Omaha’s Santa Lucia Festival was founded in 1925 by Grazia Bonafede Caniglia. The mother of six immigrated to the United States from Carlentini, Sicily in 1900. She had a deep faith, walking from Sixth & Pierce Streets at five every morning to say her prayers at nearby St. Philomena Catholic Church (now St. Frances Cabrini).
Grazia & Rosario Caniglia
As more and more Italians built new lives in Omaha, Grazia made it her mission to recreate Carlentini’s Santa Lucia Festival, to give immigrants a strong connection with their former country, and deepen their faith in the new land.
Omaha’s Santa Lucia Festival is one of three organizations supported by the Italian Community. Omaha’s Sons of Italy was formed in 1926, originally as the Benito Mussolini Lodge. The American Italian Heritage Society. formed in 1980, sponsors La Festa Italiana each September.
The Carlentinesi officially dedicated their town to Santa Lucia in 1621. Several stories emerged naming the exact spot where Lucia rested during a pilgrimage to Catania to visit the tomb of Saint Agata. In Via Porta Agnone, an olive tree stood until the 1940s called in Sicilian the “U peri aliva ri S. Lucia”. Its oil fueled a lamp at the shrine to Santa Lucia on that spot. Today, the tree is gone, but the shrine remains.
Today, the festa at Carlentini is as strong as ever despite some recent hardships. On the night of Santa Lucia’s feast day – December 13, 1990 – an earthquake struck very close to Carlentini that killed 17 people and left 15,000 homeless. Even though it had been almost a century since the Carlentinesi had immigrated to Omaha, the community rallied to raise money for their relief through St. Frances Cabrini parish.
In Sicily the Santa Lucia Festival is a great time, not only for fun and food, but mostly for spiritual renewal.
The annual Mass for Santa Lucia is held at Chiesa Madre Church in Carlentini. Visit Their Page Here.