SAINT RITA STREET FAIR: Last week saw yet another successful Saint Rita Fair come and go. This beloved tradition has been spicing up Connellsville summers for more years than almost all who are reading these words have been alive! I would imagine, though, that many parishioners - even quite a few from Saint Rita Parish - are unfamiliar with the origins of the Fair.
In 1901 the Italians of the area became the second ethnic group to escape “the clutches” of Immaculate Conception, the city’s first parish. (The Slovaks were the first, establishing Saint John the Evangelist Parish in the former United Brethren church building in 1895. With the first Ethnic parish established Immaculate Conception became the Territorial Parish, i.e. the parish for any Catholic who did NOT belong to an ethnic group with its own church.) The parish they founded was dedicated under the patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. For various and sundry reasons the parish was short-lived (Chris Mickey has written the definitive history of OLMC, based on memories of family members and his own meticulous research) and by the middle of 1913 no longer had a physical structure in which to worship.
A young, energetic Italian priest, formerly serving in The Bronx, arrived in late 1914 to do missionary work and began rebuilding the Italian Catholic congregation. He was soon asked to stay and by Christmas the next year the new parish - Saint Rita of Cascia - was celebrating its first Mass in the newly-constructed church building. The young priest, Father Henry DeVivo, while having been instructed by the Bishop in Pittsburgh to merely continue the parish under the title Our Lady of Mount Carmel, chose instead to found an entirely NEW parish under the patronage of Saint Rita of Cascia. I cannot be certain of his motivation but as the Saint was all “bright, shiny, and new” - having only been canonised 15 years earlier - I cannot help but think he wanted to spread devotionto her. (Chris Mickey has additionally speculated that, given the rather calamitous history of OLMC Parish, Fr. DeVivo felt that the intercession of this new “Saint of the Impossible” would be invaluable in the task he faced.)
Skip ahead less than two decades and the parish began a yearly “Street Fair.” As is common in Italian parishes, the summer festival was dedicated to - and celebrated around the Feast of - Our Lady of Mount Carmel. With Saint Rita parish rising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish this connection had an especial resonance here in the Jewel of the Yough. And although many, if not MOST, may have forgot-ten the bigger picture, the annual Saint Rita Street Fair is firmly rooted in the Italian devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In my seemingly unending research for the history of Immaculate Conception Parish I came across a 1948 article from the Daily Courier entitled “St. Rita’s Will Celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel”:
The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be celebrated by the congregation of St. Rita’s R.C. Church of the West Side with a two-day celebration on Friday and Saturday, it was announced today.
The celebration is a tradition of the parish, having been inaugurated many years ago. During the war years, however, the extent of the activities had been curtailed considerably. It is planned to resume the full elaborate festivities this year, Rev. Father Henry DeVivo, pastor, said.
The celebration will open at 8 o’clock Friday morning with a solemn high mass at St. Rita’s Church in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Rev. William J. McCashin, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church of Burgettstown, formerly of Connellsville, will be celebrant of the mass. Rev. Paul E. Campbell, pastor of St. Lawrence Church, Pittsburgh, formerly superintendent of parochial schools in the Pittsburg Diocese will serve as deacon and preach the sermon. Rev. Genedius Dias of St. Vincent’s Arch-abbey at Latrobe will be the sub-deacon and Father DeVivo master of ceremonies.
Other Masses are scheduled for 9, 9:30, 10, 10:30 and 11o’clock Friday morning.
The activities will resume at 7 o’clock Friday evening and will be continued at the same hour Saturday night with various entertainments and amusements on the church property. There will be an elaborate display of fireworks on both nights.
One thing that caught my eye, one thing that shows how much times have changed, is the prominence of the celebration of MASS. Not only was there a Solemn High Mass to mark the feast day, but there were FIVE other Masses that morning! Oh how great it must have been to have needed SIX Masses on a Friday morning to accommodate the crowds wishing to celebrate a patronal Feast!!