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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Artist Sue Hand painting a scene from the St. Mary's Homecoming Picnic
Artist Sue Hand painting a scene from the St. Mary's Homecoming Picnic, September 1999

Saint Mary's Annual Homecoming Picnic

Held every Labor Day weekend in Mocanaqua in the heart of the coal mining region in Northeast Pennsylvania, this two-day festival is the social highlight of the year for the parishioners of Saint Mary's, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. Sobieski Park has been the picnic site since 1933, when the men of the parish cleared land donated by the West End Coal Company and built a kitchen, dance hall, and large outdoor fireplace on it. The church had first been completed in 1904, but burned to the ground when a spark from a passing locomotive landed on its roof and ignited the wooden structure. The parishioners again raised funds for a new church, which was dedicated in 1914 at its present site out of the reach of flying sparks.

Beginning with Eastern European immigrants, the parish grew over the years as the church embraced new Polish and Italian immigrants. To strengthen the bonds between the church members and to raise money for church functions, an annual end-of-the-summer church celebration was established on a piece of land "sold" (at a cost of $1) by the coal company, as company management knew they needed to keep this enormous pool of cheap labor content by providing a piece of land for the celebration of their ethnic heritage. The men of the parish cleared boulders and trees, leveled the land, and dug a well on the parcel of land purchased from the coal company. The focal point of the park was a cement fountain. The Sobieski Park was formally dedicated in 1933, and has served as the site of the homecoming picnic -- a reunion, of sorts -- for those who have moved out of town but always return for the picnic.

Planning for the picnic begins in May, and in the next several months parishioners donate designated items. In July and August, the cooking (and freezing) begins in earnest by the women of St. Mary's. Kluski,  golabki (stuffed cabbage), pierogies (dough filled with mashed potatoes, cheese or sauerkraut), potato pancakes, czarnina (duck blood soup), ziti, as well as more traditional American foods such as hotdogs, hamburgers, turkey, apple sauce are prepared. Men of the parish also help to prepare the food, and others work at Sobieski Park to mow grass, repair and paint the stands, transport benches, and clean the kitchen areas.

On Labor Day weekend, the picnic festivities begin Saturday with a Polka Mass, and polka bands and dancers in traditional Polish costume provide entertainment throughout the event. The festivities continue on Sunday, when ethnic music and dance groups perform, attired in authentic Polish dress. The wide variety of ethnic foods is served, including pierogies, halushki, potato pancakes, czarnina, ziti with meatballs, and a multitude of desserts. For the 1999 picnic, Mussari-Loftus Associates of Dallas, Pennsylvania, produced a video documentary which includes highlights of the traditional outdoor Polka Mass, and a nostalgic tribute to the founders of the parish. Also, an interview with the last surviving child of one of the nine original founders of St. Mary's Church provides viewers with a detailed history of the event and how it has evolved over the past 85 years into a major, two-day community-wide celebration. Artist Sue Hand captured the event by painting two watercolors, and special postcards were available noting the picnic as a designated Library of Congress Local Legacy.

Project documentation includes a videotape, seven pages of text, 44 color photographs, newspaper clippings, church bulletins, and a tee shirt.

Originally submitted by: Paul E. Kanjorski, Representative (11th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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