• <p>Food trucks line the driveway at St. Rita Church in Webster during a June 26 Food Truck Rodeo. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)  </p>

    Food trucks line the driveway at St. Rita Church in Webster during a June 26 Food Truck Rodeo. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

  • <p>Kara and Michael Bellavia play a bag-toss game at St. Rita Church in Webster during a June 26 Food Truck Rodeo. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)  </p>

    Kara and Michael Bellavia play a bag-toss game at St. Rita Church in Webster during a June 26 Food Truck Rodeo. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Rochester Diocese churches scale back, cancel festival activities

Gina Capellazzi/Catholic Courier    |    07.15.2021
Category: Features


For more than 60 years, parishioners of St. Rita Church in Webster have kicked off their summer with the parish’s annual Fiesta, which would take place annually the weekend after Memorial Day. After having to cancel the event in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 66th edition of the festival will make its return at the end of August.

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place in February when planning commenced, the St. Rita Church Fiesta Committee decided to schedule the event for Aug. 28. The fiesta, which will follow all state and diocesan COVID-19 guidelines, also has been scaled back from two days to a single-day event. It also will feature fewer activities than in previous years and will offer just feature food, games, live music and raffles.

“This (having fewer activities) will allow us to cut back on some of our biggest expenses while taking precautions to keep everyone safe,” said Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, who heads up the festival committee.

Prior to the pandemic, the fiesta would bring roughly 2,000 people together over two days and had a net operating revenue of $20,000 for the parish and the school, said Kwiatkowski, who noted that the event takes about 400 volunteers for it to run smoothly.

Leading up to the fiesta, the parish is hosting three smaller events called Fiesta Saturdays, which Kwiatkowski said were created to provide multiple opportunities for people to gather while keeping in mind possible restrictions on gathering size. Fiesta Saturdays included a Candy Bar Bingo night in May and a Food Truck Rodeo and Plant Sale in June, and will conclude with an Ice Cream Social, Mini Golf Course and Parking Lot Garage Sale July 24.

“We have a parish with very diverse age groups, so selecting activities that appeal to all ages was important,” Kwiatkowski said, noting that the Candy Bar Bingo night was a huge success.

She said the parish hopes to return to its normal fiesta format next year and aims to begin planning in October.

“It (the fiesta) really is a highlight and a big social event for so many parishioners and community members,” Kwiatkowski said. “We know that providing opportunities for safe social interaction is so important to our community after these past 15 months. People from all over look forward to the fiesta each year and are looking forward to a return to some normalcy.”

While St. Rita Church is resuming its parish festival, some parishes across the Diocese of Rochester had to make the tough decisions to cancel their annual summer events for the second consecutive year.

St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Rochester cancelled its annual Polish Arts Festival, which was scheduled to take place Aug. 6 and 7.

“It was a very difficult decision,” said Jan Vorndran, festival cochair.

While aware that social distancing, capacity limits and masking restrictions were lifted this spring, Vorndran explained that the parish did not have adequate time to plan the two-day event and did not want to go ahead with a pared-down festival. Instead, the parish will wait until 2022 to resume its yearly event.

“We don’t want to have a small event and have people disappointed if we don’t have live music, beer and all the other (festival) stuff; they might not come again next year when we open it up to a bigger and better (festival) again,” Vorndran said. “We want to do it so people remember that we’re there and why we’re there, which is to promote Polish activities and Polish culture.”

So on what would have been the festival weekend, St. Stanislaus will instead conduct drive-thru Polish dinners, an initiative that started last September to help raise the $30,000 to 35,000 that the festival normally raises. Vorndran said the parish has had four dinner weekends and has served between 500 and 1200 dinners.

“They (the dinners) have been well-received,” she remarked. “(The dinners) haven’t replaced a complete festival, but at least (financially) we have kept our head above water.”

Similarly, St. Benedict Parish, which comprises St. Mary Church in Canandaigua and St. Bridget/St. Joseph Church in East Bloomfield, also has called off its annual festival and lawn sale that takes place at the end of the August. The festival draws thousands each year from Canandaigua and surrounding areas to enjoy amusement park rides, games, food and other activities, It is preceded by the annual lawn sale, featuring used furniture, clothing, housewares and other items.

In a June 5-6 bulletin notice, Father Michael Costik, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, said while he realizes it is very possible that the parish could have the festival and lawn sale with COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the parish had to make the decision of whether to have the festival when restrictions were still in place.

“I feel compelled to be erring on the side of caution on this matter,” he wrote, noting that the parish is planning some smaller events in place of the large festival and sale. “I look forward to returning to a full festival next year.”

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