The squeal of children on carnival rides, the sound of a local band, and the smell of a chicken dinner can all be found in one place: a parish festival. From now until the end of October, there’s a festival hosted by at least one parish almost every weekend.
While many parishes host festivals to act as one of their big fundraisers, many parishes also build festivals with the community in mind.
“If we make a profit, fine,” Fr. Charlie Zabler, the pastor of St. Rita in West Allis, said about the parish’s festival. “It’s not that we live for (the profit). We live as a stewardship parish.”
A big reason to have a parish festival is the opportunity to see members of the parish or school community, said Dave Lownik, one of the chairmen of St. Mary Parish’s festival in Hales Corners. He often sees people at the festival that he hasn ’t seen in years.
“You get into a rut of going to the same Mass every week and seeing the same people,” he said. “(The festival) gives you the opportunity to see people and interact with people you don’t see that often or haven’t seen in a while.”
Fr. Brian Mason, the pastor at St. Mary Parish in Hales Corners, said the festival is often the place for people to meet new [parishioners].
At St. Rita, which is celebrating its 50th annual festival this year, both old and new parishioners come to have fun, said Fr. Charlie. “It brings people together who were previous parishioners,” he said. “It brings people back home. It’s a sense of homecoming, but a nice blend of old and new (parishioners).”
For some parishes, the festival showcases their parish. Fr. Charlie said the festival is also about “rubbing elbows with the community,” with all cultures, and St. Rita has gained new parishioners from the festival.
St. Mary’s festival also attracts not only churchgoers and school community members, but people in the area who are not involved in either community, Lownik said.
“It’s a chance for us to put on a good face,” Fr. Brian said. “We create an atmosphere of hospitality. People can come and have fun, and at the same time, it becomes an expression of our faith.”
At the core of every festival is family-friendly fun. St. John Vianney Parish’s festival, which took place June 9-11, had something for every member of the family.
“[The festival] provides a venue of entertainment and activity for all ages of our parish community, from our seniors all the way through our early parish members, families and couples, said John Clarke, one of the three chairmen of the festival. “There’s different food options and different carnival attractions. It’s becoming a community traction to kick off the summer.”
The festival was successful, both in the amount of fun had and money raised, Clarke said.
Even planning and volunteering at the festival has a community aspect to it.
At both St. John Vianney Parish and St. Mary Parish, the parishes have chairpeople who start planning the festival a year in advance. In addition, they have around 30 team members who lead various aspects of the festival, and they ask for hundreds of volunteers every day of the festival.
St. John Vianney has over 800 volunteer spots.
However, the parish and school community at St. John Vianney is supportive of the effort, said Clarke.
“It’s a project we can all work on together,” said Fr. Ken Knippel, the pastor at St. John Vianney Parish.
“In that sense, it has a good spirit.”
Fr. Brian of St. Mary’s Parish said the volunteers often find a niche in how they like to help, since there are a variety of activities and a variety of places to assist. He said older women often help bread the fish for their fish fry Friday night, and people of all ages down to Boy Scouts volunteer for the festival in some capacity.
“There’s a lot of components to stewardship,” Fr. Ken said. “We like our stewards to be generous. A little encouragement to give (to the parish) like this is not a bad thing.”