The Feast of St. Rocco 123 Years Young
Once again, with tremendous pride, Stephen S. La Rocca, Esq., President of the St. Rocco Society of Potenza announces the 123rd Annual feast of St. Rocco to be held on Sunday, August 19, 2012 at St. Joseph’s Church, 5 Monroe Street, New York, New York. The Solemn high Mass will be held at 12:00 noon followed by the procession, the highlight of the event, at 1:30 p.m. The procession will begin at the Church and wind it’s way through the streets of Little Italy as it has done since August 1889.
The St. Rocco Society was founded in 1889 by immigrants from the Southern Italian City of Potenza in the Basilicata region, on Roosevelt Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Every year since it’s founding, without interruption, the society has celebrated St. Rocco’s feast with procession. It is one of the oldest Italian American Societies in New York State.
After the demolition of Saint Joachim’s Church on Roosevelt Street, the original home of the St. Rocco feast due to urban renewal, the feast was and is still celebrated at St. Joseph’s Church on Monroe and Catherine Streets a few blocks from the original site.
Although the Society was founded by men from the Italian city of Potenza (some of whose descendants are still members of the society), from it’s earliest days immigrants from many towns in the provinces of Potenza and Matera participated in the procession. Eventually, those who participated came from every area of Southern Italy and Sicily.
The focus of the feast is the procession of the Statue of St. Rocco. Even before St. Rocco begins “his walk” through the neighborhood he is nearly covered with the money offerings of his faithful. The statue carried on the shoulders of the members is accompanied by an Italian street band for the entire length of the approximately three hour long walk. Following the statue, march the devotees as a means of thanking the saint for his powerful help and looking forward to future graces and blessings through his intercession.
Well into the 1940’s thousands of people traveled to St. Rocco’s feast to honor their beloved Saint by walking in his procession in the scorching August heat. However, with the passing of the years and a diminishing Italian population in the neighborhood, attendance, through remaining strong, lost some of its original strength. Through it all, Angela and Anna Carnevale, two dynamic sisters and daughters of one of the founding members of the society, kept the procession going without interruption. For too many years to count, their dedication kept the feast alive. It was at Angela Carnevale’s urging that Mr. La Rocca was asked to become President of the Society and assume it’s leadership eight years ago.
Stephen S. La Rocca, an attorney and Senior partner at the New York law firm of Stephen La Rocca, PLLC has made it his mission to renew the active participation of the Italian American community and all of the St. Rocco devotees in this event. “It’s like Christmas, Easter and my birthday all rolled up into one”, says La Rocca.
Mr. La Rocca is determined to see St. Rocco’s feast not only experience a renaissance in terms of attendance, but he is also a stickler that all of the ancient Southern Italian traditions be followed to the letter.
La Rocca, the maternal grandson of immigrants from Basilicata (his paternal grandparents were from Sicily) has a fierce devotion to his patron saint and it has been his goal to restore the feast to its former glory. He works tirelessly each year to increase awareness of the feast. Prior to becoming President, due to the fact that most of the members were elderly, the statue of St. Rocco was rolled through the streets on a wheeled cart. That was the first thing that changed.
“It started with a few friends willing to do me a favor”, says La Rocca, “now we have 30-40 men in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s literally fighting over whose turn it is to carry the saint and who would not miss the feast for the world. The number of young men keeps growing with each year. The Society has toyed with the idea of lengthening the already three hour long procession to accommodate all the enthusiastic new members.
After St. Rocco’s statue is let down from the men’s shoulders to receive offerings and veneration as it is re-lifted onto their shoulders, the men shout with tremendous joy “VIVA SAN ROCCO”!, long live St. Rocco. As the procession progresses, the shouting becomes contagious with participants in the procession as well as bystanders joining in with a heartfelt “VIVA SAN ROCCO”!