Olivia Donald didn’t set out to be a “princess” – she simply wanted to learn more about her Sicilian heritage when she entered a contest for the annual Madonna del Lume celebration in San Francisco. Nonetheless Donald, selected from a pool of 13 other young women, is this year’s Princess chosen to help bless the fishing fleet during the week-long celebration come October.
For the thousands of Sicilian-Americans in the Bay Area, the Madonna del Luma celebration is a way to celebrate their ancestry in advance of the annual Italian Heritage parade in the city’s North Beach neighborhood. The celebration dates back to 1700’s Sicily, when a group of fisherman from the tiny village of Ponticello lost their way and prayed to the Madonna del Lume, or Madonna of the Light, to help them fine their way home. According to the legend, the fishermen’s prayers were answered when a light suddenly appeared in the sky and guided them safely back to shore.
Ever since, the Madonna del Lume has been regarded as the patron saint of fishermen and Sicilians have been gathering every October to pay homage to her and to honor the lives of fishermen who weren’t quite so lucky.
Family friend Tony Alioto has been a member of the Madonna del Lume Society for years and relayed the information about the contest to the Donald family. “This isn’t a beauty contest. Olivia is a very talented singer and dancer and was chosen based on those things as well as on her academic merit,” said Alioto. “The organization is always seeking more young people who are interested in learning bout their culture. Olivia epitomizes that.”
Donald, 16, will be a junior at Sonoma Valley High School this year. She maintains a high grade point average and is a top-notch performer, most recently appearing in Ze Show. She is rehearsing now for the Cat Austin’s tribute to Michael Jackson, coming this fall. For her, the Madonna del Lume experience is something she and her family are proud of. Her grandfather, long-time San Franciscan and well known USF basketball coach Orazio “Ross” Giudice, was 100 percent Sicilian and would have loved to see his granddaughter participate in the celebration.
“I’m excited. I’ve met lots of great people so far. I think this is a neat way to learn about the culture I come from,” said Donald.