OLV tradition brings in change at summer carnival

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Fri, Sep 1st 2017 03:35 pm
Staff Reporter
Carl Amorosi drops a jarful of pennies onto the sidewalk of Our Lady of Victory Basilica as part of the Lackawanna church's annual Pennies to Heaven event. The penny drop, along with carnival games and barbecued chicken, marked the annual Father Baker's Pennies to Heaven chicken barbecue and family carnival. (Patrick J. Buechi/Staff)
Carl Amorosi drops a jarful of pennies onto the sidewalk of Our Lady of Victory Basilica as part of the Lackawanna church's annual Pennies to Heaven event. The penny drop, along with carnival games and barbecued chicken, marked the annual Father Baker's Pennies to Heaven chicken barbecue and family carnival. (Patrick J. Buechi/Staff)

While children of all ages tossed rings and bounced in a house behind Our Lady of Victory Basilica, passersby gave to the church by emptying their pockets and piggybanks in front.

During the annual OLV carnival, known as Father Baker's Pennies to Heaven Chicken Barbecue and Family Carnival, the Lackawanna icon continued its long tradition of the Penny Drop. A small area of the sidewalk in front of the church was cleared to allow people to literally drop their pennies to form a copper path to the church. A small wishing well accepted paper money and checks.

"Pennies to Heaven got started back in the '70s," explained Diane Bellagama, business administrator of Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Elementary School, and organizer of Pennies to Heaven. "The church was under a restoration project, under the leadership of Msgr. (Robert E.) Murphy at the time, and it was started to raise funds for the restoration of the church. As time had gone on, Msgr. (Robert C.) Wurtz was his successor, and now Msgr. (Paul J.E.) Burkard, they continued Pennies to Heaven to help with the ongoing cost of restoring the church, but also to help with the expenses of keeping our Catholic school open."

This year, the OLV staff decided to go old school by bringing in carnival games like the ring toss and duck pond. Hot dogs, popcorn and snow cones were available for snacks, along with a chicken barbecue.  

"No rides, but carnival games and stuff, so we can bring the parishioners and the community together as families," Bellagama said.

The event usually raises $30,000, a third of which comes from the pennies alone.

"People over time have been very generous and drop all kinds of things," Bellagama said.

As OLV is a national shrine, it sees busloads of people come from as far away as Canada, Ohio and Syracuse. One local man, Carl Amorosi, saves his pennies all year in his Father Baker jar just for the annual Penny Drop. "It's for the basilica, which everybody tries to support," he said.  

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