History of the St. Anthony Festival
An earthquake struck southern Italy on November 23, 1980. The casualty toll was high in part because the tremor struck during Sunday night mass, as many residents sat in churches that would crumble in the quake. The 7.2 –magnitude quake struck at 7:34p.m and was centered in Eboli, south of Naples. In Balvano children were preparing for their first communion at 1000 year old Conza Della Compagna church. The violent shaking demolished the church and killed scores of people, including 26 children. Over the next few days it was discovered that over 3,000 people had died and 300,000 more would be homeless as winter began.
Many Italians in Seneca Falls had family, friends and ties to the southern Italian region devastated by the quake. Matt Bonacci and Matt Feola both from Giano Vetusta wanted to do something for the people and church of their home town. They decided to approach the SMS, SMS Auxiliary, Rumseyville Sportsman Club and Rumseyville Auxiliary about a celebration in honor of St. Anthony. Some of the profits would go to the restoration of the church in Giano Vetusta and the victims of the disaster. They decided to hold the festival Labor Day weekend even through St. Anthony’s Feast Day is June 13.
They began a huge undertaking of a three day event with rides, games of chance, Italian specialties, Bocce Tournament, 10/5 K race, and entertainment. On Sunday there would be a procession from a different club each year, carrying the St. Anthony statue on the shoulder of four men through the streets of Seneca Falls to St. Patrick’s Church where an Italian mass would be offered for the people of Seneca Falls.
The procession is kicked off with a series of booms(set-off by Young Explosives) to tell everyone that St. Anthony is going to church. At mass someone of Italian decent would be honor for contributions to their Italian Heritage, Community and Church.
The first year Vincent “Jimmy” Colella was honored with the Father Joseph Beatini Award.
Over the years the Festival has grown and expanded, trying to stay true to the original founders plans. Ideas come and go but the original concept still stands. The group still meets the first Sunday of each month throughout the year. The Commission is made up of members from SMS, SMS Auxiliary and Rumseyville. The Rumseyville Sportsmen Club no longer has an Auxiliary.
Except for the rides and entertainment all aspects of the Festival are handled by the clubs and their members and volunteer.
In 2012 they will celebrate the 32th year. The festival has only been cancelled one night in all the years due to rain.
Today the St. Anthony’s Commission supports local endeavors and St. Patrick’s Church with the proceeds from the Festival. The Commission sends all monies pinned on the statue of St. Anthony to maintain the church in Italy. The festival celebrates not only the Italian Heritage of Seneca Falls but supports local non-profits organizations in Seneca Falls and Seneca County.
The highlight of the festival has always been the awarding of the Father Beatini award at mass on Sunday. For the first 10 years only men were receiving the award. In 1990 Joyce Sinicropi was the first women to receive this award. Two of the women are associated with the Seneca Falls Historical Society and Joyce was a member of our board of directors. Only four women have ever received this honor including Laura Sandroni who was honored with her husband and seven sons in 2007.
It was the second and third generation Italians that wanted to honor St. Anthony and their Italian roots with this festival. Many of the basic traditions and activities stem from the religious practices that are followed in Italy. It truly is a slice of home to the many Americans who claim Italian heritage. The best part is everyone who enjoys Italian food and music and sports will find something at a St. Anthony’s Festival.