection with their churches, and Italian villages and towns far across the sea.
MANY REGIONS, MANY SAINTS
What is not clear is why the newly formed Italian community decided on St. Mary of Carmen as the patron saint of the Nonantum Italian community. One could theorize that St. Mary of Carmen, being of great popularity throughout Italy, could of been a simple conclusion or that the influence of some of the founding members who had St. Mary of Carmen as their patron Saint in their hometowns in Italy. Regardless of the process, in July of 1935 an informal but obviously successful prelude had taken place. This most likely was the catalyst of the society officially being founded November 1935.
The founding members actively recruited a core group of community people (represent- ing almost all the regions of Italy) to take on the arduous task of the formulation of this
new organization. Officers had to be elected; an application to the com- monwealth of Massachusetts had to be submitted to receive its charter, besides honoring the saint. The articles of the incorporation founded a “mutual benefit society” which offered disability insurance and a mod- est death benefit which in 1936 was enough to pay for a wake and burial. Bylaws also had to be written, the planning of this new community event would be no small undertaking.
Members gather before removing the saint from the church in 1937
The first women’s procession in 1937
THE DEVOTION OF THE COMMUNITY
It must be stated that this was all taking place during the great depression. Money was scarce, just getting your family fed was a struggle daily which didn’t always happen. The members knew the center piece of this organization would be the statue of our revered saint. At this point, the newly initiated members would go out in twos and threes to friends, family and other members of the community soliciting donations. Donations came in, a quarter, half dollar and for those that could afford more, even dollars. A great portion of these monies were accu- mulated in small change.
When approximately nine hundred dollars were raised, a few representatives were chosen to go off to Boston to find an artist, someone who would sculpt and then cast an image worthy of St. Mary of Carmen. The artist committed to the project and worked tirelessly for a great deal of time. The finished statue was beautiful and wor- thy of honoring our saint. It was also twice as large as any festival statue in the greater Boston area, which just added to the membership’s enthusiasm and pride in the organization.
In the processions of 1936 and again in 1971, the statue was carried by hand
Another interesting dynamic, unique to our festival, is as the children
of these immigrants grew older and started their own families, whether
they had moved to a nearby village, or to a neighboring city or town,
they would still make the pilgrimage back to Nonantum for this
great community gathering. We are now looking at a legacy of five generations who return, some come from as far away as Florida and California on an annual basis, making there vacation plans around the event dates.
The festival we enjoy today has grown and evolved in many ways, but what has not changed is that it is foremost a religious festival with Italian ethnic traditions, culminating in a spectacular community celebration.