One Final Feast for Franklin

J.D. O’Gara
St. Rocco Festival of Food to Celebrate its 40th and Final Year
Although the St. Rocco statue will remain, the Feast of St. Rocco comes to an end this year, after a 40-year run on the grounds of St. Mary’s Parish.
Issue Date: 
August, 2018
Article Body: 

Peter Brunelli remembers one year it rained so hard and long during St. Mary’s Feast of St. Rocco, that someone put a rowboat in the middle of the field and knelt down to take pictures.
“The rain just came and came,” he laughs, “but people were good. When they saw we’d lost two decent days, they came and bought a lot of things. It was all good.”
Despite the good times that the Feast of St. Rocco has brought to the town of Franklin, 40 years seemed like a good place to end. Although a Mass will be held at this time each year, the feast itself will end this year.
“It’s hard to imagine that this is going to be it,” says longtime feast organizer Brunelli. “I know the reason it’s being done, and it brings me to the fact that this 40 years, that I and others have been involved with – is coming to an end. I need to hold my tears back. Who knows how I’ll be feeling this time next year?”
“It’s sad that it’s going, but the reality is it’s time,” says Paula Coughlin, who’s been involved for 35 years. Coughlin and Brunelli explain that supplies are more difficult to get, as companies close and change. Still, neither has any complaints. “We’ve been fortunate,” says Peter.
The very final Feast of St. Rocco will take place this year, August 9-12, 2018. Driven by the energy and passion of long-time committee members, and executed with the strength of 300 volunteers, this year’s festival will feature more than a dozen food booths offering everything from fried clams, calzones and sausages to authentic Italian pastries and fried dough. Entertainment throughout the weekend will include live bands, DJs, raffles, and amusement rides. Commemorative T-shirts and aprons will be on sale. Raffles for cash prizes and homemade items will be available all weekend.
This North-End style feast, the brainchild of Father R. Michael Guarino in 1979, according to St. Mary’s website (, is a family-oriented religious, social, and cultural event. The feast honors Saint Rocco, the patron saint of the sick and impoverished, who was born (with a red cross birthmark) in Montpelier, France toward the end of the 13th century. Saint Rocco is said to have inherited great wealth, but gave up his material possessions. A man of great faith, he is said to have devoted his time and effort to the infirm, healing the sick.
A statue of St. Rocco stands on the grounds where the annual Feast is held. Nick Verna, a parish member, donated the statue in 1959, in honor of his mother. As a child, Nick had been very ill. His mother took him to a shrine of St. Rocco, and when he recovered, she believed that Verna had the patron saint to thank for his life. The St. Rocco statue, in fact, is featured as part of the festival.
Throughout the years, the festival has adapted to the changing lifestyle of the community. In the early days, all food was donated and prepared in the kitchens of the parish faithful. For a time, food was prepared in the kitchen of what was then the St. Mary’s School. Today, the food is prepared under the tents where it is served, under strict board of health guidelines. The one constant for 40 years has been the enthusiastic volunteers who prepare and serve the food throughout the weekend.
Entertainment has changed over the years as well. Music has always been part of the celebration and the early days featured several stages with multiple bands and dancing. A pie-eating competition and chocolate chip cookie contest are some of the past events. And the young and young-at-heart have enjoyed old fashioned midway games, carnival rides, cotton candy and laughter galore!
Since its inception, the festival has always included three separate Masses. Kicking off the week of the feast is the Opening Mass at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 5 at the church. This Mass is celebrated for the deceased friends and family listed in the St. Rocco program book. The following week on Saturday, August 11, an Anointing Mass, a healing event, will be held at 10 a.m. under the tent on the Festival Grounds behind the school across from the church. The 40th and final Closing Mass for the Feast of St Rocco will be held on Sunday, August 12 at 10:30 a.m. at the church. Following Mass, a procession will carry the statue of St. Rocco from the church to the field.
As the food and festival portion of this feast comes to an end, it paves the way for new traditions and ways to celebrate faith, family and friends within the parish. Fr. Brian Manning, pastor of St. Mary’s explains, “As we conclude the Festival of Food portion of the Feast of Saint Rocco this year, we will continue to honor in new ways the vision of faith that Fr. Michael and his many lay volunteers shared with all of us then and through all the years.”
For more information or to volunteer to help on festival weekend, please contact the St. Mary’s Rectory at (508) 528-0020.