HAMMMONTON — The disc jockey queued the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” as families young and old noshed on meatball sandwiches, pizza and cheesesteaks. The next tent over, suds overflowed at the beer and wine garden. Further up the block, the carney laughed as the little girl’s dart popped balloon after balloon, while a man in another booth barked at all to come and see “the smallest woman in the world.”
And next to the grill, overlooking it all, was Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in all her statue glory.
From Monday, July 11 until Saturday, July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, an all-week festival, took over downtown Hammonton, bringing thousands together for six days of faith and family.
“We’re here for the Blessed Mother,” said Louis Pantalone, president of the town’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society, which organizes the festival.
On July 16, 1875, Hammonton’s Italian immigrants began the yearly celebration to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, taking an image of their patroness to each of their farms, in thanksgiving to her for their safe passage to the United States, good health and for a successful harvest. Today, 141 years later, still going strong, it is the longest-running outdoor celebration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the United States.
A family atmosphere permeates the festivities. Louis Pantalone’s father, cousin (Louis), uncle (Louis), and grandfather have all been a part of the Mount Carmel Society, while 18-year-old-Rocco Fucetole hopes to soon join their ranks, after his father, Rocco, and grandfather, also Rocco. Since he was a young boy, he has lent a hand. This year, he was working the hot dogs and steaks on the grill
Along with the food, music and carnival games, Mass was celebrated daily at Saint Joseph Church, part of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel Parish.
On the actual feast day, July 16, Bishop Dennis Sullivan celebrated a 9 a.m. morning Mass at Saint Joseph Church, remembering the deceased of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society. Masses in Italian and Spanish were also celebrated during the day, reflecting the multicultural community gathered.
In the afternoon, hundreds of faithful processed around the church block, carrying images of the Blessed Mother and such saints as Anthony of Padua and Martin de Porres.
Father Joseph Capella, chaplain of the society, was a member of the society before entering the seminary, and his grandfather, father, and brother are, or have been, members. His ancestor, Antonino Capella, was one of its original founders in 1875.
He says that although the food and carnival are staples of the annual festival, that’s not where the society’s true heart lies.
“No matter what day it falls, on a Saturday, Monday or Wednesday,” he said, “the celebration is always on the 16th, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The spiritual aspect, and their devotion to the Blessed Mother, is what really matters to them.”