Monday, October 21, 2013

Three's a Charm

Just transferred, Sr. Irene fit right in.
The third annual St. Paul Friends & Family Fest on Staten Island, Sept. 28, was, by all accounts, a Family affair—ours and those of our guests. From planning and promotion, to food and prize prep, and to praying, people of all ages—kids, teens, and those “with more experience”—hopped on for the ride, with all its ups and downs.

The weather was glorious. We had all gotten really tired of holding this in the heat and humidity of August, with the threat of thundershowers hanging over our heads. So this year we scheduled it for a good six weeks later. Burns and Cashman, who treated us with live music for the third year in a row, lauded the later date and cooler weather; they had strummed about all they ever wanted to in sizzling temperatures.

There was a downside to the timing, though, coming just two weeks after the Irish Music Festival and the day before the Tunnel to Towers run in remembrance of 9/11: attendance was only 135. But as the committee keeps saying, “There’s always something happening on Staten Island, so there’s never a ‘best time’ to have this—only the least inconvenient one.”

Part of the upside was that we netted a little over $2,200, slated to offset the printing costs of a first-ever booklet about all the branches of the Pauline Family. Four Catholic school libraries will also receive gifts of new materials from Pauline centers. Much of that was possible because individual, business, and non-profit donors dug into their pockets and subsidized most of the expenses. To discover the rest of the upside, read on.

Preparation began in March. The project director, Patricia Reilly, kept things moving ahead, despite family setbacks that swallowed up her time. Even though sudden health problems plagued more than one member of the planning committee, everybody soldiered on. Jim Haynes and Ann Clark, presidents of their respective Hibernian organizations, Mary Ann Callahan, and both Br. Peter Lyne and Br. Gus Condon of the Society of St. Paul, made up the core team. They assembled a small army of friends, volunteers, and Pauline Cooperators  (plus a conscript or two), who did amazing things. Anybody who thinks the laity should only follow orders hasn’t seen how well many of them take charge.

The Pauline communities on Staten Island also pitched in: planning the liturgy, promoting the event, and preparing enough fruit and veggies for more than one Fest. (Ask any SSP brother, and he’ll now tell you what “julienne” means.) Paulines from each branch present in the U. S. and Canada staffed tables that day with information on their communities and institutes and on the Association of Pauline Cooperators. They came from New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts.

Twenty-three teens from St. John Villa Academy (girls) and Monsignor Farrell High School (boys) really earned their service points that day! They set up tables, chairs, and a volleyball net, prepared salad, hung signs, and shuttled between a workroom and the grounds with prizes to assemble or information to exhibit, plus all the odds and ends needed for crafts and games. Watch the slide show to see two of them disappear into an appreciative hug from Woody. Some of them even stuck around for a while to visit the information tables and to snatch a burger or hot dog with all the fixin’s. 


The day officially began with an 11:30 Mass, concelebrated by priests of the Society of St. Paul and two Boston members of the Institute of Jesus the Priest, a Pauline institute for diocesan priests. The Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, whose mission includes reviving within Catholics the desire and means to live the liturgy, prepared a simple, yet solemn, celebration. The key symbol was brought up at the Offertory: an early Roman-style oil lamp, but with ten flames, representing the branches of the Pauline Family. Fr. Matthew Roehrig, the SSP provincial superior, reminded us that we had already begun our centenary year on Aug. 20; so that lamp held a lot of meaning.

Already during the liturgy, we could smell what Rolling Thunder was serving up. (The generosity of these bikers, many of them former vets, is legendary After a couple of false starts on a grill they didn’t know, they cooked a vast number of burgers, hotdogs, and Italian sausage to perfection…with unfailing good cheer. Thanks to other friends, we were able to offer carnitas with juicy pulled pork. If anyone left hungry, it wasn’t the chefs’ fault.

Face-painting and the bounce house were hits. Sr. Irene Regina and Fr. Ed Riley batted the volleyball around with some of the kids for a while, and a group of young men showed up later to take advantage of the net for their own game. Even Woody and Jessie from Toy Story put in an appearance. With all the activity, fewer kids sat still for crafts with Mary Ann Callahan, but some clearly appreciated the down time. They did ask when they could eat the jelly beans that Mary Ann had brought for one of the crafts, but that had to wait. There were raffle bags and the 50/50 again at the game tent. This year we added what we called the “Best Chance Bazaar,” a throwback to the bazaar the Daughters used to hold for years at our Fort Place residence—trimmed down to a manageable 207 prizes. “Best Chance” means you always win something.

Four young women who are discerning their vocation had contacted us previously and were invited to spend the day with us. They got to know us better—and each other. See two of them raising their glass? I doubt they were toasting Jesus, but I bet he didn’t mind.

The Fest was initiated in 2011 to help fund the documentary on Blessed James Alberione that Sr. Helena R. Burns, FSP, was producing. A film that began as a project of the Daughters quickly became a Family affair, too: Dozens of Pauline women and men on both sides of the Atlantic were consulted and interviewed. Some of them were at the Fest. So, now that the rough cut of James Alberione—Media Apostle is done, Sr. Helena came to host two pre-screenings and get feedback before the final editing and the broadcast on Catholic TV stations next year. About 50 viewers obliged. A young man, whose father gave a sizable donation for the film, came with his fiancée and had the pleasure of seeing his dad’s gift acknowledged in the credits. The Lorraine Greene Lee Foundation was also credited. It’s named for Patricia Reilly’s sister who died on 9/11 and reaches out to at-risk youth. In telling Alberione’s story, the film offers everyone, especially these young people, a role model in placing media at the service of the Gospel.

Last spring, when I was doing research on the history of the Cooperators, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in Alba in 1925, the early Pauline communities held the first Cooperator conference ever. It was called—are you ready for this?—the “St. Paul Fest.” It was more of a convention than our little event, and it drew 25,000 people! Still, the Staten Island gathering bore a striking resemblance to that other Fest which included liturgical functions, raffles, and theater performance. Plus, the threefold purpose of the 1925 Fest was not all that different either: to honor St. Paul, to publicly confirm the role of the Pauline Cooperator while underscoring the importance of what was called the “apostolate of the Good Press,” and very practically, to raise funds for the construction of the Temple of St. Paul.

The St. Paul Friends & Family Fest may never be a grand fundraiser. But in a world that’s increasingly fragmented, you can’t put a price tag on the collaboration that it generated among us Paulines, which then spilled over into the wider community. Or was it vice versa? One donor who hadn’t participated before mused, “OK, let’s put our heads together and see how we can make this even better next year.” I thanked him for his interest, and he exclaimed, “Oh, I’m definitely on board!” Hopefully, many others will line up for the ride, too.

Join us for the final days of our Webathon, a “novena” of prayer and testimony about the Daughters’ mission. Proceeds will especially fund much needed equipment and programs for our digital publishing and video studio.

Photo credits: Sebastian Lee, SSP, John Nappi, Margaret Obrovac, FSP, John Skeels 

No comments: