Statues of saints are processed through the streets of South Philadelphia. (Photo: St. Paul Parish)

Come the third weekend in May, everyone is Italian in South Philly, thanks to the South 9th Street Italian Market Festival. Over two days, the abundance of sights, sounds, and smells rivals the best of cultural celebrations. The jubilation goes well beyond delicious ethic foods to give provisions for the soul.

When the clock strikes 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 19, the Procession of the Saints will again find the twinned parish of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi and St. Paul tending to the prayer-based needs of the greater community.

“It’s such a wonderful way to keep us connected,” Linda Berenato said of the joy that she and sister Cathy Peditto derive from helping St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, the first Catholic Italian parish in the United States, to foster faith. “We were born into this tradition, so we love preserving it.”

The Facebook description of the procession notes that the venture through the Italian Market has existed since at least the 1920s.

In this undated photo, a statue is on display during the Procession of Saints in South Philadelphia. (Photo: Linda Berenato)

Berenato explained that her family has participated in many of the treks that always begin from 712 Montrose Street. The tradition started with her great-grandfather, Luigi DiSanto, owing to his devotion to San Gianuario while growing up in Marsico Nuovo, Italy. Her kin have piously processed with a statue of the saint for decades. The siblings are eager to up their step counts and further their preservation of history once Father Paul Galetto, pastor of St. Paul’s, finishes celebrating 10:00 a.m. Mass.

“It never grows old,” said Peditto. On Monday evening she played a key role in prepping the statues that will comprise the procession. “We always look forward to seeing new faces in the crowd because the day is really for everyone.”

This year, a statue of Saint Rita of Cascia will be added to the lineup of saints.

Given the Augustinian identity of the merged churches in South Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood, Father Galetto said incorporating the statue of Saint Rita, an Augustinian saint known as a healer, reconciler, and peacemaker, made perfect sense. The addition of the saint is timely especially with her upcoming feast day on May 22 that will be celebrated at the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia also located in South Philadelphia.

“She’s [St. Rita of Cascia] definitely earned VIP status,” Father Galetto said.

Once the event has moved beyond the church of St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, whose patron’s feast day is celebrated May 25, it will head to Ninth Street and Washington Avenue for the Blessing of the Italian Market and conclude with Benediction at St. Paul Parish.

Once  festival goers have dispersed and the 20 statues depicting saints such as St. Joseph, St. Pio, and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus have worked their wonders, Berenato and Peditto will turn their attention to an August trip to their great-grandfather’s homeland. Set to participate in its San Gianuario festival, they are thrilled to be doing so 120 years after their relative came to America and gave his stretch of South Philly an appreciation for his favorite saint.

“It’s going to be so humbling to go there,” Berenato said.

“Emotional, too,” Peditto added. “First though, we’re excited to see how our Philadelphia procession goes because it’s been dear to us for generations.”


The Procession of Saints starts at Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi Church located at 712 Montrose Street at 11:00 a.m., Sunday May 19. Learn more about the Italian Market tradition here.