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New London — In 1929, Marianna Dipollina gave birth to her youngest daughter, and the infant was gravely ill.
Every day for a year, Dipollina prayed to the Virgin Mary to let her child live. If Mary would only help her, Dipollina would be forever in her debt, said her granddaughter, Cheryl Shaw, of East Longmeadow, Mass.
That prayer was part of what led to the Feast of the Assumption in New London. Dipollina, her husband and others in the Italian community organized the first “feast” in 1930, which honors the assumption of Mary into heaven.
On Sunday, hundreds attended an open-air Mass at 9:30 a.m. at Fort Trumbull.
Shaw wiped away tears as a young woman sang “Ave Maria.”
“It just brings me closer to my grandmother and my mother,” she said. “I feel it when I drive into New London. I’m so full of emotion.”
This is the first year the Mass has been held outside. Tony D’Angelo, whose grandfather was among the event’s founders, said he wanted to give the feast new life.
“We’re just trying to bring it back a little bit,” said D’Angelo, owner of Tony D’s Restaurant in New London.
Traditional dollar bill donations
Monsignor Robert L. Brown, chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich, gave the homily, which was also delivered by the Rev. Joseph Castaldi in Italian. Pastors from St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Joseph Church and the parochial vicar of St. Joseph Church participated.
After the service, people marched in a procession behind a statue of Mary, pulled on a cart. The statue would wind its way to St. Joseph Church for a blessing of the sick, then return to Fort Trumbull. People stuck dollar bills on the statue before it left.
“That’s part of the Italian tradition — to give a gift,” said Bob DelPaine, of New London. The money goes to the church and charity, he said.
DelPaine has attended the festival for years.
“To me, personally, the symbol of Mary gives people hope when there is no hope. It’s a mother’s unconditional love,” he said.
Preparing a community feast
As the statue departed, D’Angelo prepared for a massive afternoon picnic at the Fort. He and others cooked sausage and peppers, roasted chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, and made potato salad and Italian-style tomatoes with red wine vinegar, basil, parsley and red onion.
He had 100 pounds of sausage and 600 pieces of chicken.
“We can’t be short, you know?” he said.
Jordan Pezzello, of New London, attended with her husband and daughters, ages 4 and 1. “It just brings the community together,” she said. “It makes it special for everybody to get together.”