Sunday, June 24, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm
Celebrations honoring St. Anthony of Padua have a rich tradition in the church. It is a commemoration that Father Joseph Luisi, pastor of North American Martyrs Parish in Monroeville/Pitcairn, hopes will continue for many years to come.
Father Luisi led a St. Anthony celebration June 13 at St. Michael Church of North American Martyrs Parish. It featured a Mass in Italian, celebrated by Father Brian Noel, spiritual director at St. Paul Seminary In Crafton, and a procession of the St. Anthony statue down Wall Avenue.
“It’s a witness to the community,” Father Luisi said.
In his homily, Father Noel spoke of the saint as “God’s messenger,” who spoke the universal language of love. Though the saint is revered by Italians, he was of Portuguese descent. He represented the diversity of cultures. The evening’s celebration, Father Noel noted, was a celebration of God’s truth and love, and it highlighted that we speak larger when we reveal ourselves in humility and patience to others.
“We have to speak the language of the Holy Spirit,” he said. The image of St. Anthony holding a child communicates the love of Christ to us. We must speak like the saint to a world that desperately needs to hear Christ’s message, Father Noel said.
“As a preacher, he (St. Anthony) knew Christ,” he said.
St. Anthony oil and bread was blessed and distributed to the congregation following the Mass.
It rained heavily during the Mass, but the skies cleared just as the liturgy ended. Fathers Luisi and Noel were joined by seminarians in leading the quarter-mile procession to the Pitcairn Assembly of God and back. They were accompanied by Mirella Volpe, who played hymns on the accordian.
A festa celebration featuring food and music followed in St. Michael Hall.
Antonio Tommasino of St. Bernadette Parish in Monroville attended the celebration with his wife, Remingarda.
“Tradition teaches your history,” he said. “It’s important that you understand who you are, and you respect the other traditions as well.”
Kathy Desmond, also of St. Bernadette, has long had a devotion to St. Anthony and has attended the St. Michael celebration for more than 10 years.
“Someone has to carry this on,” she said. “You don’t want to let them (traditions) die.”
Antonio spoke of what the celebration means to him. He related the Italian tradition of naming sons after grandfathers. Though his mother, Rosa, had three older children, Antonio noted, none of them bore their grandfathers’ names. As his mother grew older, doctors told her that having more children would be dangerous for her and the baby.
During World War II, Antonio said, his father was captured by German forces and spent time in a prison camp. After the war, Antonio’s father returned home and the reunited couple became pregnant. She was again told by doctors that the pregnancy could be fatal to her and the baby.
Antonio spoke of how his mother prayed to St. Anthony and the saint came to her three times in a dream, reassuring her that both of them would be fine. She promised the saint that she would honor him by naming the baby Antonio.
The June 13 celebration was preceded by a 13-week novena, rather than the usual nine-week period of prayer. Father Luisi pointed out that it is among a handful of St. Anthony novenas held by parishes across the diocese.
The St. Anthony novena was started at St. Michael in 2002. Father David Poecking continued the tradition, followed by Father Luisi, who organized the first Italian Mass in 2010. Father Luisi credited organist John Prucnal’s contributions to the devotion.
“It’s been interesting to have so many different things,” he said of the efforts to honor the saint. Father Luisi expressed hope that the celebration will continue when Father Albert Zapf becomes administrator of the Monroeville/Penn Hills parish grouping in October.