The following text is an extract of the book "WITH TRUE FAITH" published in occasion of the 75th anniversary of the feast in honor of the three Saints Alfio Filadelfo and Cirino in Lawrence (MA).

A special thanks to Alfred La Spina and Luca Fazzino.

Festa of Saints Alfio, Filadelfo, and Cirino
Lawrence, Massachusetts from 1923


THE LIVES OF THE THREE SAINTS AND THE ORIGINS OF THE FEAST IN SICILY

The story of the Three Saints and how they came to be martyred has been handed down for centuries in the small villages of eastern Sicily. It is part of the oral tradition of that area, but in modern times the story has been well researched and documented.

During the time of the Roman Empire, a noble couple, Vitale and Benedicta, had converted to Christianity. Their three sons, Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino were privately educated in the Christian faith by their parents and by Onesimus, a Greek scholar. In the year 250 AD, the Emperor issued an edict demanding that all Christians renounce their faith and demonstrate allegiance to the State by worshipping him and the Roman gods. Failure to obey the edict was considered treason, and the penalty was death. Benedicta refused to obey the edict and she was martyred. Vitale escaped to a monastic community, leaving his sons in the care of their tutor. At the time, Alfio was twenty-one, Filadelfo was twenty and Cirino was nineteen years old.

Because the brothers were so young and came from a highly regarded noble family, the Roman authorities hoped to convince them or force them into a public renunciation of their Christian faith so that others would follow. However, a succession of officials failed to get the boys to yield. Finally, they were sent to Sicily where a young Roman patriot named Tertullo had already gained fame for ruthless interrogation and torture of Christians.

The brothers landed in Messina on August 25, 252 AD. They were marched from there to Taormina with a heavy beam strapped to their shoulders. The brothers arrived in the village which is now known as Trecastagni on September 1, where they rested for the night. While many assume that the name of this village can be literally translated as "Three Chestnuts", the name was actually derived from the Latin, Tres-Casti-Agni or "Three Chaste Lambs", referring to the Three Saints. The brothers were then marched south to Catania and on the 3rd of September they entered Lentini.

Wherever Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino went, miracles were attributed to them. Their suffering and their refusal to give in to the power of the Roman authorities inspired more people to convert to Christianity. Tertullo tried several means of torture, all to no avail. Furious, he ordered the final instruments of death for the brothers: a pair of tongs to tear out the tongue of Alfio, a gridiron set over coals for Filadelfo, and a cauldron filled with hot oil for young Cirino. On May 10, 253 the three young men refused for the last time to renounce their faith. Before his death, Alfio spoke these words to Tertullo: "You may remove my tongue so I cannot speak, but I will never cease to give thanks and praise to God in my heart, for the eternal truth for which I die." Led by the eldest, each brother went to his death, a martyrdom which earned them the everlasting love and respect of all who had witnessed their bravery and devotion. Their tombs remain in Lentini to this day, beneath the Church of Sant'Alfio.

Seventeen centuries later, in the towns of Lentini and Trecastagni, there are still feasts held on May 10 each year in honor of St. Alfio and his brothers. Faith in the intercession of the Saints is strong, and miracles continue to be attributed to them. Wherever the faithful gather whether in Trecastagni, or on each Labor Day weekend in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the people remember and they shout: Viva Sant'Alfio!


THE HISTORY OF THE SOCIETY

As various Italian immigrants settled in Lawrence at the turn of the century, they brought with them the dialects, culture and traditions of the many regions and villages from which they came. Many of the Sicilian immigrants from the towns in the Province of Catania, especially from the area around Trecastagni, maintained their particular devotion to the three martyred brothers, Saint Alfio, Saint Filadelfo and Saint Cirino. As their numbers increased, they set about the task of organizing an association, the primary purpose of which was to establish the tradition of honoring these patron Saints in this new community.

The first meeting of the incorporators was held on December 16, 1921 at 82 Jackson St. in Lawrence. The incorporators were: Alfio Bonaccorsi, Antonio Coco, Antonino Murabito, Salvatore Pulvirenti, Giovanni Santuccio, Ignazio Scuderi, and Gaetano Torrisi. These men also became the first officers of the Society, with Murabito serving as the first President, and Bonaccorsi elected as both Treasurer and Chairman of the first Festa Committee. The latter was a very important position, because the By-Laws included a mandate to hold an annual celebration in honor of the three martyred brothers.

The membership of the Society was not only primarily Sicilian, but also heavily represented by those Sicilians from Trecastagni. The issue of ethnicity soon led to controversy. Some members argued that only those who traced their roots back to the area around Trecastagni should be included. Others argued for the much broader membership criteria of Italian parentage. Within months, there were two societies. The Society of St. Alfio di Trecastagni was incorporated in July, 1922. However, its highly restrictive membership policies led to its eventual demise, and the members of the "Trecastagnese Club" were reincorporated into the original Society.

Because of the difficulties faced by the immigrant community, an important purpose of the Society was mutual aid. This need grew out of an era when there was no help from public sources. Members who were in good standing and paid their annual dues were entitled to a death benefit for some, the only life insurance they possessed. The members also paid twenty-five cents per month, which entitled them to free medical care if they became ill. They were always sent to Italian doctors, including Dr. Zannini, Dr. D'Urso, and Dr. Tiani. In 1932, at the height of the Depression, the Society voted to give any member facing financial difficulties up to $25.00. Later that year the Society also voted a one time gift of $5.00 worth of food for any member in need; with the stipulation that any member found to be taking advantage of this benefit under false pretenses would be automatically expelled from the association.

Minutes from the 1920's reveal that dues were prorated by age, with younger members paying as little as $2.00/yr., and older members paying as much as $12.00/yr. This higher rate was equal to, if not more than, a week's pay for most workers in Lawrence at that time. Members were often called upon to make extra donations in order to help with expenses. For example, in 1930 every member was obligated to purchase 10 raffle tickets at 10 cents each to help cover the expenses of the Feast. Each member was given four months to meet this obligation!

The Society was also a social hub for the community. Its headquarters moved from various sites on Newbury Street and Union Street until the present building on Common Street was built in 1961. Holiday parties and dinner dances were attended by the members and their families. Mary Sciuto Privitera remembers that her father, Giuseppe Sciuto, who served twice as president, would hold a weekly card game with other members at the headquarters.

They never played for money but only for chocolate bars. The next morning we kids would wait to see how much candy our Dad had won for us.

The "Friday night gang" continued to be a fixture, and members still gather when they can for a friendly game of cards and perhaps a late night snack.

The community has changed, and most members now live far from the headquarters, but the spirit of fellowship remains strong. President Steve Zanni, a member for over twenty-five years, has had an opportunity to observe both the older generations and the new. He notes that,

...the Society itself has gone from a membership made up primarily of mill workers to one made up of a social cross-section, including middle class business owners and professionals who are prominent members of the larger community. Far from contracting in size, the Society has grown in recent years to over one hundred, including many of the sons and grandsons of older members.

The members of the St. Alfio Society continue to worship together, to work together and to walk together in the footsteps of their founders. The Society's banner leads them in procession each year, and stands vigil at their coffins when they are laid to their final rest. After more than seventy-five years, this tenacious commitment to preserving a culture and a tradition continues to inspire and to energize the grandsons of those first members, and makes it possible for us to celebrate with the Society as they honor both the Three Saints and the memory of their forefathers.

Saint Alfio Society Headquarters, Common St., Lawrence


SAINT ALFIO SOCIETY THE PRESIDENTS AND VICE-PRESIDENTS

Presidents

Vice Presidents

ANTONIO MURABITO

1921

SALVATORE PULVIRENTI

ANTONIO FARO

1923

ANTONIO FARO

1924

STEFANO TOMASELLI

ANTONIO FARO

1929

ANTONIO FARO

1930

ROSARIO MURABITO

ROSARIO MURABITO

1931

GIUSEPPE SCIUTO

ANTONIO FARO

1932

GIUSEPPE SCIUTO

GIUSEPPE SCIUTO

1933

SALVATORE SPATOLA

1934

ALFIO PUGLISI

ANTONIO FARO

1935

ROSARIO MURABITO

ANTONIO FARO

1936

ROSARIO MURABITO

ANTONIO FARO

1937

ROSARIO MURABITO

ANTONIO FARO

1938

GIUSEPPE SALVO

ROSARIO MURABITO

1939

GIUSEPPE SCIUTO

ANTONIO FARO

1940

ROSARIO MURABITO

ANTONIO FARO

1941

ROSARIO MURABITO

ROSARIO MURABITO

1942

GIOVANNI FRENI

ANTONIO FARO

1943

ROSARIO MURABITO

GIOVANNI FRENI

1944

ROSARIO MURABITO

ANTONIO FARO

1945

ROSARIO MURABITO

ROSARIO MURABITO

1946

ALFIO BALSAMO

ROSARIO MURABITO

1947

ALFIO BALSAMO

ROSARIO MURABITO

1948

ALFIO BALSAMO

ROSARIO MURABITO

1949

ALFIO BALSAMO

ALFIO BALSAMO

1950

SIMONE TOSCANO

ALFIO BALSAMO

1951

SIMONE TOSCANO

ALFIO BALSAMO

1952

GIUSEPPE SCIUTO

ALFIO BALSAMO

1953

GIUSEPPE SCIUTO

ALFIO BALSAMO

1954

SIMONE TOSCANO

SIMONE TOSCANO

1955

JOSEPH LAROSA

GIUSEPPE SCIUTO

1956

SALVATORE LOMBARDO

ALFIO BALSAMO

1957

D. NUNZIO SCUDERI

ALFIO BALSAMO

1958

SILVIO COMPAGNONE

ALFIO BALSAMO

1959

SILVIO COMPAGNONE

SALVATORE LOMBARDO

1960

SIMONE TOSCANO

SALVATORE LOMBARDO

1961

FRANK GRIECO

SALVATORE LOMBARDO

1962-90

SILVIO COMPAGNONE

SALVATORE LOMBARDO

1990-94

STEPHEN ZANNI

STEPHEN ZANNI

1994-97

RAYMOND E. DIFIORE, SR.


THE HISTORY OF THE FEAST IN LAWRENCE

To these people, the Feast of Saint Alfio was more important than any other holiday, including Christmas. It was the highlight of the year.

Sam Sapienza

In keeping with the mandate in their By-laws, the Saint Alfio Society first marched in procession in May, 1922, the traditional month of the feast of the Three Saints in Sicily. For the first procession, there were no statues of the Saints. The painting of the three brothers which now hangs in the Society chapel was carried through the streets by the members, accompanied by a marching band. Nellie Strano remembers that her father and the other members went door to door all that winter to collect the money needed to hold even that small celebration.

In the early 1920's, several religious processions and celebrations were held in Lawrence each year, particularly in the Italian community. In addition to the May Procession, sponsored by the Holy Rosary Church, there was already a feast for Saint Paride, organized by the mainly Neapolitan Teanese Club, and a feast in celebration of Saint Anthony. A translation of the minutes from the Saint Alfio Society indicates that the first celebration on a similar scale in honor of the Three Saints took place in late October or early November, 1923. Based on this evidence, the Society has always identified the 1923 celebration as the first actual Festa di Sant'Alfio.

Alfio Bonaccorsi, a founder of the Society, was a local building contractor known familiarly by his nickname, Sacco di chiova (Sack of nails); and for his boundless devotion to Saint Alfio, his patron saint. He commissioned and paid for statues of the Saints to be made in Italy and brought over by ship. They arrived and were used for the 1924 Festa, and are still used today. These beautifully colored statues have always been kept in the Holy Rosary Church. When the lower level was remodeled, the original statues were placed in the vestibule of the church, in a glass-enclosed shelter maintained by the Society. A white marble replica was also placed in the upper level of the Church.

Few modern feast-goers know that our Festa was not always held on Labor Day weekend. In these early years, Saint Paride and Saint Alfio often traded off that weekend, although both feasts were held within weeks of each other. The May observance, honoring the traditional Italian feast day of the Three Saints, also continued. The members marched the route accompanied by a band and attended Mass together. This was called la festina to distinguish it from the festa, and the statues were not paraded.

The Evening Tribune, on September 8, 1925, gave the following account of our Festa, which describes many of the traditions we continue to observe and a few interesting differences:

The three day celebration in honor of the feast of three of Italy's greatest saints, Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino, in which the entire Italian colony of the city has joined with whole hearted acclaim came to a close last night with the last of the series of events...of the past weekend.

Splendid preparations for the feast, which began Saturday afternoon, were made by the committee in charge, and the lower end of the city was a veritable fairy bower, with archway after archway hung with Japanese lanterns, together with gay colored...to add a festal aspect to the occasion. Practically all of the shopkeepers in the district made elaborate decorative preparations for the event, and throughout the section, American and Italian colors predominated in the decorations.

Common St. from Jackson to Union, and Union Street from Essex to Haverhill streets had by far the centre of the stage with the largest number of decorative effects and the mass of the throng made those two streets their mecca both last night and Saturday night. Newbury Street too had its share of brilliancy and the headquarters of the society which perpetuates the names of the three saints, at 112 Newbury St., was adorned with gay colored bunting surrounding paintings of SS. Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino.

Concerts by the bands, both marching and on platforms erected at various spots on Common, Union and Newbury streets, comprised a major portion of the celebration, while groups of marching and counter-marching Italians bore statues of the saints throughout the street adjacent to their homes and the Holy Rosary Church, to which the statues were returned early last evening to be followed by services within the church edifice.

The vicinity of the celebration was most striking in appearance during the two evenings, for then the brilliantly lighted lanterns were...and gave the ...a festivity to the scenes on which they shone.

Sunday, the first full day of the feast, found the members of the Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino society assembled at the headquarters at 112 Newbury St., from which point they marched to the Holy Rosary Church to attend mass at 11 o'clock. The marchers then dispersed until 4 o'clock when again they formed and the statues of the three saints...was borne through the streets on a ...for the thousands who lined Union, massive float; an impressive spectacle Elm, Newbury, Essex, Jackson and Common Streets, the route of the parade.

A concert by the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Alfio Cavallaro, was given Sunday night at 8 between Summer and Orchard Street on Union Street, and thousands gathered about to listen to the talented musicians. The playing of this orchestra has been one of the features of the entire celebration.

Saturday, the opening day of the feast, provided plenty of musical features from 4 o'clock, the hour of the opening, until well into the night. The climax of Saturday's events came at a later hour in the evening, when four bands coming from as many different directions, met at Newbury and Common streets and engaged in a battle of music, under the flare of red and green lights, and the salute of numberless firecrackers in the hands of a crowd which had followed the four bands to the point to merger.

The Lawrence Symphony Orchestra and the three other bands, the Bellini, Naszional, and Three Saints, played throughout the remainder of the evening on the various streets enclosing the area of the celebration and tonight the gay illumination of the lower end streets, will come to a close after three days of tribute paid to the saints in which the affair was evolved.


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