For the past 89 years, one of the longest standing cultural traditions has taken place in the city of Aliquippa. This year, that number goes to 90. The San Rocco Festa is once again scheduled to take place August 7, 8 and 9th, albeit with a slightly different venue.
The Festa is moving from Aliquippa’s Lefty Cepull Field, in the Plan 12 section off of Main Street, to Center Township’s Fred Taddeo Municipal Park off of Center Grange and Chapel Roads. The Festa has moved locations before – from its original location in Plan 11, to the “terrace” off of Kennedy Boulevard, to Morrell Park, also in Plan 12. But a new location in Center, one that will offer hundreds of additional parking spots combined with a bigger location for more patrons to move about, will no doubt pump new life into the still thriving Festa.
The Difficult Decision to Move
I spoke with Fred Persi, co-chair of the San Rocco Cultural Committee, on the difficulty in making such a move.
Several years ago the Festa committee recognized that in order to grow the event and continue to remain relevant in today’s changing world, that a larger venue is needed. A multi-year search was undertaken to find the best property that serves our immediate needs and also offers possibilities for future expansion.
A change of this magnitude is always difficult, but we are blessed with a dedicated group of volunteers, many of whom have been through similar moves in the past. We had a lot of discussion and debate, but once the decision was made, everyone pulled together to make it happen.”
Persi also cited the size of the park, ample parking, its proximity to interstate highways, and several hotels located less than five minutes away for out-of-town guests as other reasons why Center was chosen as the new location for the Festa.
Some Traditions Will Remain Intact
The Sunday morning Mass will still be held at Saint Titus Church in Aliquippa, and the procession route where men carry the statue of San Rocco through the streets of the city, will not change. And the San Rocco Cultural Committee has no plans to change either of those, as they are the focal points of the weekend and the Festa itself.
However, that is not the only piece of big news surrounding the Festa this year.
More Big News
In honor of the Festa’s 90th year, a group of 55 people who make up the Licino Felice Band from Patrica, Italy, where the Festa was brought here by immigrants who settled in Aliquippa, will be traveling to commemorate the celebration.
This is the first time in the Festa’s history the Licino Felice Band has made the trip across the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and they will be staying with families in the Aliquippa and surrounding area.
We are extremely proud to have the Licinio Refice band from Patrica, Italy, as our special guest this year. This will be the first time this, the band of our forebears, performs at our Festa.
On several occasions in the past, notably 1973, 1988, and 2013, the Aliquippa Festa band traveled to Patrica to participate in their San Rocco Festa – the one to which ours traces its roots.
In 1999, a young musician by the name of Alessio Belli came to Aliquippa and participated in our Festa. He is now their band director and, guided by his fond memories that are reinforced by our visit in 2013, has spearheaded the effort to take their band on a North American tour.
What’s special about our Festa is that it transcends generations: the youth, both in Patrica and Aliquippa, feel the cultural ties as strongly as the elders, and are willing to work together to build these bridges to last a lifetime.”
The group arrives on August 7. They will play two nights of the Festa – Saturday at 9:30 pm, and Sunday at 8 pm and again at 9 pm that will be a combined performance with the San Rocco Festa Band. They will then depart for Toronto on August 10.
If you’re planning to head out to the Festa this weekend, make sure you stop and say high to our friends from Simpson Funeral Home. They will be having a strongman game….that’s right….the kind with the big sledgehammers where you try to ring the bell.
If you can’t find them by looking for the strongman game, keep an eye out for their 8×8 chalkboard where you can leave a personal “Thank You” to our local Veterans.
All proceeds collected from both the strongman game and the chalkboard will be donated to the Rotary Club to help in their effort to raise money to purchase TracFab Chairs for Veterans.
The San Rocco Mass
While the move to Center is certainly a passionate topic among many, the focal point has and will always be the San Rocco Mass. The Mass begins at 9 am with a procession of families who hail from the town of Patrica carrying banners with their last names and pictures of deceased loves ones on them.
The Festa Band and the Licino Refice Band will welcome them into the church with traditional Italian music, the readings are read in Italian, and the Saint Titus Choir will also be on hand.
While my family doesn’t have roots in Patrica, I grew up in a very Catholic and very Italian family, and the San Rocco Mass is one I look forward to every year. It’s a chance to witness the still alive traditions brought here from the old country by people who were looking to give their children and grandchildren a better way of life.
There will always be personal opinions with any decision, and social media provides an outlet for those who want their opinions to be heard. Our committee worked together for years to research, discuss, debate and decide what to do.
The decision was made after serious consideration by a sizable group of dedicated people. We believe we made the right decision and that the Festa’s growth will be testament to that. Everyone is invited to come to the Festa and enjoy the event, the entertainment and the spirit of community.”
More San Rocco History
The first San Rocco Festa was organized in 1925 by six founding fathers – Cesare Biancucci, Pio Colonna, Domenic Montini, Joseph Paladini, Domenic Rinaldi, and Francesco Vallecorsa. San Rocco was, and still is, the patron saint of the town from which they emigrated – Patrica, located in the mountains only a couple hours from Rome.
According to sanrocco.org, the San Rocco statue that is used for Mass was imported from Italy in 1958, and was carried through the streets of Plan 11 on the shoulders of a group of men who considered it an honor to bear the patron of Patrica. The statue is housed within a cupola, an ornate wooden enclosure.
I asked Persi where he sees the Festa several years down the road. Will the traditions carry on? He explained,
This year is our 90th anniversary, so right now my long-term horizon is our centennial in 2025. Only time will tell, but I envision that the basic idea of a Mass and procession plus Festa will endure.
This year, there are perhaps hundreds of out-of-town visitors who will attend our Festa; it’s like a family reunion of sorts for many. It is my deep hope that we continue and grow this tradition through the next generations.”
As always, weekend festivities will conclude Sunday night at 10:30 pm with the traditional baby doll dance with the Ballabe Band. The band will play the tarantella as the eight foot-high baby dolls dance around with fireworks igniting from their arms.
As the committee says, “Miracles live on.” And this year, for the 90th time. Viva San Rocco!
- What: San Rocco Festa
- When: August 7-9, 6-11 pm
- Admission: $2 for adults; kids 12 and under are free with a paid adult
- Where: Fred Taddeo Municipal Park, Center Township
- Parking: Plenty of free parking is available in the parking lot of Saint Frances Cabrini Church off of Chapel Road, in the parking lot of Central Valley Primary School off of Center Grange Road, or in the park lot itself.