A tradition dating back to the Middle Ages in Christianity has a legacy of its own in Orange.
However, this past weekend at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, a group of women and men put a new spin on St. Joseph’s Day and its St. Joseph Altar.
“This year, because of the suffering in Ukraine, we have dedicated the altar to peace efforts,” said Cathy Blanda Brittain.
She pointed to a framed icon of “Our Mother of Perpetual Help,” a depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.
Brittain said many in the congregation had watched videos in recent days of Ukrainians, their towns and homes demolished by attacking Russian missiles, bombs and tanks, praying before similar “Mother of Perpetual Help” iconography. .
“We all agreed on a small handful of sunflowers (the national flower of Ukraine) and her this year as a special intention for peace in Ukraine,” said Geralyn Blanda Vine, looking at the “Mother Perpetual Help” framed in gold.
It was the 22nd annual “Labor of Love” of church members who joined together to create the St. Joseph Altar and accompanying meal.
Nearly two dozen women and half of the men woke up early Saturday to put the finishing touches on Sunday’s party.
Saint Joseph’s Day is an Italian tradition that began in Sicily to honor Saint Joseph, Mary’s husband and patron saint of the needy, for answering prayers by bringing rain to end a famine in the Middle Ages.
The altar is an elaborate series of tables covered with breads, cakes, cookies, fruits and nuts, flowers, figurines and icons.
The meal is “traditional Italian,” Vine said, “things like fried eggplant casserole, roasted artichoke salad and bread, Italian white bread and herb bread.”
And, according to tradition, the leftovers are shared with the less fortunate.
Vine says not everyone who helps is a member of St. Mary’s, and not everyone is a member of the Blanda and Lucia families.
It’s just like that.
When Vine and Brittain were growing up, many Catholic families in Orange installed St. Joseph altars in their family homes. They are believed to bring good fortune.
Bonnie Backer, among those who helped out on Saturday, had a photo of her parents, Mickey and Mary Blanda, in front of the St. Joseph altar in the house she grew up in.
Brittain has been leading the St. Joseph celebration since 2017.
Carmen Lucia takes care of the altar decorations, Vine takes care of the cookie detailing, Glenda Lucia and Margaret Duchamp take care of the meals, Jo Ann Waguespack takes care of the waiters and Johnny Lucia takes care of the facilities.
The Knights of Columbus men “do the cooking, under the direction of Glenda,” Vine said.
The preparation begins almost a month before the meal, preparing the dough. The cooking started on Friday.
“It takes a village,” said Carmen Lucia.
“It’s an important community effort,” Vine said. “It’s a tradition.”