For about two weeks each summer, the area around 95 N. Main St. in Canandaigua is more than just the grounds of St. Mary Parish. It becomes one of the city’s most exciting places to be, complete with midway games and rides, food, music and a large yard sale.
St. Mary’s annual festival — which will be held Aug. 16-26 — is a longstanding tradition at the parish and is arguably one of the largest parish festivals in the region. It has grown each year since it’s inception 36 years ago, and it now brings in a profit of about $50,000 to $60,000 each summer, according to Dick O’Donnell, general chairman of the festival.
Although it’s larger than most, the festival is similar to the summer events held at many other local parishes because it was founded as a way to raise money to pay the parish’s insurance bill. Through the years, the festival and many of these other fundraisers — garage sales, barn sales, strawberry socials and the like — have blossomed into social events that strengthen the bonds between parishioners and even members of the surrounding communities.
“We consider it the social event of the summer season for that area,” O’Donnell said. “It does bring the parishioners together, and people who have moved away come back for it.”
O’Donnell speaks from personal experience. He became chair of the festival committee 23 years ago, and even though he no longer is a St. Mary parishioner — he moved to the Buffalo area in 1986 — he has continued to coordinate the event.
At first, O’Donnell stayed with the festival because he’d pledged a five-year commitment. When that term was up, the rest of the festival committee encouraged him to continue chairing it for at least a few more years, which quickly turned into 18 years.
O’Donnell doesn’t mind the challenge of organizing an event from 80 miles away. On the contrary, he loves working on the festival and maintaining relationships with St. Mary parishioners. Besides, he noted, “We’re only an hour and a half down the (New York State) Thruway.”
A lawn sale, which O’Donnell described as “gigundous,” kicks off the festival each year. During the sale, used clothing is sold in a separate “boutique” in the parish hall, noted Dolores Finewood, parish secretary and boutique coordinator. The lawn sale typically brings in about $17,000, and last year $3,000 was raised from sales in the clothing boutique alone, she said.
Volunteers also sell hot dogs and hamburgers from a food booth set up at the lawn sale. After the sale is over, volunteers serve pancakes, eggs and sausage from that booth during the pancake breakfast, which is held after Sunday Masses. Later that afternoon, the booth is again used as a serving station, this time for a chicken barbecue, O’Donnell said.
The next few days are spent setting up for the midway, which is open for three days and features rides from Ontario Amusements, food and game booths, and a country store. All of the festival’s events are open to parishioners as well as the general public, Finewood said.
“It’s not just the parishioners, but a lot of Canandaigua itself comes. They come and meet each other again and shoot the breeze,” she said.
“It gives them time to reminisce, particularly the longtime people in the area,” O’Donnell added. “It’s something I think the people really feel good about, and of course it supports the parish.”
St. Dominic Parish in Shortsville and the St. Felix/St. Francis Parish Cluster in Clifton Springs and Phelps also use summer fundraisers to help defray insurance costs. St. Dominic’s Parish Fair always takes place on a Sunday afternoon in June and has been a tradition for more than four decades, said Anthony Muscolino, co-chairman of the fair.
At this year’s June 11 fair, patrons could bargain-hunt at a yard sale; purchase flowers, strawberry shortcake, pies and ice cream at the fair’s booths; or take a chance at the cake wheel. In the fair’s country store, they could purchase homemade baked and canned goods and handmade afghans and blankets, all donated by parishioners, and young fair-goers were amused by a visiting clown, Muscolino said.
The fair has raised as much as $12,000 in past years, but it’s profitability typically depends on cooperative weather, Muscolino said. The parish raised $8,000 this year in spite of almost constant rain on the day of the fair, he added.
The St. Felix/St. Francis Parish Cluster raised approximately $2,000 through its third-annual antique and barn sale, which was held June 16-17 in the barn behind St. Felix Church. The event helps build community between the members of the two parishes as they come together to staff the sale and browse through the donated items, said Sister Joan Sobala, SSJ, pastoral administrator.
“They hang around and they laugh and they talk and they find similarities,” she said.
The annual sale also presents an opportunity for evangelization, and several former parishioners have been welcomed back into the congregation after attending or donating items for the sale. Sister Sobala makes sure she’s always on hand during the sale weekend to welcome visitors and ask them to share their stories.
St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield raised $2,700 through its first parish garage sale, which was held June 9-10 in the parish hall, said Sister Diane Dennie, SSJ, pastoral administrator. Parishioners of all ages worked together to make the sale a success, she noted.
“We made a special appeal to all the kids to look at what (toys) they have and what they’ve outgrown, and bring it over,” Sister Dennie said.
The children of the parish responded generously, and toys were among the most popular items at the sale, she noted.
Parishioners young and old were excited about a recent fundraiser at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde, where the parish life committee hosted a June 20 strawberry-social fundraiser. This fundraiser — which includes a 50/50 raffle — has been a parish tradition for more than 20 years and usually brings in an annual profit of approximately $2,000, said committee member Gloria Garofono.