Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This may be the last time for La Tavola di San Giuseppe in San José.

From an email I sent a few weeks ago to the San Jose Mercury News:

I am a freelance journalist and photographer, and I hope you can take a look at a story about what might be the last public St. Joseph's Table (La Tavola di San Giuseppe) put on in San José.

It will be held March 19 at 10:30 a.m. at the Italian American Heritage Foundation on 425 North 4th St., San José.

La Tavola di San Giuseppe is an Italian American custom that originated in Sicily. After over 20 years, this may be the last public event of this kind, because the core group of volunteers is in their late 80s!

Hope you can point me to the right editor if you think it could be used.

Best regards,


----------- Article Start -----------------------

St. Joseph’s Table
By Roseanne Therese Sullivan, OCDS

What does St. Joseph have to do with fava beans, fennel, a famine, and Silicon Valley?

All these elements—except the last (more about that later)—are part of a Sicilian custom, La Tavola di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Table), which honors St. Joseph on his feast day, March 19.

At the Italian American Heritage Foundation hall on 425 North 4th St., San José, doors to their St. Joseph Table will open at 10:30 a.m. Wed. March 19 as they have for about 20 years. The event is free and open to the public.

St. Joseph is prominent in area history. In 1777, the first Spanish settlement that later became the first capital of California and the present city of San José was named El Pueblo de San José del Rio de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe—the pueblo of Saint Joseph at the River of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1797, a mission was founded in Fremont and named La Mision del Gloriosisimo Patriarca Señor San José—The Mission of the Most Glorious Patriarch Lord Saint Joseph.

When the Catholic diocese was founded in 1981 in Santa Clara Valley, it too was given his name: Diocese of San José. Of course, Santa Clara Valley is more commonly known these days as Silicon Valley.

Catholics see St. Joseph as a powerful intercessor with God because he was the foster father of Jesus. St. Joseph’s Table originated in Sicily because his intercession is believed to have ended a famine there. St. Joseph’s Table is actually multiple tables loaded with breads, cakes, and cookies in symbolic Christian shapes, such as crosses and staffs. A statue of St. Joseph with the Christ Child stands at the center. Flowers and fruits abound. Gifts to the needy are also part of the tradition. Work to prepare the table is performed as a way to give thanks for favors, make reparation for sins, and ask for future help.

On February 11, I talked about the custom with some second-generation Italian-American grandmothers and great-grandmothers. We met where the ladies gather for coffee after daily Mass, at Rollo’s Doughnuts, across from Holy Cross Church in northside San Jose. Holy Cross started as a mission to Italians in 1906, and many Italians still attend the church.

Eighty-eight year old Mae Ferraro makes arrangements for the Mass that usually is said before the feast. Mae told me that chairperson Rosalie Turturici and volunteers were already at work to prepare and freeze food for the event. The pastor, Fr. Firma Mantovani, C.S., told Mae they cannot say a Mass this year, since the feast falls on the Wednesday of Holy Week, but he will bless the table. Even though the diocese has moved the celebration of the feast to March 15, the group was permitted to host St. Joseph’s Table on the traditional date.

Pauline Ciraulo, Mabel Maninna, and Rose Santanocito spoke about pasta served with a traditional marinara sauce made with fennel (sweet anise), anchovies, and bread crumbs sprinkled on the top. Some say the breadcrumbs symbolize sawdust, because St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because of Lent, no meat is served.

Everyone gets a sack with an orange, and a blessed bun and fava bean. Mae pulled a blessed fava bean out of her purse for me. Pauline told me a few years ago that if you keep one in your wallet, they say you will never run out of money. Rose showed me a card that says if one is in your pantry, you will always have food. The Catholic Church frowns on “lucky charms,” but fava beans can be used in a non-superstitious way, as a reminder to pray.

Several ladies remembered St. Joseph’s Tables in homes. Children, called “the saints,” would dress up as the Holy Family. Mae remembers her brother played Joseph. The three saints would be given a place of honor and a taste of each dish.

Pauline recalled that the saints would knock on doors, and they would be turned away until they reached the third home.

In an interview this week, Chairperson Turturici, another 88 year old, told me that three volunteers are from Santa Clara: Camela Gullo, Bessie Nicocia, and Frances Magio are also in their 80s (“one is 88, and the other is 89”). They worked on “every [table] we have had since Day One.”

Turturici told me, “Every year I’m in a pinch. I decided I could handle it again this year only because my daughter retired and could help me.”

Because the volunteer pool is aging, the custom is in danger of dying out. Four years ago, two groups were still hosting public St. Joseph’s Tables, St. Clare’s Parish in Santa Clara and the Italian American Heritage Foundation. Now only one group is left. If you are interested, this year’s event might be one of your last chances to take part.

Italian American Heritage Foundation
425 North Fourth Street
San Jose, CA 95112
Phone: 408-293 -7122

Below: The Italian Church Ladies in 2005. Rollo’s owner Paul Keonakhone pours coffee for Mae Ferraro, Mabel Maninna, Pauline Ciraulo, Dolores Spada (recently deceased), and Rose Santanocito

For more about Rollo’s see this article.

For more photos from 2005, see this gallery.

Postscript: After receiving my pitch, Mercury News columnist Joe Rodriguez wrote me that he was going to write an article himself. Last Thursday or Friday, he wrote me that he wouldn't be able to get to it, and he gave me the name of Linda Zavoral, another contact at the paper. Encouraged, I tried to pitch the article to her as a freelance piece. She wrote me back and said there was no budget for freelancers any more. Sal Pizarro, Mercury News columnist, wrote and asked me a few questions, since he planned to cover it.

Since I couldn't sell it, I might as well post it here, I thought to myself. So here it is, above. Below is the short piece San Pizarro wrote about the event on March 20.

Sal Pizarro column:
Younger blood needed to keep free feast going [San Jose Mercury News, Calif.]

Mar. 20--Some traditions die hard, and I hope that's the case for the Italian American Heritage Foundation's annual St. Joseph's Table feast.

Volunteers -- led by the family of Rosalie, Sal and June Turturici -- served fish, pasta Milanese and countless Italian pastries and breads to about 300 people Wednesday, which was St. Joseph's Day.

"We're trying to keep this old tradition alive, but I don't see many younger people here," said Rosalie Turturici, who's in her 80s and has been volunteering at the event for years.

The meal's free for anyone who comes through the door -- you don't have to be Italian or Catholic. And any leftovers are donated to shelters.

But the IAHF's Ken Borelli says he's confident the group can keep it going. "We're going to have it again next year no matter what."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Carmelite Spring Retreat at Holy Hill

This past weekend, I attended a Carmelite retreat at San Damiano retreat center on top of a big hill outside the upscale town of Danville. The Franciscans who run the retreat center refer to the place as "Holy Hill" in their newsletter.

It's warmer there than here where I live in San Jose, and though I see a few harbingers of Spring in my yard at home, with the forsythia putting out tentative little yellow flowers on their buff branches,I was happy to find Spring in full bloom in Danville.

The retreat center has a big sprawling garden, with an amorphous fountain in the middle, which didn't impress me much on a couple of earlier retreats I've attended there.

But the timing of this retreat in Mid-March, on Palm Sunday weekend 2008, put us smack dab in the middle of a profusion of blooming red tulips, yellow and orange and white daffodils, purple irises and more. The clumps of flowers along the paths and roads were a delight to the eyes and to the Lent-sobered and winter-weary soul.

The dear retreat director, Fr. Donald Kinney, told us on the first conference on Saturday morning that he woke up that morning "so happy. The sun was shining. It's so like Him!"

He got a fond laugh from everyone at that; he was feeling as we all must have felt that God was blessing us all by pouring down His sunshine on us that beautiful day.

My room had a great view of an oak tree. I'm going to attach a sketch I did, that is is not complete and is not colored, but you can glimpse how nice a vista it was. Imagine that the hills and the leaves and the grasses are colored in a multitude of God's profligate palette of shades of green and that the sky is blue with white clouds. I especially was moved at the sturdy blades of irises poking up through the ground and the tender baby Spring grass.

The top image on this blog is a quick sketch of some tulips I made while waiting in line outside the sacristy for confession.

I almost didn't get to go to the retreat. The morning before, I had called the retreat organizer to see if I could get my deposit back since I was having second thoughts about going, mostly for financial reasons. [I got laid off in January.] He said he would check to see if anyone had given a scholarship for his group. I found a message from him when I got home later that afternoon that said I wouldn't believe it but a woman had just called and said she couldn't make it, and she wanted to give away her room. So I was able to go for only the cost of the deposit after all.

As Rita Donnelly, who rode up with me, said, "God is good." And as Father Donald and my friend Regina said, "God must have wanted you to be there."

What a great start for Holy Week.

BTW, EWTN is advertising their coverage of the Holy Week services from the Vatican with the slogan: "The Week That Changed the World."

That was the title of a book about the Russian revolution. But how much more fitting a title that is for the week that Christ our God in His humanity took on the punishment for our sins. He died in the most degrading humiliating way imaginable. The Mighty God suffered the death of a criminal on a cross! He loved us that much. Thanks be to God for the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.