St. Mary’s Feast
Fond Memories of the Maple Street Event
By Jack Coll
Like everyone else in Conshohocken the Coronavirus scare has me grounded, like everyone else in Conshohocken I’m not happy being limited to staring out the front and back doors. I’m also not happy about the fact that my wife and kids have ganged up on me to remind me that I’m in my “MID SIXTIES,” apparently that makes me prime meat for the virus. Nor am I thrilled that every one of our favorite Conshohocken restaurants are closed for dinning. Bla, Bla, Bla.
So when I head to my third floor office after dinner every night I can’t help but think about more joyful times when the residents would come together for some of our wonderful town events. There’s the little leagues, both baseball and football, what’s not to like, we’re outside enjoying fresh air at one of our wonderful parks, I think about the annual Soap Box Derby, Fourth of July, and fireworks at the park.
I think about the Halloween Parade, the Christmas Tree lighting, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Donofrio Basketball Classic, among other special events that are held during the course of a year in Conshohocken.
But sitting here tonight, more than anything I’m missing the SS Cosmas and St. Mary’s Annual Feasts. What I really liked about Cosmas Feast was the food, and what I really miss about St. Mary’s Feast is, well, the food.
In 1984, when Father Ladislaus Ryczek started his second stint with St. Mary’s, a Reverend from 1964-1968 and later as Pastor from 1983-1994 he expanded the celebration from one day to a two day outdoor summer feast that was fabulous, typically held in June or July. On Saturday night they would block off lower Maple Street from Elm Street to First Avenue, if I remember right things got going on Saturday following the afternoon mass. (Remember I’m writing most of this from memory so if I slip here-or-there keep in mind that I’m now in my mid-sixties and that’s my excuse) Then Sunday following the 12:00 mass the beer garden would once again open.
In 1984 I covered the event for the Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper and recall a complete roast beef diner being served in the parish hall, the hall always look full to me. A festive breakfast/brunch was served on Sunday after Mass. St Mary’s Holy Name Society constructed booths for games and activities in the school hall and on the grounds for the children.
In 1984 Walter Lesniewski was the Event General Chairman along with Vice Chairman Carl Hylinski with help from John Czajkowski, Phil and Jane Taddeo, Marie Klinciewicz and Irene Tarloski.
The event promoted The Polka Express Band on Saturday and Big Wally and his band on Sunday, but the real attraction every year was the food. Let’s see, I remember my wife Donna standing in line for a plate of golambki’s every year, I’m sitting here and I can smell the stuffed cabbage, pierogi’s, dumplings filled with various mixtures, chruscki, Kielbasa and sausage sandwiches.
Paging through some old notes I noticed that sometime during the mid 1980’s there was an open-air Polka Mass, the music was provided by a group called the “Polka Kats,” the other band that year was the “Polka Express.” I remember some other bands through the years that played the feast including The Merry Makers, Johnny Haas Orchestra, The Joe Stanky Band, Big Wally, The Music Box, and The Golden Tones are some of the bands I remember, (With the help of some old notes)
I called an old friend Dolores Wood to perhaps help me recall a few memories of the feast and I said “Hey Dolores, I’m running a little article on St. Mary’s Feast and I was wondering if you had anything to contribute?” Dolores responded with “You know Saint Mary’s Church was founded to serve the Polish immigrants beginning in the early 1900’s.” I replied that’s very interesting Dolores, but the feast! Dolores replied “The Poles held a special love to the Blessed Mother and many Marian devotions are celebrated throughout the liturgical calendar. It was fitting to call the newly established church, The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a feast celebrated on December 8, and a holy day of obligation. The parish later was known as Saint Mary.”
Well, I must say that I found that very interesting but I told Dolores that I wasn’t talking about the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrated on December 8, I was talking about the church summer feast. “Oh, that was fun.”
Dolores was in full teacher’s history mode, she replied, “Masses prior to Vatican Council were celebrated in Latin but readings, responses, homilies and songs were in Polish. Processions celebrated special feast like Dawn Resurrection Services at Easter, Corpus Christi and Marian crowning, school children, united with the various organizations, including the Rosary Society, Sodality, Holy Name Society, Saint Clare Society processed on the grounds of the church.
I caught up with Ed Garbacz, a long time St. Mary’s parishioner and I posed the same question to Ed that I asked Dolores, “Hey Ed, what do you remember about St. Mary’s Feast?” Without blinking he said, “Putting up the tent, it was a back breaker putting up that massive tent the first few years.” In order to make it a rain or shine event sometime in the mid-to-late 1980’s, (I think it was 1988) they came in with a circus size tent and constructed a dance floor in the middle, it was then that the bands sounded a little better, the dancing seemed to go a little later into the night and the kids and adults seem to blend into one big happy family.
The event offered Bingo and other adult games but it always seemed to me that the money wheel was the big attraction, you could lay down your dollar and walk away with four or five bucks if your number came up on the wheel, how exciting, it was like getting a free beer or two.
I remember someone saying in the early 1990’s that more than 15,000 pierogis were made-up for the feast. I’m not quite sure when the outdoor portion of the feast ceased to happen, but in recent years they continued with a Sunday afternoon indoor feast including all the best Polish food on this side of Poland.
Here’s the thing, That’s the way I remember it, That’s the way I wanna remember it and at times like this when I’m locked down, I think about Father Ryczek greeting me with his big Polish smile saying “Welcome my friend” he honestly made me feel like I belonged in Conshohocken. Good Lord, it’s a wonderful memory. Father Ryczek was a friend of mine and I think about him often.
We went through the Conshystuff files and came up with a few St. Mary’s Feast photographs, take a moment and enjoy them, I hope you have a special St. Mary’s Feast memory.
Stay safe and healthy in these trying times, and may God bless all our Conshohocken neighbors and friends all over the world.
Thanks for the memories, some of the best!