October 2 was a beautifully warm early autumn day, and that warmth could also be felt in the hundreds who gathered to celebrate the treasured Italian heritage that is part of Hershey’s rich tapestry of history.
Many Italians immigrated and settled in the Hershey area, where they not only worked in the chocolate industry but also labored in the many limestone quarries that dot the surrounding countryside around the historic town.
To celebrate the Italian Catholic heritage, an Italian festival was held just off Areba Avenue, where various food and drink vendors set up shop to offer exquisite Italian wines and pasta products. Sponsored by the Hershey History Center, the La Festa Italiana drew hundreds to the parish grounds of St. Joan of Arc.
The festival was followed by Holy Mass celebrated by Father Anthony Dill, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Palmyra. He studied in Rome for several years while he was a seminarian, and is able to speak Italian quite fluently. Father Alfred Sceski, pastor of St. Joan of Arc, was the homilist.
“The Italian community here in Hershey was here from the beginning…. They were the backbone of this community. They stuck together, they had a fire in their belly…and it can argued that the reason this town is called the sweetest town on earth is the Italian community,” Father Sceski said.
At the heart of community is family, and that is the heart of the Italian community, Father Sceski said. “Being there for each other, through good and bad, is really what life is all about,” Father Sceski stressed.
That is what this parish community does, which has some 7,000 people in the parish and more than 500 children in its school.
After Mass, a gala was held in the former school’s cafeteria, where Italian cuisine and treats were shared throughout the evening.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness