Kansas City’s oldest St. Joseph Table tradition returns | KCUR 89.3

Prior to St. Joseph’s Day, the pews at Holy Rosary Catholic Church are already full – but not with people.

Instead, tens of thousands of cookies and decorations pack the parish in preparation for what is said to be the original St. Joseph Board in Kansas City.

“It’s friendship,” says 78-year-old Gloria Pizzichino, whose mother began the tradition of the Holy Rosary more than six decades ago. “It’s our whole friendship and seeing the people we grew up with because all ages come. The young, the old – we all know each other and we get together at this time of year and look forward to it.”

St. Joseph – the husband of the Virgin Mary, the earthly father of Jesus Christ and the patron saint of the Sicilians – has special significance for people of Italian heritage in Kansas City.

According to the Catholic Church, the original St. Joseph table (or altar) once in the Middle Ages, when the island of Sicily suffered from drought and famine. After praying to St. Joseph for intercession, the rains came and their crops prospered. To thank him, the community gave food—grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, and wine—and shared with the poor.

To celebrate the blessing, people prepare tables of food in honor of St. Joseph every year on his feast day, March 19.

That tradition still looms large in Columbus Park, a historic Italian-American community where, in 1960, organizers say Holy Rosary was the first in the area to bring St. Joseph table celebrations outside the home and into the church.

Beautifully in the middle of Lent, St. The Joseph table has since evolved into a weekend-long fundraiser with Italian cookies sold by the box: thumbprints, fig cookies, ravasanie, tri-colors, sesame seeds and snowballs.

And on Sunday, hundreds of congregants and neighbors will come through to partake in a pasta Milanese that stretches for most of the day.

Savannah Hawley-Bates


KCUR 89.3

Holy Rosary Catholic Church was founded in 1891. The church began hosting a St. Joseph table in 1960.

Mary Fasone and Rose Guastello were two of the women who first brought the table to the Holy Rosary, a community that dates back to 1891.

At the time, Fasone’s daughters, Pizzichino and Linda Lipari, were 14 and 4, respectively.

“(Fasone) and several of the ladies in the neighborhood used to have the tables in their homes,” Pizzichino said. “It became so difficult for people to go from house to house that some of the ladies of the parish got together and decided to do it in the church. So all the ladies would bake their special cake and bring it to church.”

As Fasone and Guastello grew older and retired from the table, Pizzichino and Lipari vowed to keep the tradition going.

Although Fasone died nearly two decades ago, Guastello died in 2018, and the daughters moved out of Columbus Park, Pizzichino and Lipari return to Holy Rosary every year to organize the table in their place.

Covering St. Joseph’s table

A pastry shaped like a fish lies in a box.

Savannah Hawley-Bates


KCUR 89.3

On a traditional St. Joseph table, there are displays of food, flowers, cookies and candles. There will be fish, but no meat on the table, as the feast day is in Lent.

Like many religious traditions around the country, Holy Rosary’s St. Joseph Table – cookie sales and all – suddenly in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s lockdown order came just days before the celebrations were set to begin.

“We lost a lot of people and friends and we were all really scared,” Lipari said. Now 68 years old, Lipari has been volunteering for decades. “I mean, we were ready to open up and we had to shut it all down that year. The table was up, we got all the cookies made. It was the beginning of COVID and all the churches said, ‘No , we have to shut it down.’

The Holy Rosary leaped over the celebration of St. Joseph’s Day in 2021 and offered a scaled-down version last year. So this is the first year the church can welcome visitors back to the full festivities – with some changes to the traditions.

The towering table, filled with symbolism, is now inside the main sanctuary instead of its historic place in the nearby Scalabrini Hall.

With a large part of the church altar, the three-story display, this year covered in purple fabric, represents the Holy Trinity. At the top sits a statue of St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus. Breadcrumbs and pasta on the table represent the sawdust on the floor in St. Joseph’s carpentry workshop.

Boxes filled with cookies have a label that says Holy Rosary Church and shows a picture of St.  Joseph with the baby Jesus

Savannah Hawley-Bates


KCUR 89.3

The volunteers at Hellig Rosenkrans prepare tens of thousands of cookies to be sold to St. Joseph’s Day. The Italian cookies are part of a fundraiser to help those in need.

Fava beans are placed on the altar for good luck and the table is filled with cookies and bread shaped to represent religious iconography such as the cross, the Holy Family.

Gina Mandacina grew up coming to the table with her mother and helping when she could.

“I adored these ladies,” Mandacina said. “I thought they were the end all, be all. When I made things at home, I tried to make everything look like the St. Joseph table. Whatever I did, I wanted it to look like something I was looking at the table.”

Now Mandacina helps make sure everything is arranged just right. She bakes sugar cookies in the shape of a cross, which Pizzichino decorates with icing flowers before placing them on the table – which is also decorated with real flowers.

Although the arrangement changes each year, it always features palm fronds and lilies, representing purity and the Easter season. The exhibition is largely thanks to Francesca Cuccia, who became involved in the celebration of the Holy Rosary more than ten years ago.

“Gloria tells me what color scheme we’re going with and then we just go with it,” Cuccia said. “Everything is last minute, of course, because the fresh flowers have to stay fresh. (I love) the camaraderie of putting it all together and then being here that day and seeing how beautifully it all comes together.”

‘Change sometimes is good’

Under a painting of an older St.  Joseph holding the baby Jesus is a stainless steel table filled with individual packages of bread crumbs.  Next to the breadcrumbs are a few pints of red sauce and packages of spaghetti noodles.  A woman in blue stands next to the table and puts all three ingredients into a package.

Savannah Hawley-Bates


KCUR 89.3

Under a painting of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus prepare Antoinette Quarrato to-go set with Holy Rosary pasta Milanese dinner. It is the first time in three years that the church is able to hold its communal dinner on the occasion of Saint Joseph’s Day. But the to-go kits, a holdover from COVID-19, were so popular that the church continues to sell them.

Although the Holy Rosary event only lasts about three days, it takes about six weeks and more than 50 volunteers to put it all together.

When the sale starts, the women will have baked more than 30,000 individual cookies. Some bring the same Italian recipes year after year, giving them well-deserved fame.

“About three days a week you just come and sit down and start talking and rolling cookies,” says 80-year-old volunteer Antoinette Quarrato. “If somebody sees you do something, it’s ‘No, do it this way,’ and they’ll tell you what to do. After you’ve done it for a while, you’ll probably get comfortable and you can go into the kitchen the next year or wherever you need it. When we go in that day, we do what needs to be done.”

Quarrato, who is Mandacina’s mother, has been surrounded by the tradition since she was a girl – like many of the organizers, Quarrato participated in old-fashioned that the Holy Rosary long operated next door (it closed in 1991).

More recently, Quarrato has been packing to-go kits of Milanese pasta, which debuted in 2022 when Holy Rosary couldn’t offer their traditional sit-down meal but still wanted to provide a Sunday feast. The to-go kits were so popular that the church decided to keep selling them along with the cookies.

Colorful cookies shaped like a cross, a heart and grapes sit on top of boxes.

Savannah Hawley-Bates


KCUR 89.3

Muscardini cookies, with their colorful dough shaped into crosses and hearts, are filled with figs and ready to be served.

76-year-old Tina Ciarlelli is a second-generation volunteer after helping her mother, Rosalie George, prepare the famous Milanese sauce.

“We all grew up here, went to school here, got married here, baptized here, everything here,” Ciarlelli said. “This was it. This is where we lived. So even though we moved out, we remained part of the Holy Rosary. Once you come down, you don’t leave. If you have a talent, you sit firm.”

George is turning 97, and while she still helps with the table and cookie making, the task of preparing the Sunday sauce has been passed down to Cuccia’s father, Johnny Caracci. Many in the neighborhood say the sauce recipe is a closely guarded secret, but Ciarlelli says there’s nothing mysterious — just different ways to prepare it.

“They’re all the same ingredients, but everyone does it differently,” Ciarlelli said. “It’s all good, is the bottom line. It’s all delicious. Change sometimes is good.”

Metal shelves hold up to a thousand boxes of various cookies.

Savannah Hawley-Bates


KCUR 89.3

More than 50 volunteers spend six weeks baking the famous Italian cookies for the celebration of the Holy Rosary of St. Joseph’s Day. When the sale starts, they will have made more than 30,000 cookies.

After weeks of preparation, the finished St. Joseph table to be blessed during 16.00 mass on Saturday 18 March. It will be on display from 8.00-17.00 Sunday 19 March, St. Joseph’s Day.

The sale of cookies is already underway and ends on Sunday at 15. The traditional pasta dinner, which comes with cannolis and cookies, will be served again for the first time in three years at Scalabrini Hall on Sunday, from 11.00-17.00

All the money from the festivities goes to the local Catholic diocese, which will distribute it to the needy.

“I love the finished product, I’m always in awe of the table,” Mandacina said. “Everyone comes and gathers, eats together – the whole tradition is beautiful. The good thing about it all is that everything goes to the poor. So everyone can be happy and come together, and we help other people at the same time.”

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