HISTORY OF ST. ROCCO’S PARISH
During the turn of the twentieth century immigrants from the small village of Guardia Lombardi located in the province of Avellino, Italy came to settle in the Bunker Hill section of Dunmore, Pennsylvania. They brought with them their deeply rooted spirit of sacrifice, courage, strength, and faith. These admirable traits became the Corner stone for the foundation of the Bunker Hill community.
To try to write a complete history of the parish and the people of St. Rocco’s would be difficult since records are not available.
St Rocco’s Church was organized by a group of men who resided in this Bunker Hill section, calling themselves the “Society of the Congregation of St. Rocco’s Church”. Funds were solicited from some forty families who comprised the founding congregation.
The church was purchased from the Presbyterians by the society. For approximately 17 years various priests from the diocese ministered to the spiritual needs of the people of the parish. In 1922 St Rocco’s received its first resident pastor, with the parish increasing to one hundred forty five families. Currently there are approximately 300 families that make up the parish.
In January 1999 tragedy struck St Rocco’s. A fire broke out a short time before Saturday evening Mass, causing extensive damage to the interior. It was during this heartbreak that true spirit of the Guardiesi came through. Displaying the faith and closeness of their ancestors, parishioners rallied together to save St. Rocco’s. The various damages to the church, which were not covered by insurance, were taken care of by “anonymous parishioners”.
While the church was being repaired, daily and weekend masses were held in the basement of the church. Despite the extensive smell of smoke and fire while the church was being repaired and cleaned, Fr Anthony Tombasco, (affectionately known as Father Tom), St. Rocco’s pastor for many years, held Mass before a “packed basement” every week. By Easter things were back to normal at St Rocco’s.
The Festival of St Rocco is a tradition that was brought over from Guardia Lombardi by the ancestors of the Parish. This is held to the closest weekend prior to August 16th, which is the feast day of St Rocco. The festival is a three-day event with the highlight being the Procession, which is held after an afternoon Mass. The procession conducted for over 80 years, winds through the streets of the borough’s Bunker Hill section. It takes place on the last day of the festival (Sunday) where the men of the parish carry Statues of St. Rocco, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. Along the 1-½ mile procession route several stops are made so that people may pay homage to the statues representing the saints and the Blessed Mother and make monetary offerings. During the early days the widows of the parish would pin what little jewellery they possessed to the banners of the saints as a sacrifice. Many of these same women would march barefoot in the procession as a sign of their devotion. Even though this practice faded in the early 1960’s, as the early generations of immigrants slowly passed away, over 1000 people still march. After the procession, Benediction is held in the church and worshipers may be blessed with a relic of St. Rocco. The format has changed very little since St Rocco’s Parish was founded. Afterwards parishioners and non-parishioners alike congregate in the church basement where Italian dinners are served, or on the church grounds where various Italian delicacies are served such as Pizza Fritta, sausage and peppers etc. and a variety of Italian deserts that can be accompanied by an espresso or cappuccino. The Feast of St Rocco is well known through out the surrounding areas because of the hard work and cooperation of the people along with the procession held in honour of its patron saint.