Raising FUNDS and FUN!
Church festivals a longtime staple across region

By DAVE FIDLIN - Special to TimeOut

June 8, 2017


A colorful ride awaits unpacking Tuesday afternoon at St. John Vianney Parish, 1755 N. Calhoun Road, Brookfield.

Dan Muckelbauer/Freeman Staff


It is a time-honored summer tradition in Wisconsin, on par with baseball and apple pie.

Every year, like clockwork, church festivals sprout up at a number of parishes throughout the region as the temperatures soar. Many of the festivals have been a part of the landscape for decades.

“Milwaukee has a church festival culture,” said Traci Huntemann-Piatt, a parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Waukesha. “You don’t see that everywhere.”

Huntemann-Piatt and her husband, Joseph Piatt, serve on one of several planning committees for St. Mary’s three-day festival, slated this year from June 23 through June 25, on the church grounds, 225 S. Hartwell Ave.

While church festivals are scattered throughout the summer months, many are held around the same time each year.

Brookfield’s St. John Vianney Parish, 1755 N. Calhoun Road, holds the distinction of having one of the first festivals of the season. Its three-day event kicks off Friday and runs through Sunday.

“It has become a real community event for people of all ages,” said parishioner John Clarke, who has been planning some of the logistics for St. John’s festival for more than a decade.

Because of their longevity and popularity, at least one church festival is held across the Milwaukee metro area most weekends of the summer.

In Milwaukee County, a number of church festivals are also on tap, including one at Milwaukee-based St. Roman Parish, 4300 S. 20th St., from June 15-18, and St. Bernadette, 8200 W. Denver Ave., from June 23 through June 25.

While many of the region’s church festivals are linked to Catholic houses of worship, other faiths have also been part of the tradition. The Annunciation Green Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa, for instance, will hold its longtime Greek Fest from June 23 through June 25 at the Wisconsin State Fair grounds.

Although church festivals have a number of common threads — carnival games, for example — Huntemann-Piatt said each has carved out its own niche.

“Each one of them has its own character and its own keynote things,” Huntemann- Piatt said. St. Mary’s, for example, is known for its vast array of menu items, including rotisserie chicken prepared the old-fashioned way.

While church festivals come and go in the blink of an eye, planning out some of the most granular of details is actually a nearly yearlong process.

“We’ll start planning for the next festival right after the summer,” Clarke said. “There is a lot that has to be figured out, including signing contracts for the next year and getting the vendors on board.”

Volunteerism is also an important part of ensuring the festivals are cost-effective for the host churches and the attendees.

“It’s like a mini Summerfest in some ways,” Huntemann- Piatt said. “We work very hard to make sure it’s very affordable. It’s designed to raise money (for the parish), but the goal is also to have a fun, familyfriendly community event.”

For most of the churches, the annual festivals are one of the largest fundraisers. Proceeds go toward a range of efforts, including operations within the church itself and outreach activities locally and across the globe.

“It’s a substantial fundraiser for us,” Clarke said. “It allows us to continue the mission.”

For the broader community, Huntemann-Piatt said the goal is to share the Gospel with people who might not step inside a church on a regular basis.

“There’s a little bit of a subtle evangelization effort in what we do,” she said.