The proud history of the Hammonton festival

Members of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society bring the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel out of Saint Joseph Church for the procession on July 16, the last day of the weeklong festival. The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society was formed in 1875 by Italian immigrants new to Hammonton.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

I stood at the door of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Hammonton as the men of the Society of Our Lady of Mount Carmel processed into Saint Joseph Church for Mass. As each man passed me I was greeted with “Buona Festa,” Happy Feast. I could not help but think that for 143 years on this very day, July 16th the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, that greeting in Italian has been heard in Hammonton: “Buona Festa.” Happy Feast.

The Hammonton Festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the longest running outdoor Italian festival in the country. It spans many generations. Some of the men in the Society are third and fourth generation descendants of the original members of the Society. I am delighted and honored each year to offer the Mass of the Society on the feast day. It gives me an opportunity to thank the Society for their hard labors on behalf of the community and our church, both of which benefit from the celebration.

There is a proud history connected to the celebration of the Feast in Hammonton. I thank the Society for keeping the tradition alive in which their Italian heritage and our American roots are on display. The originators of this celebration took to the streets for a public display of their Catholic faith which had accompanied them from the old world to the new world. Here, despite the ridicule and prejudice they faced, they worked hard; raised their families; kept the faith and made their way into the American dream. How true that has been throughout the history of our country for our ancestors who emigrated here.  How true that continues to be in our own day!

I always remind the men of the Society to never forget where they came from and the struggle of their ancestors in America.

The great love of the Italian immigrants for Our Lady of Mount Carmel encouraged them to deal with the challenges of coming to the new world and leaving the old. They turned to the Mother of God under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for protection and for maternal intercession.

On Mount Carmel in Israel, from the time of Elijah the prophet in the ninth century before Christ, Jewish hermits lived and prayed for the coming of the Messiah. In the fullness of time, that Messiah was born of the Virgin Mary. Our Lady appeared to Saint Simon Stock on July 16, 1251 and gave him the brown scapular. It is a symbol of her protection. She is the Glory of Carmel who leads us to her Divine Son.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel presents Jesus. She gives Him to us. This is her role: to lead us to her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.