94th Annual Celebration of the Feast of Saint Wencelaus; Keeping the Doors Open
On Saturday night, September 30th, we went to the Bohemian National Hall on Broadway Avenue to attend the 94th Annual Celebration of the Feast of Saint Wencelaus which was hosted by "Our Lady of Lourdes Parish" in Cleveland. This year the banquet was dedicated to the memory of the Most Reverend Daniel Kucera, O.S.B., Archbishop of Dubuque, who passed at the end of May, 2017.
It was explained to us by Ms. Betty Bican, who did a lot of work organizing this event, that "Our Lady of Lourdes" and "St. John Nepomucene" are the only two remaining Bohemian parishes in the "Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland" so they take turns hosting this annual custom.
As the program notes read in part, St. Wenceslaus, a leader of the Bohemian government in the early 900's, "stood for Christian values in the midst of the political intrigues which characterized 10th century Bohemia...His rule was marked by efforts toward unification within Bohemia, support of the Church, and peace making negotiations with Germany, a policy which caused him trouble with the anti-Christian opposition." This eventually lead to his death but "St. Wenceslaus became the symbol of the Czech nation, the Patron of Old Bohemia...Under his statue in 1848 the Czech constitution was formulated, and in 1918 the declaration of Czechoslovak Independence was proclaimed there. Since 1670 , the feast of St. Wenceslaus has been celebrated in the universal church on September 28th."
For this occasion, Ms. Margaret W. Wong was a Diamond Sponsor and we were seated at a table with some very nice people who wanted to learn about what our job entailed and these were Mr. Joe and Ms. Joan Krakora, Mr. Rich and Ms. Karen Prospal, Mr. Jack and Ms. Pat Wolf, and Mr. Jim Perk.
To be sure, we spent a lot of time wandering from table to table and visiting with such people as the Most Reverend Roger W. Gries the former Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland, Judge Ralph and Ms. Kelli Perk, and former U.S. Congressperson Mary Rose Oakar who was there with her niece, Ms. Ann Clair Oakar who is a candidate for Cleveland Municipal Judge. We also complimented Ms. Marjorie Juba, from "Sokol Greater Cleveland", for her singing of the Czech and Slovak national anthems in their native languages as well our own "Star-Spangled Banner". And, of course, it was always good to encounter Ms. Helen Roth who has been a stalwart at the Bohemian National Hall since the 1970's and is respected and loved by all.
Throughout the evening we were entertained by the Hronek Brass Band and towards the end of the night a couple or two got up and danced to the music.
There were no speeches except for a hearty welcome by Bishop Gries and the invocation by Reverend Joseph H. Callahan, the Pastor at "Our Lady of Lourdes Parish", in which he said that he was glad, in terms of this celebration, that they had made it to 94 years and he hoped, with some help, that they would make it to 100!
To help our beloved St. Colman Church, located near West 65th Street and Lorain Avenue, we attended its annual "Keeping the Doors Open" benefit on Sunday, October 1st, which was held at the West Side Irish American Club in Olmsted Township wherein the highlight was be the honoring of two people who have contributed a lot to St. Colman's over the years.
Accordingly, the first of these was Ms. Eileen Kelly described in the program notes as having served as "an outreach minister for 21 years. She originated many programs to help those most in need. Eileen was instrumental in saving St. Colman's from closing." The other deserving honoree was Sister Mary Beth Gray, SND, described as being "for 14 years the Music Director at St. Colman's Parish. She had the ability to use the beauty of music to lift the morale and spirit of St. Colman's."
When we arrived we were shown into the Abby Madison room just in time for the lunchtime blessing which was given by Father Caroli Shao. Just as Ohio Court of Appeals Judge Sean Gallagher emceed the program taking place in the in the Ballroom, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Shannon Gallagher took care of things in our area where we were entertained by Mr. Billy Kaye, Mr. Larry Patch, and Mr. Jeff Pecon, three talented musicians who played such favorites as "When the Saints Go Marching In", "Young at Heart", and "That's Amore". As we listened to the songs while we munched on some veggies, we visited with our table partners who were a man named Pat who has been attending happenings at the West Side Irish American Club for some 50 years now and his wife, Joan, who used to work for "Manhattan Deli" on whose behalf she sometimes delivered food to "Margaret W. Wong & Associates".
Soon it was time for the ceremonies to begin, so we moved into the Ballroom where we were recognized by last year's honoree, Father James P. O'Donnell who warmly shook our hand. After everyone was settled, we watched a brief documentary film about Ms. Kelly and Sr. Mary Beth that was put together by the skilled filmmaker, Mr. Ron Strah who produced the film that was shown for the 2016 benefit as well.
Just as was the case the previous evening at Bohemian National Hall, former U.S. Congressperson Mary Rose Oakar and her niece, Ms. Ann Marie Oakar, were in attendance and, even though St. Colman's was not the U.S. Congressperson's own parish, she had enjoyed a good relationship with it and its parishioners over the years so she shared some precious memories.
The person who actually presented the awards to the honorees was Cleveland City Councilperson Matt Zone (Ward 15) who praised the St. Colman parish for the outstanding assistance that it provides to the surrounding community; in fact, he frequently refers constituents there for help. As for the honorees, Councilperson Zone knew both of them quite well and thus paid them loving tributes. For instance, he said of Sister Mary Beth that if one ever wants to" hear the angels sing" just be at St. Colman's whenever she leads the choir which is all-encompassing inter-generational as well as multi-ethnic. Of Ms. Kelly, he credited her with being a key force regarding the establishment and maintenance of the social programs that so greatly help those in need in addition to being the "quarterback" in terms of rallying the parish and the community to stop the closing of St. Colman's just a few years ago.
Very fine short biographies of both women, written by Mr. Terry Allen, appeared in our souvenir booklet. We learned that some of the exercises that Ms. Kelly was involved with were the organization of neighborhood meals; an educational program to help people obtain a G.E.D.; collecting and distributing school supplies to kids; training people to use a computer; and, of course, the founding of the ID Crisis Collaborative (IDCC) "where a person could get help to obtain their birth certificate and social security number to get a photo ID." For Sister Mary Beth it, was written (and we learned from talking to her later) that she very actively pursued St. Colman's international members to take part in the choir including those who immigrated to the United States from such countries as the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Tanzania. As one choir member recalled, songs have been sung in Spanish, Swahili, and Zulu. Sister Mary Beth also worked extensively with Mr. Jieming Tang, the remarkable young violinist from China, who performed quite a few times at St. Colman's during his time in Cleveland.
In the course of their acceptance speeches, Ms. Kelly urged that those who in the future will "open the door" of St. Colman's to someone in need to pray that they will be able to do so with a "loving, open heart" and do their utmost to help them and Sister Mary Beth asked that the younger members of the parish would "lead us into a future laced with love."
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