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Feast of St. Rocco in Glen Cove shows change, power of tradition

The St. Rocco statue rises above attendees at

The St. Rocco statue rises above attendees at the festivities in Glen Cove on Sunday. Credit: David Handschuh

Four decades ago, parishioners steadied the patron statue on their shoulders at the annual Feast of St. Rocco in Glen Cove. This year, 13 volunteers took turns hauling the nearly 5-foot-tall clay statue in a hand-drawn cart through the city. 

More than 150 people came out to pray and pay their respects to St. Rocco, the patron saint of the sick, along the mile-and-a-half-long procession on Sunday, the final day of the five-day event. After morning Mass, clergy from the Church of St. Rocco, which sponsors the event, and the nearby St. Patrick's Catholic Church led the march and doled out blessings to neighbors who waited outside their homes.

“My family has been holding the Italian flag during the procession for three generations,” said Michael Medugno, 68, of Glen Cove, who said his grandfather helped build the Church of St. Rocco.

While the feast now in its 43rd year has evolved over the decades, it keeps alive a tradition that draws thousands to Glen Cove every summer.

“A lot of old people have passed,” said Angie Basile, 77, who has volunteered since the festival was relaunched in its current form in the 1970s.

The route has changed over the years based on where Italian Catholics lived, organizers said. The procession that used to pass through the city's Orchards neighborhood now bypasses that section of Cedar Swamp Road near Grove Street.

Basile, a Glen Cove resident, recalled hand-building the booths that house the festival’s games and rides that attract people in droves. That task, which would take volunteers the entire day, is now completed in a few hours by professional builders.

The food, steeped in Italian history, has changed, too.

Now, outside vendors make zeppole in food trucks. Event chairwoman Angie Colangelo remembers when church veterans fried zeppole on-site, sometimes in sweltering weather.

“When we started, the older parishioners brought big silver pots filled with oil,” Colangelo said. “They’d throw the dough in, fry them and they would pull them out with these big scoopers.”  

Keeping with tradition, about a dozen Nonnas — the Italian word for grandmothers — served up spoonfuls of veal parmesan, manicotti and cavatelli with broccoli rabe to 14,000 people over five days. Since Wednesday, visitors have flooded the Madonna House, the church's annex, for pasta and other Italian treats. The annex was built in 1991 with proceeds from past feasts, Colangelo said. 

The Nonnas, with chef Arturo Gomes, prepared 7,000 meatballs, 2,300 chicken cutlets, 150 pounds of portobello mushrooms and 75 trays of lasagna, said youth minister Luigi Greco, who helped to coordinate the 89 youth volunteers.

"It’s the most authentic you can get," said attendee James Matthews, of Glen Cove, as he ate pasta. "It’s just like family dinner."

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