Holy Spirit Parish Festival kicks off

New chef Mark Mijavec in his kitchen at Holy Spirit Parish Festival.

As usual, it’s the food that draws the crowds to the festival on the grounds of St. Vitus Church.

Although it’s been going strong for more nearly 40 years, much is new this year, including the name of the event — The Holy Spirit Parish Festival. The new name reflects the new reality of Catholic churches of the Pittsburgh Diocese, which is merging 188 parishes into 57 due to the declining number of priests and parishioners. In Lawrence County, St. Vitus, St. Joseph, St. James, St. Camillus, St. Vincent de Paul, Mary, Mother of Hope and Christ the King merged into Holy Spirit Parish.

With the merged parish, came a larger pool of volunteers willing to roll up their sleeves and make the festival a success.

“Everything is good,” said festival chairman Anthony “Bo” DeCarbo. The rain held off, he said, pointing to the statue of St. Joseph perched above the parish office door. “St. Joseph keeps the rain away.”

At the “dry run” on Tuesday night, he said, 55 to 60 volunteers, representing all of the merged parishes showed up to pray with Holy Spirit pastor, the Rev. Joseph McCaffrey, as well as Sister Annie Bremmer and Deacon Matthew Hawkins. The volunteers received their red Holy Spirit Parish shirts.

“Then tonight at 4 p.m., we opened and it was chaos,” DeCarbo said. “Just like always.”

DeCarbo said all of the usual food — cavatelli, pasta fagioli, eggplant, sausage and meatball sandwiches, pizza and pizza greens and fried dough — is in place. Nightly specials, from 4 p.m. until they run out, include chicken florentine over rice today; penne in vodka sauce with sausage tomorrow; and polenta in red sauce with sausage on Saturday. Yesterday’s special, greens and beans and stuffed hot peppers, sold out before 7 p.m.

From 6 p.m. until closing each night there will be lamb and chicken on the rod, steak and kielbasa sandwiches, pepperoni puffs hot dogs, french fries, nachos, ice cream, Italian ice and a variety of baked goods and Italian pastries.

To cut down on lines, DeCarbo said, heat lamps were introduced this year.

“They will make sandwiches fresh, wrap them, put them under the lamp and when someone orders one, they can grab and go,” he said.

In the kitchen, new chef Mark Mijavec oversees food preparation while in the church hall, an army of volunteers were making and shaping dough.

The two “dough boys” hard at work mixing dough were Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto and his friend, Mickey Michalojko.

“The first year I volunteered I said I’d do anything that is labor intensive and did not require any thinking,” Motto said. “So I do this every year.”

His wife, Gerrianne, was outside in the fried dough concession.

After the dough is made, it is left to rise. Then Pat Torsello and her crew, who include her daughter Deanna Othites and Erica Bruce, shape it into circles for fried dough. Down the table, Terry Blesch, Barb Farone, Sally Carando and Pat Passerrello work it into shapes for pizza and pepperoni puffs, being assembled by Joe Sarbo.

Outside, Anthony DiThomas dished out Italian ice, donating all the profits to the church, and Marc Caminiti took over the chicken and lamb on a rod booth assembling those and steak sandwiches to the public.

Entertainment is also a draw at the festival.

Father-and-son duo Benny and Egidio Faiella from Aliquippa played their guitar and mandolin, offering Italian-style tunes. The two have played the festival for eight years. In the big tent, the Lawrence County Band played yesterday.

Tonight’s entertainment will be Gene Testa, the Red Coat Bank and the Baby Doll Dance at 9:30 p.m.

Tomorrow night will be Steve Fazzini, the Lawrence County Brass and The Dorals, who will begin at 8 p.m.

Saturday’s entertainment will be Nunzio Burrelli, The Butch Nichols Band and fireworks by StarFire Corp. at 10:30 p.m.

A children’s area with rides and bouncy slides is also available.