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Southern California File

March 11, 1995|ROSANNE KEYNAN

As it has since 1950, a gold figure of the Virgin Mary looks out over the Pacific from atop Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church. Arms outstretched, the statue welcomes seafarers to what used to be the fishing village of San Pedro.

And, although much has changed over the past 45 years, both in the town and at "Mary Star," a handful of parishioners of Italian descent are helping the church preserve the tradition of "St. Joseph's Table," brought to these shores by their forebears, who settled in San Pedro seeking a bountiful catch and a better life.

St. Joseph's Table is an annual ritual of thanksgiving observed on the Sunday closest to the saint's feast day. It will be celebrated at Mary Star beginning at 11:15 a.m. on March 19. Kicking off the festivities will be a musical procession--led by the Knights of Columbus and Joseph Sepia's Los Angeles Italian Band--from the church out into the streets and back again for High Mass. Local youths will take part in a ritual re-enactment of a biblical scene. At a dramatic moment, the crowd will enter the church auditorium, where a free meal for the entire community will be waiting on St. Joseph's Table. Additional food will be distributed to the poor of San Pedro who do not attend.

Los Angeles Times Saturday March 18, 1995 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Metro Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
In last week's Southern California File, an item about the "St. Joseph's Table" feast and celebration Sunday at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church gave an incorrect address for the church. The church is located at 870 W. 8th St., San Pedro.

The gala luncheon commemorates the end of a drought in Sicily in the Middle Ages. Starving peasants prayed to St. Joseph to intercede with God for rain. When their prayers were answered, they vowed never to forget their gratitude.

A statue of St. Joseph is always prominently displayed on the table. Everyone who steps up to view it receives a bag containing a roll and an orange or lemon--symbolizing the food that sustained the Sicilians during the famine.

Leading the cries of "Viva San Giuseppe!" will be Nino Accetta. Now retired, Accetta caught sardines, anchovies and mackerel, as did his father and two brothers, before foreign competition closed the canneries and left commercial fishing vessels to languish in the harbor.

Though Accetta's family hails from Palermo, he says the annual "table" in San Pedro is far from an Italians-only affair. Msgr. Patrick Joseph Gallagher, the Irish-born pastor of Mary Star, concurs. He recalls that his first St. Joseph's procession fell on St. Patrick's Day. "Nino had the band surprise me by striking up 'Wearin' of the Green,' " he chuckled.

Today, many cultures have been absorbed into the church community. Founded in 1889 at another site in San Pedro by Italians and Croatians, Mary Star now has a multiethnic congregation of 6,000 families, about a third of whom are Latino.

Accetta, 70, is a driving force on the informal committee that organizes the meal as a yearly fund-raiser. Last year, he said, the church gave three needy high school students $300 each toward college expenses, "one from San Pedro High, one from our church's high school and one to a seminary student." In addition, the meal raised $1,700 for the church, he said.

"A lot of churches charge for the meal to raise money," Accetta said. "We're sticking with the old tradition and just accept donations." The takings are pure profit, because the "poor man's meal"--featuring such ethnic staples as pasta and calamari salad--is prepared by volunteers. This year, in addition to scholarships, donations will pay for some of the recent repairs made to the statue of Mary, so that it can continue to beckon sailors to safe harbor in San Pedro.

Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church is at 1241 W. 21st Street. (310) 833-3541.


* The Rev. Rosey Grier and the Rev. Susan Stafford will speak on "The Clergy and Issues of Confidentiality" at an 11:45 a.m. luncheon Thursday hosted by Clergy Network in Los Angeles. Last December, Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito ruled that remarks made by O.J. Simpson to Grier in jail need not be revealed in court. Grier, a Christian minister and former professional football player, is the founder of an inner-city youth program. Stafford is a chaplain intern who has worked with AIDS, cancer and leprosy patients. Phone (213) 655-2023 for a complimentary reservation.

* "Pastoral Care in 2001: Is Changing Care Changing Temples and Churches?" is the subject of a Clergy Network luncheon in Reseda at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday. The speaker is the Rev. Bonny Allen Rice, a hospital chaplain. She has worked in a hospice and has trained others in clinical pastoral education. Rice is the founder of "The Compassionate Heart," a seminar that trains lay people in pastoral care. For a complimentary reservation, phone (800) 707-2224.

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