SHENANDOAH — It is a sight that for generations has been a tradition in Schuylkill County.
The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel statue was carried through the streets of Shenandoah, along with a band and church members with candle houses.
But this year’s journey was a special mix of celebration and mourning.
After a century of Schuylkill County summers, this is last time the beloved icon will be carried through the streets of the community.
Soon its namesake, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel church will close, part of a parish consolidation in Shenandoah.
Carla Knittle’s eyes teared up as she saw the procession moving away, a lifetime of memories in her mind.
Knittle said, “The church and God, it is just everything wrapped up into one. It is wonderful, but it is also sad.”
Walking in the parade, Karen Cicioni and her relatives took turns wearing candle hats that represent the trip their ancestors made from Italy, and the church that became their coal country home.
Cicioni said, “It is a very sad day, for all of us, and it means a lot, that we are all able to be here and give honor.”
All along the route of the parade, households have their own rituals, many involving food.
The Damatos always put out drinks for the crowd. This year their sign said, “Thanks for the memories.” Members of their family came all the way from Maryland to uphold the tradition.
Kathy Lesko recalls, “We would carry trays out, no matter what the weather, rain, shine, hot, cold, it didn’t matter, that was our gift to them for their gift to us, having the procession.”
Dominic Cartella would usually put out a spread, but not this year. A fire damaged his home in 2013, he only moved back in three weeks ago.
Cartella said, “It was like being reborn again, we’re back! We’re back!”
While the family was not ready to cook the annual feast, the red, white, and green bunting got up, and the family got here, just in time to see “their” lady one last time.
Cartella said while holding back tears, “There are no words to explain what it meant to see that saint pass this house for the last time. It’s our grandparents, our parents it’s our children, it’s everything.”
The festival featured food, music, and games continued until 9p.m. Sunday evening, followed by fireworks at 9:30p.m.
The final mass is scheduled for Sunday, July 27 in Schuylkill County.