By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,195)
“This church was home. The priest spoke Italian. I could talk to him,” said Salvatore Raia, an elder at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 72 Federal Street. The sanctuary came from Italy and the stations of the cross did also. The Church was built in 1929 and accommodates about 700 people, Raia continued. When he was 17 years old, he left Naples, Italy to join some of his family who already lived in another section of Portland. The occasion for our conversation was the 87th St. Peter’s Festival. Raia was serving as the unofficial church greeter and historian for the 2 l/2 day Festival. It began on Friday evening with its annual 4 mile race around the Hill.
Prior to 1910, Italian immigrants to Portland”s “Italian Quarter,” were given permission to practice their faith in Italian in an upper floor at the nearby Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Soon thereafter, immigrants were permitted to transform a stable, on Federal Street, into a chapel. The renovation cost $2,799. and was completed on December 22, 1911. This is considered the start of St. Peters Church, Federal Street. The church grew enormously. By the late 20s, it had outgrown its 100 seat capacity chapel. A building drive was begun for a larger church. The new St. Peter’s Church was dedicated on August 17, 1929.
St. Peter’s was built by donations from the community it served. It was the center of the lives of most families in “Little Italy,” as the commununity around it was called. In 1971, a Federal Street store owner, Dominick Taliento approached home owners on Federal Street (opposite the church) and asked them to sell their propeties. He wanted to build a shopping center there. *Trudy De Rice, whose grandmother owned the house at 83 Federal Street, where she and many family members lived, recalled yesterday at the Festival how the multiple Federal Street home owners and some on Hampshire Street sold to Taliento and he built his shopping center. Those families relocated elsewhere in Portland. It is where Rite-Aid is now located. Although many Italian families have left the area, many return for this annual Festival. They wouldn’t miss it. Councilor Nick Mavadones lived in the area briefly and returned for the Festival as he always does.
They wouldn’t miss the famous cannolis, meatball subs, sausage and pasta fagoli to name just a few of the attractions at the 87th Annual St. Peter’s Catholic Church Festival. According to the ladies who prepared the cookies and cannolis, it took seventy (70) dozen eggs to make thousands of them. And about 60 volunteers to make them.
Please see post dated August 14, 2009 for more on the 4 mile race on the Hill.