Friends, faith and festivals

As summer creeps in, church picnics and gatherings right around the corner

ALLISON FOLLBAUM | The Michigan Catholic

DETROIT — As the spring days grow longer, parish communities across the archdiocese are gearing up for the annual festival season. From Vegas tents to karaoke, carnival rides to fair food, festivals become not just a fundraiser but a community gathering.

Jeanne Wineski said 12 years ago, the festival at St. Athanasius Parish in Roseville was reduced to a picnic. Now, it’s been built back into a huge three-day festival, held on the weekend after Labor Day.

Smile_Inspector_Gracie_2013_Saint_Malachy_Summerfest

“Smile inspector Gracie” flashes a face at a group of festival-goers during St. Malachy Parish’s Summerfest in Sterling Heights.

“The festival committee is formed through announcements and advertisements in the parish bulletin,” Wineski said. “We have new volunteers every year who want to feel a part of the community.”

As St. Athanasius is merging with Our Lady Queen of All Saints and Sacred Heart parishes, as well as welcoming parishioners from St. Donald Parish, which closed last year, Wineski said it’s perfect for new and old members to meet.

“Even with mergers and clusters, it’s been a way for all the communities to come together and get to know each other,” she said.

St. Louise de Marillac Parish, Warren, hosts its 48th annual parish festival this year. Tom Lippert said he’s noticed how the young people and the elderly come together to share wisdom and old friends are reunited.

“People come to the festival, meet other parish members, and say, ‘I went to high school with him, I didn’t know he was a parishioner here,’” Lippert said.

Festivals become a staple in many communities, and it’s easy to relate the archdiocesan mission priorities, including evangelization, Christian service and outreach and stewardship, to the “mission” of parish festivals. While festivals are a significant fundraiser for many parishes, that’s only a small part of their benefit.

Fr. Benjamin Kosnac, pastor of SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish, Sterling Heights, said their parish festival is a cultural and a spiritual experience. “It allows parishioners to interact in a relaxed atmosphere,” said Fr. Kosnac.

Sweetest_Heart_of_Mary_2012_Pierogi_Festival

More than 16,400 pierogis were made for the 2012 Pierogi Festival at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church in Detroit.

Evangelization is about reconnecting as a faith community as much as reaching out to others. Many agree that festivals provide a setting for that reconnection.

Festival involvement can also stem from legacy. Wineski said when she was young, her parents used to volunteer at their parish festival, and that exposure led her to her position on its committee today.

Involving young people in parish activities challenges them to get involved in their faith life, inside church and out. At SS. Cyril and Methodius, Fr. Kosnac said the students in confirmation classes are required to complete community service, and many of them volunteer at the festival.

Parish festivals, open to the public, welcome not just the parish community, but the surrounding neighbors as well.

Bill Gibbons got involved in festival planning at St. Joseph Parish, Erie, because he wanted to meet people, but he was swept away by the support that the “friends of the parish” provided.

“The St. Joseph festival is really a community festival,” Gibbons said. “I see a lot of the same people every year, like a reunion. It has left its mark on the parish and parish life.”

In the small town of Erie near the Michigan-Ohio border, business owners donate items for the raffles and loan equipment such as forklifts to help with setup.

“It’s sometimes a love/hate relationship,” Gibbons chuckled. “But it’s a blessing. The outpouring of support from the community is amazing.”


Allison Follbaum is a freelance writer from Livonia and a journalism student at Madonna University.