A festival honors merged parishes' two cultures
A fried-dough kiosk. Roulette wheels. A lemonade and iced-tea stand. All signs of a typical small-town festival, but at Swedesburg's Sacred Heart Parish in Montgomery County, they represent more than summer fun. This weekend's Festival of Families is an attempt to heal the hurt inflicted when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia merged two Bridgeport Catholic parishes, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Augustine, into Sacred Heart last summer.
A fried-dough kiosk. Roulette wheels. A lemonade and iced-tea stand.
All signs of a typical small-town festival, but at Swedesburg's Sacred Heart Parish in Montgomery County, they represent more than summer fun. This weekend's Festival of Families is an attempt to heal the hurt inflicted when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia merged two Bridgeport Catholic parishes, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Augustine, into Sacred Heart last summer.
"I'm trying to move on, trying to take it in," Lou Dolente, 54, said of Mount Carmel's loss.
In Bridgeport, the churches were more than just places of worship. They were bastions of ethnic identity and social centers, and a year after the consolidation hard feelings remain strong.
Among the things lost were Mount Carmel's annual summer feast. It had rides, Italian food, and a procession through the streets with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Last summer, because of the consolidation, the feast did not take place - for the first time in almost a century.
The Festival of Families seeks to revive the spirit of the feast by merging Italian traditions with an annual Polish festival, and in the process lay the foundation for a new community. Sacred Heart was traditionally a Polish church, and pierogi, haluski, and golabki remain on the menu this weekend. But there's also a taste of Italy: sausage and peppers; pork sandwiches.
It's more than just food, it's tradition.
"The immigrants, they were so poor, this was kind of a delicacy," Dolente, of Pottstown, said of the fried dough with powdered sugar he was selling Saturday for $2 while wearing a shirt with Italia printed across the chest in the bold red, white, and green of the Italian flag.
Creating a merged event meant losing some of the Polish flavor, too, said Andy Moletzsky, an event organizer from Plymouth Meeting. Among the sacrifices was a band that played traditional Polish music. It was replaced this year with a rock band, though the musicians did play two polkas, he said.
"You've got to attract the young people now," Moletzsky said. "You have to do something to keep the church open."
Planning an event that respected both cultures was difficult, he said.
"It's growing pains between the parishes," said Chris Conway, of Bridgeport, who cooked sausages on a grill that kept him sweating on an already hot day. "It's tradition. Tradition is being broken."
Some at the festival noted that a splinter group of Mount Carmel alumni were holding a competing event this weekend. Christina Lewiski, 38, had long attended the old Mount Carmel feast and said the Festival of Families had not captured the spirit of that event.
"For me, it was tradition, family," she said. "It was a very big community for me."
But for many who attended, the internecine drama was less important than the draw of good food.
Rachel Brennan and her husband, Nick Orman, who live in Bridgeport, don't attend Sacred Heart, but they brought their 2-year-old, Nicky, to the festival.
"It's the food, and we're always looking for something to do," Brennan said. "We've been to probably every feast they have in Bridgeport."
On Sunday, organizers plan a procession with a statue of the Virgin Mary, a Carmelite tradition that dates back to the 14th century and was honored in Bridgeport's old Italian feast, Moletzsky said. Only this time, the statue will be carried from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church to Sacred Heart, where it will become a permanent addition and a symbol of the united parishes.
"We're all Catholic," said Dawn Meyer, of Audubon, as she chatted with Conway at the sausage grill.
He agreed: "We got to get along."