St. Bartholomew Parish to celebrate patronal feast day

by Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

NORWICH —  Plans are underway at St. Bartholomew’s Parish for an eagerly-awaited festival — the celebration of St. Bartholomew’s feast day on Aug. 22-23. St. Bartholomew’s feast day falls on Monday, Aug. 24, but permission was granted from Father Joseph Scardella, director of the diocesan Ministerial Formation & Liturgy and RCIA Office, to hold the celebratory Mass on Sunday, Aug. 23 and to celebrate a portion of the Mass in Italian. “Our Italian community is looking forward to that,” said Gail Annese, co-chair of the feast day committee.

Many of the parishioners’ ancestors were natives of the island of Lipari off the north coast of Sicily. When they first arrived in Norwich, they worshiped in a house that had been converted into a mission-school-chapel in 1919. The facility had also been blessed on St. Bartholomew’s feast day.

Before long, the parishioners began to plan the construction of a new church. The new church, which still stands today, is of Romanesque design and is constructed of blue stone from local quarries. The cornerstone of the new church was laid on Oct. 17, 1926 by Msgr. Daniel Doody. The history of St. Bartholomew’s Church is one of pride and sacrifice and represents the dreams of the parishioners. The new church was called the “little cathedral.”

JoAnn Testani, church historian and co-chair of the St. Bartholomew’s feast day celebration, said the occasion was instituted in 1927 by Father Walter Sinnott. It was held at the church and church hall for 27 years before moving to the Chenango County Fairgrounds in 1954. In 1978, the celebration moved back to the church and the Msgr. Festa Parish Center, where it has been held ever since.

Father Ralph Bove, who was recently installed as pastor at St. Bartholomew’s, will be experiencing the celebration for the first time on Aug. 23.

At a recent gathering of the the planning committee, several parishioners discussed why they think it’s important to continue the tradition of celebrating St. Bartholomew’s feast day. “The people feel that St. Bart has blessed this valley,” said Geraldine Cusumano.

“I feel the celebration should be carried on forever so that our children and grandchildren know where they came from,” said Testani. “My roots are deep. My grandparents helped build the church.” Theresa Biviano, advertising chairman, agreed and added, “My father and my mother’s brothers helped build the church.”

“It’s about getting together with family and friends,” said Annese. “People come from as far away as Rochester and Binghamton. JoAnn’s family travels from Rochester to attend.”

The celebration will begin on Saturday at 11 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. at the Msgr. Festa Parish Center Pavilion. Live music and family entertainment which includes face painting, balloons and a “Bounce House” will be offered free of charge. Also featured is the demonstration of a calliope by a representative from the Classic Car Museum, entertainment by the Donna Frech Dance Studio and a fashion show by McLaughlin Department Store. Other activities include a book sale, cake booth, kid’s booth, penny pitch, 50/50, dinner basket raffle and treasure chest.

“The food is a big draw, especially the homemade Italian cookies,” said Annese. In addition to the cookies, homemade sausage and peppers, meatball subs, fried dough, pasta e fagioli, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, corn on the cob and Italian ice will be available for purchase.

Last year, over 1,000 people attended the festival.

After Sunday’s 9 a.m. Mass, parishioners will process through the streets surrounding the church carrying a statue of St. Bartholomew and then gather for coffee and donuts at the pavilion behind the Msgr. Festa Parish Center. It is customary for people to attach money to the streamers on the statue. After the celebration, the money is donated to the church. The same banners that were carried at the first celebration in 1927 continue to be used in the processions. “Last year, 200 to 300 people participated in the procession,” said Annese. “We also provide rides to the elderly who are unable to walk the route.”

St. Bartholomew was one of the 12 apostles. Along with his fellow apostle Jude, Bartholomew is reputed to have brought Christianity to Armenia in the first century. Both saints are considered the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

In works of art, St. Bartholomew is often represented with a large knife, or as in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, with his own skin hanging over his arm. Tradition holds that in Armenia he was flayed alive and then crucified upside down for refusing to worship pagan gods. This fate led to his being adopted as the patron saint of tanners.

Of the many miracles performed by St. Bartholomew before and after his death, two popular ones are known by the natives of Lipari. When St. Bartholomew’s body was found offshore, the bishop of Lipari ordered many men to take the body to the cathedral. When this failed due to its extreme weight, the bishop then sent out children. The children easily brought the body to shore.

The people of Lipari celebrated his feast day annually. Their tradition was to take the silver and gold statue from inside the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew and carry it through the town. On one  occasion, when the statue was being carried down the hill towards the town,  it suddenly got very heavy and had to be set down. When the men carrying the statue regained their strength, they lifted it a second time. After a few seconds, it got even heavier. They set it down and attempted once more to pick it up. They managed to lift it but had to put it down one last time. Within seconds, existing walls located further downhill collapsed. If the statue had been able to be lifted, all of the townspeople would have been killed.

“The majority of our former parishioners came from the island of Lipari and they had this ancient love of St. Bartholomew which has always been kept aflame since his body reposed among them,” said Testani.

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