Blessed Mary Angela Parish in Dunkirk continues a Southern Tier tradition of holding a summer gathering that predates the merged parish's current name. Formerly St. Hedwig and St. Hyacinth, Blessed Mary Angela's annual lawn fete will take place from noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 14, complete with a wide variety of activities, freshly-made food and opportunities to win raffled items.
The festival includes a Chiavetta's chicken barbecue with homemade side dishes to accompany the main course of marinated chicken. According to Paulette Pacos, the parish event's chair, the parish generally sells between 1,000 and 1,300 chicken dinners in a four-hour time span, making this the second largest such festival in Chautaqua County. It will have variety groups, children's events with a bounce house and balloon animals, games of chance, music, and a selection of locally grown vegetables from area farmers.
Aside from the chicken, the parish will prepare all of its own food, including mashed potatoes and fresh salads. Representatives from Chiavetta's will come to grill the chicken on site.
"We have fresh green beans a local farmer donates, and all the kitchen people get together and prepare all of it, so it's really quite a dinner," Pacos explained. "We have a big bake sale with probably 50 to 100 items there. We also have outdoor food. We'll have hamburgers and hot dogs. Ginger Pokoj from Big Rick's (in Dunkirk) brings out a waffle stand. For an afternoon, it's a lot of fun for a family."
In addition to the food and other activities, Blessed Mary Angela Parish will be offering $2,000 in cash raffle prizes, with other large prizes being raffled off as well. Each year, one Blessed Mary Angela parishioner handcrafts a wooden item to be donated. This year, it is an Adirondack garden chair set. There will also be $300 gift certificates, several patio sets and many other donated items offered.
"We end up with probably 20 to 30 larger prizes, and we have people that sell the raffle tickets," Pacos said. "As far as variety raffle booths, we have girls' toys, boys' toys, appliances, gift baskets. We have lottery basket raffles and barbecue meat tray raffles, so a lot happens in just four hours."
Pacos, who was born and raised in Dunkirk and a longtime member of St. Hyacinth Parish, had moved away after she married, but her parents remained members of the parish. After the death of her father, she moved back in the area to care for her mother and became active in the new parish, which formed in 2008. She is now actively involved in the festival she remembers from her own childhood.
"Even when I was a little girl, we always had a big festival," Pacos recalled. "They needed helpers, and so I stepped in. People who had chaired it before felt it was time for them to step aside, and they needed someone to come into the position, so I offered, and it's been a good fit. We have a wonderful group of people. They all know what to do and how to do it, so I'm kind of like the ringleader."
The summer festival dates back to the 1960s, and while the festival formerly lasted three days, this year's event still promises a fun afternoon.
"It's been a longtime tradition," she continued. "Back when I was a little girl, it lasted three days which included Bingo on Saturday and the big Chiavetta's dinner on Sunday. With times changing, now we're back to just the chicken dinner on Sunday. Back then, there were plenty of polka bands to entertain people, but now those are few and far between."
Even with the relative scarcity of polka bands in modern Western New York, Pacos emphasized that the parish still tries to keep the Polish spirit alive. Blessed Mary Angela's pastor, Father Matt Nycz, will be leaving the parish, but the Polish-born priest helped to make sure his heritage remained strong in the parish. At the same time, Blessed Mary Angela tries to keep its festival new and fresh for young people.
"It's a fundraiser to help the parish," Pacos said. "We're supporting two campuses and churches with many buildings, and it's a fundraiser that helps the needs of the church throughout the year."