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Italian Festival returns to Ascension Church in Jeannette

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Maria Tyger | The Jeannette Spirit
Fred Tressett, coordinator of the annual Italian Festival at Ascension Church, is preparing for this weekend's events.

Something smells good — and it's coming from Downtown Jeannette.

Ascension Church, on Division Street, is once again preparing for what has become a hallmark of the summer months — the Italian Festival.

The festival will be held at the church from 4-10 p.m. Saturday and from 3-9 p.m. on Sunday.

Now in it's 44th year, the festival has was originally developed by Italian immigrants who attended Mass at Ascension, according to Fred Tressett, coordinator of the event.

It has occurred rain or shine, from very hot to not-so-hot, and not even a flood has intercepted the yearly celebration of Italian food and culture.

Tressett was “volunteered” by the Rev. John Foriska, then-pastor of both Ascension and Sacred Heart churches in the city, to take over the affair from former coordinator Bernie Spozio.

Tressett's first festival proved to be a challenge. It was scheduled just weeks after the 2009 flood that destroyed homes and damaged other properties in the Jeannette area, and the festival committee considered canceling it for the first time since its inception.

Being an alumni of Sacred Heart School, Tressett said he “couldn't say no,” when Foriska asked him to take over and his enthusiasm hasn't abated.

Tressett said the community has been integral in maintaining the popularity of the July staple. Following the 2009 flood, neighbors around the church got word that it may be canceled and rallied by approaching Tressett and others, insisting the festival go on.

Tressett said three things count in its success — community, volunteers, and suppliers. While a large part of the attendees are members of Ascension, the “tremendous,” support comes from many non-parishoners, as well, he said.

Volunteers vary from teenagers to the ladies in the kitchen, who have been cooking all this week to prepare for the two-day event.

Suppliers this year include the Jeannette Dairy Queen, owned by Terri Miller. It will offer a special ice cream dish, made especially for the festival — it's called hot waffle sundae.

For those looking for dinner, booths will be open during the entirety of the festival.

Pasta fagioli, Italian roast beef, mastaccoli, Italian sausage, and pizza are available, in addition to fried dough, popcorn and snow cones and baked goods, all prepared by volunteers.

As always, the Italian Festival will kick off with a Mass from 4-5 p.m. on Saturday.

Entertainment has been an integral part of the celebration's history, and this year will be no different. D.J. Joe Filippo will kick things off on Saturday from 5-7 p.m. and he will cover several genres of music from the '50s to today, polka to pop. From 7-10, the Back In Time Band will offer live music. Their specialty is 50s music as well — and there's plenty of room to jitterbug. D.J. Joe will kick off Sunday's festivities from 3 to 5:30 p.m., and Joe Marotta will entertain with tunes from Dean Martin, Elvis and Frank Sinatra from 5:30 to 8:30. For children, there are several games and other ways to frolic, as well. There will be a Noah's ark bounce house, spin art and face painting, which is new this year.

In addition to games of chance, the church will offer a Chuck-A-Luck game. Bingo is always offered, as in years past, in the air-conditioned Mersinger Hall and runs throughout the festival.

It is said Monsignor Mitolo used to say a special prayer that it wouldn't rain before the festival started and a rainbow would appear.

Maria Tyger is a freelance writer.