Blessing of the Fleet honors, celebrates fishermen

Jul. 30—STONINGTON — William Patrick Petipas said he went to the annual Blessing of the Fleet on Sunday to honor the fishermen.

Petipas' father was a fisherman, his brother was a fisherman, and he himself did deep sea fishing out of Boston Harbor, which he said was a hard job.

Petipas, of Wallingford, was among those who attended on Sunday morning the Fisherman's Mass at St. Mary Church, which included a reading of the names of the fishermen lost at sea.

"It recognizes the working man," Petipas said of the event. "It recognizes the sacrifice that these guys make, and it recognizes those that died at sea. It's happened quite a bit."

The annual Blessing of the Fleet event, which included a mass, parade, ceremony, and food and music on Sunday, serves to honor the fishermen from the Town Dock who lost their lives and also offer blessings to fishermen for their safety, said Mike Crowley, one of the event organizers.

Petipas' daughter, Julia Petipas Durishin of Mystic, said after the service that it is a great tradition.

"It's just awesome that we have a working port here, and it's important to support that and to support the men and women who are part of it," said her husband, Richard Durishin. "It's a deep part of the culture here, and I think we need to preserve it."

At noon, a parade of marching bands, fife and drum corps, representatives of religious and community organizations, elected officials, and emergency vehicles, proceeded from the Town Dock area through the streets of Stonington Borough. People along the streets applauded the parade, and parade participants passed out candy and sea shells.

2023 Grand Marshal Manuel R. Rezendes said the event represents family to him. He said his grandfather drowned at sea, his father fished for 50 years, and he too fished for 50 years and has friends involved in fishing. His family members, from as far as Florida, came to the event.

Rezendes said the event is to remember all the fishermen from all over the world who lost their lives.

During the ceremony after the parade, Rezendes' brother, John Jr., and sister Rose laid wreaths at the fishermen's memorial.

Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said she's proud to be here with other officials representing Stonington, the community and "most importantly our fishing family."

She also recognized the religious leaders, the Southern New England Fishermen and Lobstermen's Association, the Stonington fishermen and their families, and thanked the Blessing of the Fleet committee. She noted that the fishing vessel Roann from Mystic Seaport was at the event.

Marchas Populares from Our Lady of Fatima Church in Hartford performed "Cheira a Lisboa," the Westerly Band played the National Anthem and St. Edmund's Pipes & Drums performed "Amazing Grace."

Chesebrough asked Capt. Thomas Williams Jr. of the fishing vessel "Heritage" to take the broken anchor wreath to the breakwater and Grand Marshal Rezendes to toss it overboard in memory of those who died at sea.

Before the boats along Town Dock left the dock to go out to the water, the Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, Bishop of Norwich, along with the Very Rev. Dennis M. Perkins and the Rev. Jeffrey R. Ellis, visited the boats and offered blessings.

People enjoyed food and music at the Town Dock. On Saturday, there was music, dancing and food at the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society.

Preston Hensley of North Stonington, who attended the event, said he did a lot of commercial fishing when he was younger. While he said being on the sea can be fun, he also has seen its dangers.

He noted the reading of the names of the deceased fishermen at the mass and said he came to be supportive.

Crowley noted all the townspeople attending the event and said they, along with the town's selectmen, always supported the Town Dock.

"It's just a beautiful day," he said. "A lot of people celebrating our fishermen. That's what this to me is all about."

Editor's note: This version corrects the order of Julia Petipas Durishin's name.