It's that time of year again, the time when lucky metro Detroiters get to indulge their cravings for pierogi. This isn't the kind you find in your local grocer's freezer. I'm talking about wonderful hand-made pierogi, just like mom and grandma used to make. Actually, mom and grandma are still making pierogi by hand in the kitchen of St. Joseph Hall at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church every Monday morning year 'round. OK, maybe they're not your mom or grandma, but they're using the same recipe and pinching that dough by hand ;-)
This next weekend, August 11th & 12th, is the annual Pierogi Festival at Sweetest Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Detroit. For specific details, check out the parish blog. But first let me tell you a little bit about this wonderful parish and the dedication of the parishioners that have made it thrive.
At a time when inner city Polish Catholic churches around the country are being closed left and right, this parish is thriving and growing. What's more, it's doing so without compromising it's Polish ethnic heritage. No it doesn't have 10,000+ registered parishioners like it did in it's hey day (1930s). Truthfully, it only has a fraction of that number. But those who are members of this parish are very loyal and very dedicated. They all live outside the neighborhood of the parish which like many inner city areas is blighted and virtually abandoned. There's no sign of the Polish immigrant population that once dominated this area. They've all died or moved to the suburbs. But their spirit is alive and well at Sweetest Heart of Mary parish.
I'm not going to go into the whole controversial history of this parish. If you'd like to read a brief history about it you can do so on the parish web site. But what I'd like to mention is the situation the parish is in now and how it's worked so well for all concerned.
Father Mark Borkowski is the kind of priest that every parish should have. He's personable, dedicated (not just to his faith and parish but to his Polish ethnicity as well), very hard working, and he loves this church. A fan of antiques, genealogy, and all historic Polish churches, he's perfectly suited to his assignment as Pastor at "Hearts". In fact he's so good at it, he was given the responsibility of also administering to the parishioners at nearby St. Josaphat Church (another Polish parish) in 2003. Clustered parishes are fairly common these days but having one priest presiding over three inner city ethnic parishes (and having all three parishes thrive I might add) is really quite an accomplishment. When Fr. Borkowski was also given the responsibility of St. Joseph Church, a German parish, in 2004, he began yet another chapter of his success story. One man, three ethnic parishes in abandoned inner city neighborhoods, and God's blessing.
Sweetest Heart of Mary is one of the most beautiful churches you'll ever see. It's the largest church in the Detroit Archdiocese, it has award-winning stained glass windows that will take your breath away, an antique organ that must be heard to truly be appreciated, and over the years modernization has been kept to a minimum. The church is essentially the same as it was over a hundred years ago when it was first built. Thanks to the wisdom of the Pastors and parish council members of Hearts over the years, the majesty and grandeur of this church building have never been compromised. Every year thousands of dollars are put into the restoration of this wonderful piece of architecture. It costs a lot of money to keep a historic building this size (seats 2,500) structurally sound and looking its best. The parishioners keep very busy getting the funds they need to keep it going.
Among the three clustered parishes, there is some sort of event happening almost every weekend year round. Often, parish events overlap and really keep Fr. Borkowski hopping. Now don't get the wrong impression about these parishes. All the events I speak of are not fund raisers though many of them are. The spiritual life of the parishioners is very rich and at Hearts the Polish ethnic life is rich as well. My point is that getting together for spiritual, social, and cultural events is a way of life in this parish cluster. Each parish supports the others so that many hands lighten the load and lots of great things happen.
But getting back to the Pierogi Festival... This is the single biggest fund raiser for Sweetest Heart of Mary parish each year. It's always well attended but some years are better than others (when Mother Nature cooperates with blue skies and sunshine). Last year the crowds were a bit larger than expected and seating for dinners was at a premium. So this year the parish will start serving their pierogi and chicken dinners even earlier. They'll start at 1 o'clock on Saturday and will continue serving them right up until the Polka Mass at 4 pm. Immediately afterwards they'll be at it again along with all the games of chance, music by Pan Franek and Zosia, and dancing exhibitions by the Halka Dancers. There is ample parking (guarded, so no worries mate) and the Detroit Police and Wayne County Sheriffs just love to hang out at the festival so you don't have to worry about feeling unsafe. And on Sunday they'll do it all again.
In addition to dinners, dancing, entertainment, and games, there will be the Moon Walk, face painting and games for the kids. There will also be kielbasa and sauerkraut, naleśniki, and ice cream too. And did I mention the bake sale? Well, there's that too. Doesn't that all sound good? But wait, I haven't gotten to the best part yet. There will be tours of the church too!
You don't have to be Polish or Catholic to enjoy this festival and you certainly don't have to be a member of the parish. It's a good time for all and it helps support a very worthy cause. I personally invite any of you who are able to come to the Pierogi Festival at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church. If you can't make it to the festival, come to Mass any time (they do sell frozen pierogi after Mass in the church hall ;-). You will be impressed by this beautiful old church and the very friendly and hardworking Pastor and parishioners who continue to work tirelessly to support it.
Won't you join us?
(I wrote about this event last year too.)