St. Mary's hosts a festival of many flavors


Americans have hot dogs. Britons have spotted dick. Australians love their Vegemite.

Despite sharing a common language, none of those countries still share a common food.

The same is true of the more than a dozen Spanish-speaking countries represented at Immaculate Conception St. Mary's Parish York's Parish Multicultural Festival this weekend.

Yesenia Ortiz, who will be cooking at the Salvadorean kiosk, is looking forward to the chance to cook her "traditional dishes."

"We are different countries, we have different traditional foods. Some have pupusas, some have tacos, some have cubanos, some have empanadas," she said. "Each country has a different flavor."

Planning: Countless hours go into planning the two-day festival, with meetings starting almost as soon as the event is over and planning in earnest beginning in the fall.

The meetings are run by longtime parishioner Bill Shorb, who says he views himself as the meeting organizer, not its chairman, because of his background in business. The committee is tasked with everything from menu-planning to game prizes, as well as blending the parish's two distinct heritages.

History: The Hispanic members of the parish brought the tradition of the festival with them 20 years ago when Cristo Salvador, the Spanish-language Roman Catholic Church, merged with St. Mary's. St. Mary's itself was founded by German immigrants more than 150 years ago.

The evidence of dueling and co-existing heritages is apparent in everything from the stained glass windows, bearing images of traditional German saints, to the much-decorated statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe near the church's altar, to the traditional Polish halupkis and haluskis, which are sold alongside the traditional Hispanic delicacies of pupusas and empanadas.

The inclusion of traditional Polish fare was the idea of the Rev. Jon Sawicki, a coal-region native who was assigned to St. Mary's Parish in 2012. It was also his idea to change the name from St. Mary's Parish Hispanic Festival to St. Mary's Parish Multicultural Festival.

In rebranding the festival, Sawicki said at the time that the change was not about political correctness but was about recognizing the distinct heritages of the parish — founded by German immigrants, now the Spanish-speaking parish, and overseen by a priest with Polish heritage.

The idea, he said, was to bridge the gap between the native Spanish-speaking parishioners, who have always embraced the idea of a summer festival, and the native English-speaking parishioners, for whom the festival was traditionally Spanish-only.

Food: One of the many changes Sawicki has wrought has been to have menus and descriptions in English and in Spanish, thus eliminating a language barrier and encouraging English speakers to try foods they might otherwise not try.

Regardless of the nationality of the food, they do have one thing in common: all of the foods served at the kiosks are foods that are native to and favorites of their respective country of origin.

Jackie Hernandez, who oversees the foods in the Parish Hall, is from the Dominican Republic.

"Our dish is 'arroz con leche' — rice with milk," she said, adding that it's like a rice pudding, sweet, and served for dessert.

Isidoro "Junior" Colon is responsible for making the Puerto Rican chicken.

"We take long sticks, like a rotisserie, and we cook them outside. A lot of people don't know the tradition, so we show them," Colon said, adding that the specially seasoned and roasted chickens have become a popular item over the years.

Going to the festival

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Immaculate Conception - St. Mary's Church, 309 S. George St., York

Cost: Tickets can be purchased and used to buy food or play games.

More information:Festival Facebook page