Tradition fuels Norco altar

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 21, 2012



NORCO – Every year since 1985 Norco residents Clara and Tony Perret have opened their home to the community as part of a yearly celebration of the feast of St. Joseph. Following a tradition that dates back centuries, the celebration includes an elaborate altar full of an assortment of foods and other adornments.

“It is in my blood,” said Clara Perret. “There are several great aunts in my family who have always prepared and showcased altars in their own home. I’m carrying on a tradition that goes all the way back to Sicily.”

Perret, 65, said her grandmother and grandfather both emigrated from Sicily, settling in different parts of South Louisiana.

“My grandmother ended up in St. Bernard, but my grandfather, a Barreca, settled here in Norco and tended to farm land where Barreca Street now sits,” Perret said. “Families in Sicily regularly honored St. Joseph, who supposedly saved the region from famine, and that tradition carried with them.”

Perret said her first altar was stocked with food purchased from bakeries in the area, but it didn’t take long for family to realize that many of the adornments could be prepared in house.

“We bought the bread that first year, and my brother, Sal Barreca, came up and immediately told me that he could prepare much of it himself,” she said. “Every year after that, he was responsible for the baking. The only other time we purchased food was the year he passed away.”

Perret said her home altar has always been a family affair, as she has often enlisted the help of brothers, sons, aunts and others. She said it has grown over time, but the devotion has always been present, as many in her family begin preparations as early as January.

She and her husband estimated that more than 600 people were served throughout the weekend.

Perret said the altar often honors family members, friends and others in the community, many of whom come from far and wide to take part in the yearly celebration.

“We have actually had visitors come from as far as Vietnam,” she said. “We have done altars for family and friends who have had loved ones overseas in the military. They have served as a thanksgiving for a safe return home.”

Perret said this year’s altar, the 28th, has been bittersweet, as she has declared it to be her last full-fledged celebration.

“It has just gotten harder and harder on all of us,” said Perret’s sister Francis Barreca.

“I think we will still do something, but it will not be nearly as large,” she added.

The Perrets’ altar concluded Monday, with a block party in front of their home on Mary Street.