Recreation of St. Joseph Altar at Graham-Ginestra House

Recreation of St. Joseph Altar at Graham-Ginestra House


This year, Graham-Ginestra House, 1115 S. Main St., Rockford, will host a recreation of the 1928 altar of Leonard and Mary Ginestra. The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 17 at the house with free admission.

At one time, in this lively business and cultural center of Rockford’s Italian community, many homes celebrated St. Joseph’s Feast with their own altar. The custom dwindled down, and a few Rockford homes continued the tradition. In 1989, Graham-Ginestra House resumed the annual altars; this year is very special in that, working from an old 1928 photograph, an original altar will be displayed.

According to legend, the St. Joseph Altar originated in Sicily many centuries ago during a period of drought and famine. In desperation, the people turned to St. Joseph, asking his help and intercession. When the rains came and the crops prospered, their prayers had been answered. In thanksgiving, the community made offerings to St. Joseph of their most prized possession—food. In his honor, they erected a lovely altar, with three levels to represent the Holy Trinity.

This year, the altar will be draped with original, white linen cloths. Mary Ginestra first used these lovely lines, crocheted with cherubs, in the 1920s. Decorations include flowers and symbols of faith. Bread sculptures, lamb cakes, pastry swans, fava beans and many other specialties are being prepared lovingly by the Graham-Ginestra volunteers, truly labors of love and thanksgiving. Therese Ginestra Schmeltzer, daughter of Leonard and Mary Ginestra, will be on hand to share memories of her parents’ altars and home.

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