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Celebrating 100 years of Palumbo Mass

By Jeanne Pechmann

Most of us won’t remember the article in the St. Paul paper about the tragedy that has affected our family since 1923. A man was killed and another injured in a cave-in at an excavation site at University Ave. and Griggs Ave. by the City Water Department.

The man who was killed was my uncle, Dan Palumbo. He was not supposed to work that day, but agreed to check on a water department problem underground. There was a cave-in and he didn’t survive. He was 28 years old and left behind a wife and two small children. It was December 20, 1923, five days before Christmas.

But there wasn’t any “Christmas” that year for his mom, dad and siblings at the family home on Chestnut St. in St. Paul; just unbearable pain and despair.

Thus our story begins.

Palumbo’s parents and siblings, (standing left to right) Joe, Louie, Pat, Chuck, (sitting) Evie, Minnie, his mother Philomena, father Antonio and Femie, circa 1952.

The funeral Mass was said by Monsignor Louis F. Pioletti at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church (now part of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Complex).

That first year after Mass, it was too painful just to leave and go home. So over the next few years they went to Dan’s sisters’, either Minni’s or Evie’s homes, for coffee and donuts. With seven siblings and families of their own, those homes became too small for the larger gathering. It became necessary to gather for a potluck in a church with a basement.

Father Thomas J. Pingatore followed Father Pioletti at officiating the next Masses for many years. 

Now, for the last several years, Father John Forleti has said the Masses at St. Stanislaus Church. He always blesses all past and present members of the Palumbo and extended family. Then he blesses all the food before we eat.

Each year, a different family makes the arrangements with Father John for the readings, lector and Eucharistic Ministers. That family then hosts the potluck, from set up to clean up. The next family knows it’s “their turn” next year. Everyone knows that December is the Palumbo Mass. 

The tradition has been going on for 100 years this December.

Leaving after eating is the hardest part. It will be another year before we see each other again. But now we hug, smile, reminisce, laugh and hug some more. We rejoice in the new babies, see how the children are older, bigger and not children anymore. Eyes mist over for those who are not present due to death or failing health. Then we hug some more and say goodbye once more and leave the church. That’s the hardest.

The first and second generations are gone. Dan’s mother, father, wife, sisters and brothers are all gone. The little house on Chestnut St. is gone. But the third generation continues (even with COVID). We always have 100-120 family members for Mass and potluck.

This December, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the annual Palumbo Mass. Uncle Dan has kept us together for family, faith and food. It’s tradition.

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