Coming Together on the South Side At the Annual St. Jude Parish Festival

By+Bill Moor

Sacred Heart + St. Jude’s = St. Catherine’s of Siena

Nine-year-old Molly Keenan’s look was more of fascination than fear after she had scuttled up the 30-foot rock climbing tower at the St. Jude Festival in South Bend. Harnessed to a safety rope, she had a bird’s-eye view of the activities – sand volleyball, kiddie rides and games, the singing group of Jetta and the Jellybeans, the dunk tank and on and on. Great view. Great venue.

“Our three girls just love coming here,” said Molly’s mom, Kelly. “They really don’t want to leave. They enjoy all the games and food and Molly obviously likes the rock climb.”

Seven hours later, the Keenans didn’t need the rocks or ropes to feel sky-high. Their name was drawn in the grand prize raffle for the choice of a 2009 Ford Mustang, a 10-night Hawaiian cruise or $12,500 in cash.
“I can’t remember the last time we had the winner of the raffle in attendance before,” said Mary Krisch, St. Jude parish’s business manager. “ So there was a lot of jumping up and down going on.”

It also was the birthday of Pete Keenan, Kelly’s husband and the father of 12-year-old Morgan, nine-year-old Molly and five-year-old Maggie.

What a nice birthday present – and a fitting way to end the two-day festival, which caters to adults on Saturday night and to the kids and families on Sunday.

“This is our 23rd year of having the festival and our biggest
fund-raiser,” Mary said. “We’ve made as much as $35,000 but it goes beyond that. I think it has given our church and school
(on Johnson Road) more of an identity in the community.”

A majority of the parishioners get involved. “Abbie and Mark Johnson were the chairpersons this year but a lot of people have stepped up to help out,” Mary added. “So many people have worked at it over the years that it really seems to come together almost like magic.

“Father John (Delaney) likes to get out among the people and pour the beer. He will walk around with a pitcher and when someone thinks he is going to pour them a free glass, he says, ‘Have you bought a ticket yet?’ We’ve also had priests in the past who have enjoyed dealing black jack.”

This year, the nearby Sacred Heart members became a part of the festival too. St. Jude and Sacred Heart have merged to form the St. Catherine of Siena parish with a new church soon to be built.

The festival may be helping to bring the two old parishes closer together. “I know there has been some negative publicity about Sacred Heart losing its home but I think the transition is going well,” said Sue Bennett, a longtime Sacred Heart parishioner. “People came over from St. Jude to help us with our fish fry and a lot of us were working at the St. Jude Festival. The more we work together, the easier it is to blend in with each other.”

The more who help, the merrier.

Besides being the parish’s business manager, Mary Krisch and her husband John have co-chaired the festival on several occasions, handled the finances during other years and dealt black jack when they have time. “I grew up in the St. Adlabert’s parish and I have fond memories of the festivals there,” she said. “So when Mary Kay Fisher and Jinx Heaton originally suggested we have one here, I wanted to help. And it has grown every year.”

This year, the St. Jude Festival had to compete with the last days of the St. Joseph County 4-H Fair after the latter was moved from August to July. Ironically, St. Jude moved its festival back a week last year when one of its members was getting married on the scheduled weekend for the festival and many of the volunteers would be at that ceremony.

The festival may yield to a wedding but not to the weather. “One year, we had a split in the (gambling) tent when the rain started coming down,” Mary said. “So everybody just started moving closer to the center to keep from getting wet. Nobody seemed to let it bother them.”

Mary admits that she doesn’t ask people to pray for good weather but rooting for it is almost a requirement. “When you plan an event in the middle of July in South Bend, you know you are going to be at the mercy of the weather. We all pay close attention to all those weather reports. You want the weather to be good but maybe not ideal – because if it’s too good, then people will want to go off to the beach instead.”

“I remember one year when we had to use brooms to sweep out the water so we could continue with some of the events,” said Dianne Szmanda, in charge of the children’s games for the last five years. “So when you get good weather along with the great volunteers, it makes everything really click.”

The weather cooperated this year – sunny skies and comfortable temperatures with Saturday’s adult night going until 11:30 p.m. to the tune of the popular local group, Art and the Artichokes and to the aroma of a hog roast. Then on Sunday, families had enough time to return to St Jude after morning Mass and top it off with a polish supper. Joanne Rokop had come with many of her seven grandchildren while her sister, Sandy Williams, was right beside her along with her four grandkids. “They want all of our money,” Sandy said with a smile. “The grandkids do make you spend a small fortune,” added Joanne.

Of course, that’s what the festival organizers want to hear – cha ching. Another thing St. Jude parishioners like to hear is how easily Joanne and Sandy say they were able to switch over to the parish after their St. Mary’s of the Assumption church and school were closed three years ago and merged with St. Jude.

They hope that it is as easy for Sacred Heart members to do the same. A goodwill and get-to-know-you event like their festival seems to help. “I know some of them are sad about losing their parish as we are about losing our parish but it was good to see so many Sacred Heart people over here at our festival and helping out,” Mary Krisch said.

The Keenans certainly will stay involved, especially after their grand prize victory. They bought ten raffle tickets for $10 each but thought they were being kidded when Pete’s name was drawn.
“Because it was his birthday, we just thought they were playing around with us,” Kelly said. “And then when it became obvious that we really had won, we both threw our arms up in the air, found each other in the crowd and started hugging. Our two younger daughters were with us so it was a real family celebration.”

They were still trying to decide whether they wanted the Mustang or the cash for their prize. “My heart says take the car but my head says better take the cash,” Kelly added.

Of course, the easiest decision for the Keenans was going to the St. Jude Festival in the first place.


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