HAMMONTON - Angela Donio, of Hammonton, has been walking in the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Procession for 48 of the event's 138 years, she said as she accompanied a float carrying Our Lady of Grace on a three-mile walk through town Tuesday.
The first time she walked behind St. Jude's statue, she said, she prayed to become a mother. She and her husband had tried for years to become parents, without conceiving.
"The next year I was pushing a baby carriage," she said. She has only missed one procession in all those years, and that was because she was giving birth to her third son, Gabe.
Her firstborn is now Father Frank Donio, who lives near Washington, D.C. He was followed by three more sons, John, Gabe and Jim. John is in real estate in Wildwood, she said, while Gabe publishes The Hammonton Gazette weekly newspaper and Jim is president of the Eagle Theatre.
The procession caps a weeklong Our Lady of Mount Carmel Italian Festival, sponsored by the nonprofit Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society. It raises money for Hammonton's Saint Mary of Mount Carmel Parish and pays tribute to Mary, said Society President Lou J. Pantalone.
Many of the hundreds of spectators lining the 3-mile route, holding handfuls of currency to pin to the saints, had longstanding connections to the event.
Mari Mancini, of Manahawkin in Stafford Township, came to the procession with her mother, who grew up in Hammonton. Mancini was showing the procession to her son Nick, 8. He would take dollar bills up to each float or wheeled cart as it passed, holding a saint.
"I've been coming here since I was younger than him,"Mancini said of Nick. "I try to keep the tradition."
Walking with St. Lucy, the patron saint of eyes and vision, were Maria Guglietti, of Deptford, whose husband, Albert, has serious vision problems, and Betty Mitidieri, of Hammonton, who has vision issues of her own.
"I'm devoted to her," Mitidieri said. "I've been doing this 10 years."
Helping them push the cart holding the statue were St. Joseph High School students and football players Max Buerklin, a junior, and Michael Munyon, a senior. Both are from Williamstown.
St. Joseph students were helping push many of the statues, said school spokeswoman Anne Liberto.
That included Emily DeMarco, a senior from Hammonton who was also tweeting photos and information about the more than two-hour procession as she walked.
The Mount Carmel Society Band, Hammonton High School Band and La Banda Verdi of Norristown, Pa., provided music as they walked.
Downtown merchants provided seating for spectators along Bellevue Avenue, but only the seats on the shady side were full, as temperatures remained close to 90 degrees even in the late afternoon.
Hammonton's Mary Klein, who converted to Catholicism when she married decades ago, knew where to go to find shade along Third Street outside of St. Joseph Church.
She always gives to the final float, which carries Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Blessed Mother Mary. She also gives to St. Anthony, she said, because he is the patron saint of lost things, and St. Jude, who is the patron saint of the impossible.
"That's always good," she said.
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