Peter Brunelli will miss the Feast of St. Rocco. Like many in Franklin, he's attended every festival since 1978.
FRANKLIN – Nobody knows better than Peter Brunelli why the Feast of St. Rocco ends tonight after a 40-year run.
“People get older,” Brunelli said while seated Saturday under a tent to shield him from a steady drizzle. Brunelli, 78, is a long-time co-chairman of the festival, and he’s been to all 40 of them. He grew up in Franklin, still lives there, and said there just aren’t enough volunteers anymore to keep the event going.
It all started in 1978, when the Rev. Michael Guarino wanted a community celebration at St. Mary's Parish modeled after a traditional Italian festival. Guarino noticed a statue of St. Rocco on the parish grounds, and decided it would be the inspiration for the festival.
St. Rocco is the patron saint of healing, and the statue still stands on grounds across the street from the parish. Ribbons in the colors of the Italian Flag hung on it Saturday, and dollar bills were pinned to the ribbons, a festival tradition.
A second statue of St. Rocco will be placed next to the permanent one during tonight’s closing Mass, the official end of the festival’s four-decade run. That second statue sits in St. Mary’s Parish, and parishioners carry it in a procession to the field across the street where the permanent statue stands.
Tom McGovern manned a table Saturday in front of the permanent statue. He opened a festival program that had him listed as Chairman of the Statue, which means he was in charge of watching over it.
“It’s sad,” McGovern said of this being the festival’s final year. “It’s time to change things. To keep it going, we need more people from the parish (to volunteer).”
The festival offers a wide variety of food, plenty of activities for children, and raises money for the parish. The best fundraising year took in $60,000, according to Tom Curran, who helped man this year’s lemonade stand. The worst was $30,000.
“It’s a tragedy it’s ending,” Curran, 71, said when he stopped to chat while holding two bags of sugar intended for the lemonade stand. “It’s completely understood. Today’s generation doesn’t live the same lives. Wives work, husbands hold three jobs. They just don’t have time (for the festival).”
The Forte family had time to volunteer Saturday. John, Candace and their daughter, Alicia, helped out at the pizza stand. John and Candace said they started volunteering at the festival when they started dating 36 years ago.
Alicia Forte, 30, was visiting from her home in Florida. She’s one of the exceptions to Brunelli’s statement that children of the original volunteers move away, and don't come back to work the festival.
“It’s sad. It’s a big family event,” Alicia Forte said. “But, I understand. You can’t keep doing it forever.”
“I’m going to miss it,” Candace Forte said. “There’s going to be a big void next year.”
Brunelli wore a Feast of St. Rocco T-shirt, and held court under the tent, surrounded by a group of volunteers, who all appeared to be teenagers. They hung on Brunelli’s every word as he told stories of festival’s past.
Like the one of Brunelli carrying the St. Rocco statue in the closing procession 40 years ago.
“I’m going to miss the people,” Brunelli said, reflecting on the fact that the final moments of the last festival are closing in. “I miss them already.”
Henry Schwan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-626-3964 or follow him on Twitter @henrymetrowest.