Our Santa Lucia statue is carried from St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church to the Santa Lucia Italian Festival’s procession through downtown Omaha.
POSTED: MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2016 12:00 AM |UPDATED: 10:29 AM, MON JUN 13, 2016.
Members of Omaha’s Little Italy community cheered and cried Sunday as family and friends celebrated the final day of the Santa Lucia Italian Festival at Lewis & Clark Landing.
The four-day festival concluded with members of the Italian-American community walking with an ornate and decorated statue of Santa Lucia through the streets of downtown Omaha.
The festival was originally brought to Omaha in 1925 by the Italian immigrant Grazia Bonafede Caniglia. As more and more Italians built new lives in Omaha, she made it her mission to recreate the Santa Lucia Festival that is celebrated in Sicily. She hoped to give immigrants a strong connection with their former country and deepen their faith in the new land.
Ninety-two years later, the festival is still uniting family members past and present.
A large crowd gathered around St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church at 10th and William Streets as members of the community reflected and remembered.
Festivalgoers included Linda Lehr, who traveled all the way from Arizona to see the procession.
“I was raised in Omaha, but I came back just for this,” Lehr said. “This festival was the most memorable part of my life.”
Carol Cogswell has been attending the festival since she was very young.
“It’s a family tradition,” Cogswell said. “My mother and father took me. It reminds me of them. It’s important that we continue this truly Italian tradition.”
For the first time in three decades, the bells rang at St. Frances Cabrini. The church’s bells fell silent after a water main break in the mid-1980s.
As church members exited, the crowd came to life when the bells rang out strong and clear.
“The bells symbolize the church and its long history,” Cogswell said. “Hearing the bells ring reminds me of when I was young. Forty years ago was the last time I heard them ring.
“I think that the bells allow people to connect with their family. When I hear the bells it makes me feel inspired. It takes me back. But now it makes me feel sad. I think of all those who were before me.”
As the procession began, a band began to play “Santa Lucia.” Community members sang and wiped tears as they burst into song. Confetti cannons and a drumline led the procession as children clapped and waved Italian flags.
Many of those who were raised in the Little Italy community reminisced and conversed with friends and relatives.
“I was raised in this neighborhood. I’m so proud to be here,” Lehr said. “I remember seeing the procession coming down the road, and I would watch it and sit on a Ferris wheel while the operator would stop it for me at the very top. This is memorable for me, to see it one more time.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1304, email@example.com
* * * * *
Correction: This is the 92nd year for the Santa Lucia Italian Festival. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.