Angels in our community

Angels in our community

This season, as we celebrate the angels who played a crucial role in heralding the birth of Jesus, we also celebrate angels in our own midst who work to strengthen our churches and communities.

Among those angels who walk among us are the people who dedicate their time and talents to St. Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish’s Holly Berry Fair, an annual tradition that raises funds for the Kittanning church’s mission and ministries. This year, the fair is scheduled for December 3 and 4.

“Angels can be people who show concern for our community,” said Father Ronald L. Maquiñana, Pastor of St. Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. “Even with the pandemic, the volunteers we have for this fair are hopeful, positive and resilient.”

One of these angels was the first person Father Maquiñana met when he joined the parish: lifelong parishioner Helen Gispanski. For nearly 25 years, Gispanski has worn many hats in service to the parish: providing Eucharistic ministry to the homebound, decorating for events, cleaning and, of course, helping with the Holly Berry Fair that started in 1983 as a fundraiser to build the parish hall.

“Almost every day of Helen’s life is in the church,” Father Maquiñana said. “I am very grateful for her presence, time and generosity, and I would say she is one of the angels that helps make this parish more active and vibrant.”

Fair volunteer Roseann Ribycki helps organize the basket raffle that this year will feature 65 baskets. Ribycki marvels at the generosity of her fellow parishioners and local businesses in the community who support the event — even as the COVID-19 pandemic creates challenges for everyone.

“Because of COVID, our fair has changed quite a bit, and we did not go solicit in the communities,” Ribycki said. “But the businesses were still more than generous and offered to donate without us even asking. We only expected 30 or 40 baskets this year, so to have 65 is tremendous.”

Among this year’s basket themes are sports, Italian night, tacos and Legos; other baskets feature items from local restaurants and salons and Christmas baking supplies. The most popular basket each year is the lottery tree.

The fair will feature a soup and bread sale, takeout stuffed chicken dinners, a raffle for cash prizes, a sale of used Christmas items, and children’s surprise packages. Due to COVID-19 precautions, the traditional bake sale will not be part of this year’s fair.

Patty Swartzlander, a 25-year volunteer, noted that the combined generosity of all involved with the Holly Berry Fair helps to raise up to $20,000 annually to support the church, although this total is expected to be lower this year due to the pandemic. She said the fair brings out the best in everyone, even people who aren’t part of the parish.

 “The original Santa and Mrs. Claus weren’t even Catholic, but they refused pay and simply offered to come for the children year after year,” she said.


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