Schenectady County

Smell of Italian food in the air signals Mt. Carmel Festa

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church’s 2013 Festa will fill the streets of Schenectady with music and the a

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church’s 2013 Festa will fill the streets of Schenectady with music and the aroma of Italian food this weekend, starting Friday.

The festival, which features Italian food and pastries, live music, rides and games, is a celebration of the parish and the community, according to the Rev. Robert J. Hohenstein.


WHAT: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church Festa

WHERE: 1255 Pleasant St., Schenectady

WHEN: 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday

COST: Free and open to the public

The Festa is centered around the parish’s universal feast day, which falls annually July 16. Church celebrations begin in the days leading up to the Festa with a special Italian Liturgy, held this year on Thursday morning. On Friday, the parish will celebrate its Feast Day Mass at 9 a.m. with the annual block party at 5 p.m.

“It’s a joyful celebration of feast, the parish, and the community, for adults and children to be together and to celebrate the Italian heritage,” Hohenstein said.

There are three Festas in the Schenectady area during the summer: at St. Anthony’s Church in June, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in July, and Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in August, all dishing out food for the community while celebrating their heritage, religion and parish family.

Maryanne Cristello has been working on one aspect or another of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s Festa since she was a little girl, and is using her upwards of 40 years experience as this year’s Festa chairwoman. She said that seeing the pieces come together into a successful event is worth the hard work, especially when former parishioners return from across the area to reminisce, to see old friends and to reconnect.

“It’s so incredible that it’s hard to describe. Seeing how everyone works together, filling in wherever they’re needed and doing whatever needs to be done. That’s greatest feeling,” she said.

This weekend commemorates the 91st year of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church’s Festa, but Hohenstein doesn’t think last year’s big anniversary will take away from the atmosphere. And the work of the more than 250 volunteers is no less exhausting, either.

“We joke that it’s like operating a three-day restaurant that’s open from Friday to Sunday. Parishioners work all year for these three nights. They spend months preparing food. They quite literally have to make 3,000 meatballs and pots and pots of sauce,” he said.

The mountains of pasta, pastries and other Italian classics play second fiddle to the Festa’s best-seller: pizza fritta. But there is more to the feast than the food.

Festa is well-attended for its live music and dancing. Hohenstein said many people come to sit and watch, or to relive memories of Festas past.

“One of the parishioners spends time in a nursing home as a visitation missionary, and after a short conversation they find out she’s from our parish and immediately ask about the Festa. They have so many memories, either of attending or of working for many years,” he said.

“It’s a monumental project, and the three days are a bit overwhelming, but it’s the heart and soul of our parish.”

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