The City of Hoboken has a long history and shared tradition with the Town of Molfetta, Italy. In the late 1800’s and continuing into the 1900’s, as many people emigrated from southern Italy to the United States, the Molfettese people found Hoboken to be similar to Molfetta in many ways. Both were maritime communities with shipping as the largest industry.
Since the turn of the last century, the Madonna Dei Martiri Feast has been celebrated in some form in the City of Hoboken, with the first Statue of the Madonna arriving in the United States on October 4, 1928. The Hoboken Italian Festival is derived from a festival in Italy that is over 600 years old.
On Wednesday, September 7, 2016, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, in conjunction with the Societa Madonna Dei Martiri, the Juventus Club of Hoboken, and the Federazione Molfettesi d’America officially established an annual Molfetta Day in Hoboken to be celebrated on the final day of the Annual Festival of Madonna Dei Martiri (Hoboken Italian Festival).
“I am proud to officially declare the last day of the festival as Molfetta Day in Hoboken to recognize the traditions and contributions of the people of Molfetta,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer. “We appreciate all that they have done to make Hoboken the great city that it is today.”
Hoboken’s Societa Madonna Dei Martiri was incorporated on October 31, 1927 and was affiliated with St. Ann’s Parish until 1938. In 1950, the Society purchased the property at 332 Adams Street which remains the home of Societa Madonna Dei Martiri to this day.
Over the years the Society’s membership has swelled and contracted but the goal was always to produce the best Feast possible. The decade between the mid-sixties through the late seventies seemed to be the height of popularity. Buses of the Faithful would come to the celebrations. Many dignitaries from Molfetta would come to Hoboken to add to the celebration. These people included mayors, bishops and priests from Molfetta. More recently, we have enjoyed the company of the Papal Nuncio to the United Nations.
During the 1980’s Hoboken was changing and no longer was a first destination for immigrants. The Italian community began to move out to the suburbs and the crowds that were once a certainty no longer could be counted upon. The Feast was traditionally held on Labor Day week-end, which was the unofficial end of summer. Many in the Molfettese Community chose to stay “Down the Shore” thereby diminishing the tradition further. During these years a handful of Societa’ members kept the Tradition going.
In the late 1990’s a few new younger gentlemen began to join the Society, bringing fresh blood with new ideas.
The first changed happened in 1998 when the Feast was changed to the following week after Labor Day. The festival was then moved to Sinatra Drive and promoted as “The Hoboken Italian Festival in honor of Madonna Dei Martiri.” It was hoped that it would attract crowds and sponsors. Trying to be as true to the Feast in Molfetta as possible the Procession went right up to a waiting boat where the statue was loaded along with the faithful and cruised in the Hudson River just like it is does in Molfetta.
Many feel that 1999 was truly a turning point for the Feast, ensuring that it will go on for many years to come. It was estimated that over 45,000 people attended. For the Society, gratification was the enormous turn out of Molfettese who came back. There were many tears of joy. Many times one could hear in the crowd, “I have not seen my Madonna on the water since I was little, back in Molfetta.”
Since that watershed year the festival has grown in success and the Societa’ has enjoyed a rebirth of members ensuring the future of this Beautiful Tradition.