Tantalizing aromas wafted through the Our Lady of the Assumption kitchen Thursday as a group of cooks plugged away on recipes older than the parish itself.
Steam rising from the simmering minestra combined with the smell of fresh-baked bread cooling on a set of racks nearby. Frank Marotta ladled red sauce over a tray of oversized meatballs as his mother, Silvana Marotta, drained a large can of cannellini beans for the soup recipe she brought from her native Italy.
Starting this evening, droves of people will line up beneath the outdoor tents set up in the church parking lot off Princetown Road for a taste of old-world cooking. This year’s festa coincides with the diamond jubilee for Our Lady of the Assumption, which was established in 1934.
And the parishioners plan to start the celebration off with a bang. Organizers have arranged for a fireworks display this evening to commemorate the church and its festival, which has grown to become part of the town’s heritage.
“It’s a great event not only for the parish but the community as a whole,” the Rev. Joseph Cebula said Thursday.
This year’s event will also be nostalgic for many of the parishioners, as it will represent the last one hosted by Our Lady of the Assumption. By next summer, the parish is slated to merge with Immaculate Conception Church off Broadway in Schenectady. The Albany Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is going through a reoganization, closing nearly 20 percent of its churches by 2011.
Details of the merger aren’t clear yet, but Cebula said it will assuredly involve a name change. But one thing is clear: The festa will continue.
“[The parish] will have a different name, but it will be the same community,” he said.
Despite its present popularity, Our Lady of the Assumption’s traditional Festa almost fell to the wayside after being cancelled for five consecutive years. The event became burdensome for the shrinking number of volunteers, many of them elderly.
But in 2006, a dedicated group of parishioners, including Jeff Fallat and Marotta, made a push to revive the tradition. During their first year organizing the event, they secured more than 200 volunteers to help out with the arduous task of preparing the recipes.
“It’s been quite a success since,” said Fallat, the Festa’s co-chairman.
It’s a success that has come with some organizational changes. The group that has organized the Festa since 2006 has tried to delegate its various responsibilities throughout the parish.
Fallat said the practice ensures that volunteers learn the different aspects of the event and don’t get burned out by doing the same thing every year. The result has been an increasing number of young parishoners getting involved in the preparation.
More than 325 parishioners had a hand in cooking for the Festa this year. Fallet said some began making baked goods for the event as early as February.
Preparation for the event intensified this week when the volunteers began cooking some of the more popular items featured on the menu. As the Festa neared, volunteers often put in 16-hour days preparing the food, with some even sacrificing vacation time to lend a hand.
The result is roughly 150 gallons of red sauce, countless trays of handmade meatballs and cases upon cases of sliced peppers and onions. The amount of food prepared by the parish is enough to fill the better part of a refrigerated trailer parked outside the church, leaving only a narrow path down the middle.
“Obviously, you can see they’re pretty dedicated here,” Cebula said as he surveyed the bustling kitchen Thursday afternoon.
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Categories: Schenectady County