The Feast has a fascinating history. On September 8, 1530 a poor paralytic was instantaneously cured on the outskirts of the village. Simultaneously, just below the miraculous site there appeared on a large rock the image of the Blessed Mother. Immediately, Mary began to be venerated as “Our Lady of the Miracle.”
Soon after many more favors and miracles through her intercession, Mary began to be called “Our Lady of Miracles” (“La Bedda Matri, Maria Santissima dei Miracoli”). It is under this title that from the sixteenth century she has become the spiritual patroness of Mussomeli.
Not long after the original miracle, a shrine was erected on the spot. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Dominican Fathers built a magnificent Baroque church, called “San Domenico,” which has become the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Miracles (“Il Santuario Maria SS. dei Miracoli”). At the center of the sanctuary stands the breathtaking 18th – century statue of Our Lady of Miracles. The crypt preserves the original rock with Mary’s miraculous image.
Each year the Feast is celebrated on September 8, the anniversary of the miraculous cure of the paralytic beggar. It is the town’s most jubilant day of the year. The highlight of the Feast, after the Solemn Mass in the morning, is the moving evening procession. The statue of Our Lady, decked out with a beautiful silk mantle and bouquets of flowers, is laden with an array of gold jewelry offered by the faithful for graces received. The image is reverently carried through the streets amid the entire population. Young men vie with one another to help bear the venerated figure. Countless worshippers accompany the statue in prayer, many barefoot, as an act of devotion. Precious tapestries hang from the balconies and windows of homes to honor the passing statue.
The festivities continue for an entire week with prayers and devotions, combined with entertainment, both folklore and contemporary. Hundreds of emigrants, who, for economic reasons, have left for other parts of Italy, as well as Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium and England, return faithfully with their children each year to celebrate the Feast. For a week, the town becomes a veritable Pentecost, with young children of visiting emigrant Mussomelese conversing in so many different languages.
For the people of Mussomeli, Our Lady of Miracles is a symbol of everything good, sound, holy and beautiful. Little wonder her annual Feast is such a treasured tradition.
The Feast in Buffalo
Around the beginning of the 1900’s, immigrants from Mussomeli to the Buffalo area brought with them a fervent devotion to their spiritual patroness, Maria Santissima dei Miracoli (Our Lady of Miracles).
The history of the local Feast divides into the following periods:
Pre-History (1900-29): Simple Beginnings
From the turn of the last century, an annual Mass was organized on a Sunday close to September 8, the date of the Feast in Mussomeli, at both St. Anthony of Padua Church and Mt. Carmel Church (in Dante Place). According to records at St. Anthony’s Church, a Mass was celebrated there for the Feast as early as 1902.
First Period (1930-49): Transplanting of the Feast from Mussomeli
The first more solemn observance was organized in 1930 by six women immigrants from Mussomeli:
Mrs. Grazia Giovino, Mrs. Ignazia Giovino, Mrs. Vincenzina Mendola, Mrs. Salvatrice Nola, Mrs. Maria Pennacchio and Mrs. Francesca Territo.
Soon, the major organization of the annual Feast was shared by the men of the Mussomelese community, led by Salvatore Giudice and Vincenzo Vullo. These and many others went door to door seeking donations of fellow Mussomelese to help defray the cost of the annual Feast. Extant, but incomplete records mention the following: Alfonso Amico, Paul Amico, Vincent Amico, Vincent Castrogiovanni, Luigi Costello, Patsy Lanzalaco, Vincent Lanzalaco and Michelangelo Saladino.
The Feast began to be observed at St. Anthony’s Church on the second Sunday in September. On the vigil, Solemn Vespers were prayed. The Mass was in Latin, and the sermon for many years was only in Italian. Before the Mass there was a solemn procession from St. Anthony’s Church down Seventh Street to Jersey Street and then back to St. Anthony’s via Busti Avenue. Led by the beautiful banner depicting Our Lady of Miracles, men, women and children proudly marched to the accompaniment of the rousing music of a marching band. The band, standing just outside the open doors of the church, sounded a loud strain of stirring notes to accompany the consecration of the Mass.
A tasty breakfast in St. Anthony’s Church Hall followed the Mass. The evening featured a sumptuous dinner dance with nostalgic Italian melodies.
This period saw the commissioning of the aforementioned banner in addition to a beautiful statue-replica and mantle of Our Lady of Miracles. To this day, the statue is placed in the sanctuary for the annual Feast; at the Mass the banner leads the procession in and out of the church; the mantle envelopes the statue of Our Lady.
This first period of the solemnization of the Feast was in effect a modest, but authentic version of the Feast as celebrated in Mussomeli. It was clearly a beautiful Italian import.
Second Period (1950-69): A Bridge to American Adaptation
By now, many of the original immigrants from Mussomeli had died, to be replaced gradually by those born in this country. On the one hand, many elements remained, such as the door-to-door collection and the breakfast in the church hall following the Mass. On the other hand, there were stirrings of change. Certain features gradually disappeared: Solemn Vespers on the Vigil, the outdoor procession and the dinner dance. In addition, innovations were introduced. The sermon began to be delivered in both Italian and English. Buffalo- born priests of Mussomelese parents started taking turns as main celebrants of the Mass. The younger members, still maintaining interest and even enthusiasm, began viewing the Feast more and more through Americanized eyes.
It was during this period that the statue of Our Lady was moved to the vestibule of St. Anthony’s Church. This is one of the few statues still enjoying a prominent place in the church building after the repositioning of objects in keeping with the Post-Vatican II liturgical reforms.
Third Period (1970- ): American Adaptation
At this point, most of the original members had died, but the number of participants in the Feast kept increasing. In 1970 the Planning Committee wisely decided to add six younger members, four men and two women (detailed elsewhere in the booklet). In successive years, additional younger members, roughly divided between men and women, have joined the Committee, as older members passed away.
In this period, the breakfasts have become luncheons, transferred from the church hall to more spacious and elegant settings, the Statler Golden Ballroom and the Buffalo Convention Center. Musicians play Italian favorites during the luncheon. Each year beginning in 1970, several (usually two or three) members and their spouses have been singled out at the luncheon as “Guests of Honor,” with the reading of a biography and a tribute. For many years the script was composed and delivered by the late Mrs. Rose LaMastra. Mrs. Elizabeth Arnone Young has replaced her.
Other features have been added. A letter is now mailed to each member of the society with a detailed invitation. The door-to-door collection has been replaced by a free-will offering at the entrance to the luncheon. The Feast is publicized by the Buffalo News and other local community papers, as well as by radio spots; TV stations air segments of the Mass on the evening and nightly news.
Each year, St. Anthony’s Church is filled to capacity for the Feast. Those leading the liturgy are all Mussomelese: priest celebrants, preachers, cantors, readers, lay ministers of the Eucharist, altar servers and ushers. In recent years the homily has been delivered mainly in English. At the Mass, an elaborate printed program is distributed with hymns, mostly in English, and with mention of happy events in the Mussomelese community: new births, First Communions, Confirmations, weddings, notable wedding anniversaries and notable anniversaries of the priest members. Also mentioned for special prayers are the sick and those who have died during the previous year.
In 1980 the fiftieth anniversary of the solemn celebration of the Feast was observed in a special way, not only with the usual festive Mass and luncheon, but also with a sumptuous banquet in the Statler Golden Ballroom. In 1983 Father Charles Amico and Monsignor Richard Amico composed a new prayer to Our Lady of Miracles in English (reprinted under “Prayer of Devotion” on this website).
Although most similar festivals have practically disappeared, the annual Mussomelese Feast in honor of Our Lady of Miracles actually improves each year as a living expression of Christian faith and Italian-American culture. It is the largest annual Italian-American religious celebration in Western New York.