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Italian-American society celebrates peternal feast

| Sunday, April 6, 2008

Father's Day arrived early for members of the Italian-American Cultural and Heritage Society of Washington County.

That's because the tradition-steeped group gathered March 20 for its annual celebration of La Festa di San Giuseppe, commonly called the Feast of St. Joseph.

Fred Perrotta of the Italian-American society said the joyful holiday is dedicated to St. Joseph, patron saint of family life, hand labor and carpenters.

In Italy, this feast is their Father's Day, Perrotta explained.

The festivities were held at Bella Serra by Greco's banquet center near Canonsburg.

Jim Donofrio, chairman of the Italian-American Cultural and Heritage Society of Washington County, provided an authentic Feast of San Giuseppe menu of soup, breads, pasta, stuffed peppers, salad and pastries. The event also included a collage of film depicting the celebration in Italy and numerous old-time photographs.

Complementing the festival atmosphere was a toast by members and gusts to their fathers, music and bocce courts.

The genesis of the Washington County group lies in the rectory of St. Patrick's Church in Canonsburg in the 1970s.

The church pastor, the Rev. Raymond Cercone, presided over a monthly informal meeting featuring antipasti, bread, wine and pasta "that appeared as if by magic," Perrotta said.

Among the close friends participating in the origin of the celebration were Judge Richard DiSalle, Walter Mark, Mario DeAngelo, county commissioner Edward M. Paluso and Sam Cancilla.

The meetings, Perrotta recalled, were held on the last Thursday of the month and participants were encouraged to bring a friend.

The society currently has 250 members including many from the mid-Monongahela Valley area.

In addition to its monthly meetings and special events, the society sponsors an annual scholarship program honoring high school seniors in Washington County. The group also presents achievement awards to the Italian-American community of the county and several area residents have been recipients of those honors.

The March 20 celebration at Bella Serra was attended by Italian-American Society members and guests as well as clergy from parishes in the area and members of the Canonsburg-Houston Aministerial Association.

Although traditionally begun in Sicily, the Feast of San Giuseppe is now celebrated throughout most of Italy. According to legend, Perrotta explained in a news release, during the Middle Ages a terrible drought and famine plagued the people of Sicily. It virtually destroyed most of their crops and many people in the western part of Sicily died of starvation.

The people began praying to St. Joseph and begged for his intercession to their plight. In return they promised to celebrate his feast day by having special altars abundant in food that would be shared with all people rich and poor as their thanksgiving to him.

At midnight on March 19, the prayers of Sicily's people were answered. The rains came and the land that had been browned and barren was lush and green again. Sicily's people have kept their promise to San Giuseppe through the generations by preparing elaborate food altars.

This year's celebration was delayed because March 19 again fell during Lent.

But the Italian-American Cultural and Heritage Society of Washington County perpetuated the commemoration in traditional fashion.

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