For those who have read my past columns, you might remember a little event called “Prairie Fest” that I mention every August. Many parishes have summer festivals that they use as their big promotional event of the year, and ironically a small and little known Catholic parish in the far southwest suburbs of Chicago has one of the biggest and best summer festivals.
Prairie Fest is held annually at Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois. Don't let the word “Byzantine” fool you, Annunciation is a proudly 100% Catholic parish that is in full communion with the Pope in Rome. The parish was formed back in 1999 from the merger of two much older parishes in Joliet and Oak Lawn, and dates all the way back to 1915. The middle ground between Oak Lawn and Joliet was then unincorporated Homer township on the Cook County-Will County border, so that is where the new parish was built. Today, it sits on 10 acres of land so there's plenty of room for thousands of visitors during Prairie Fest.
Many of the parishioners at Annunciation are of eastern European ancestry, so there is a decidedly Slavic flavor to the festival, and many ethnic foods are served. Polish visitors are particularly drawn to the festival, although most of the parishioners are of Rusyn ancestry – a group of people who originated in what is modern day Slovakia and Ukraine.
Of course, if you're not ethnically eastern Europe, you don't need to worry because most of the people you'll meet there are third and fourth generation Americans. The festival has a different theme each year, and this year's theme is the “British Invasion”, interestingly enough. It's the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in America, so Annunciation is celebrating by featuring the Beatles tribute band American English and Chicago’s own Maggie Speaks. Other music acts include Harvest Moon on Saturday, and Polka Generations and Eddie Korosa on Sunday. The festival includes three days of live music and dancing.
Friday night will include pizza from Chicago's own Nancy's Pizza, while a full day of Polka music & dancing and ethnic foods will be available on Sunday! There will also be bingo, $10,000 in raffle prizes including a $5000 grand prize, a baked goods sale, VIP tent, beer garden, Kids Area with games for children, and 3 full days of arts & crafts show. Free tours of the prairie grounds that showcase the parish’s award winning sustainable environment and water management Ecosystem plan will be available, as well as free tours of the church where you can see icons and murals painted by the parish's pastor, Fr. Thomas J. Loya.
Katie Gulas, who is a member of Annuniciaton Parish and on the Prairie Fest planning committee, told me her thoughts on this year's fest: "We're very excited about Prairie Fest this year because we think we have a lot of wonderful things to offer to the community. Our mission for Prairie Fest is directly in line with the mission of our parish. We're seeking to evangelize to those around us by sharing our unique God-given gifts with them. We may not be a large parish, but we have huge hearts and a great passion for serving God and we want to share that with as many people as possible." I couldn't agree more
Admission to the festival is free, although there is a $5 fee for on-site parking. The festival date and location is as follows:
Prairie Fest 2014: The British Invasion
Annunciation of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church
14610 Will-Cook Rd.
Homer Glen, Illinois
August 8, 9 & 10, 2014. 5 10pm on Friday, 3pm 10pm on Saturday & 11am 6pm on Sunday.
Most Chicago area Catholics are Roman Catholics who have never foot inside in a Byzantine Catholic parish, and not even know they exist or what to expect. If you're one of them, now you're chance to find out. Looking for something fun and unique to do for the upcoming August 8-10th weekend? Look no further than Prairie Fest in Homer Glen, Illinois.