GREEN BAY — It was a block party like no other. With the jazz and polka sounds of Kevin Van Ess and Talk of the Town band in the air, a party mood emanated outside of St. Mary of the Angels Church on Aug. 22.
With one block of Irwin Avenue blocked off from traffic, the street was turned into a gathering place following the 9 a.m. Mass. On either side of the street, booths and tables featuring food, games and crafts were all part of St. Mary’s Block Party Fun Fest.
The event was organized by parish leaders as a way to build community in a unique community setting, as Deacon Paul Umentum, pastoral leader at St. Mary of the Angels, explained.
In 2018, St. Mary of the Angels Church and Friary, owned by the Franciscans of the Assumption BVM Province, was sold to The Commonwealth Companies. The Fond du Lac development company converted the friary — which once housed up to 50 Franciscan priests, brothers and novices — into 18 apartment units.
In addition, 20 two-story, three-bedroom townhouse units with attached garages were constructed on the four-acre property behind the friary.
While the friary underwent renewal, so did the church. Major renovations took place and the restored St. Mary of the Angels Church was rededicated by Bishop David Ricken on Feb. 22, 2020.
“At the same time people moved into the apartments, we opened up the church,” said Deacon Umentum. “We were planning on getting to know the apartment people and then, two weeks later, COVID hit. So it put everything on hold.”
About six months ago, parish leaders decided to plan for a “meet and greet” with residents in the friary apartments and townhouses, now known as Friar House Flats.
“We said, ‘Let’s do something where we just invite everyone from the apartments to mingle with us, get to know us,” said Deacon Umentum. “The Catholic Foundation (of the Diocese of Green Bay) had a grant program, so we applied for a grant and told them what we would be doing as a meet and greet —- kind of an evangelization project — and they were all on board.”
“As far as we know, none of the people (living in the apartments or townhouses) are Catholic, so we wanted to reach out to them because they see this church,” said Franciscan Fr. Finian Zaucha, priest celebrant. “This is why this is not a parish picnic, it’s not a fundraiser. It’s for the people to come to get to know us.”
Fr. Zaucha offered guided tours and a history of St. Mary Church to guests who were curious about the religious structure.
Deacon Umentum said flyers were distributed to residents, inviting them to the block party.
“We want to bring the parish more into the neighborhood, which has turned over,” he said. “It’s not that they aren’t coming to this church. They are not coming to any church. So it’s really discipleship getting into the neighborhood.”
The evangelization grant totaled $2,000, said Deacon Umentum. “We couldn’t use it for food and drink, so the parish is sponsoring the sandwiches and water.” The grant did help to pay for the band and other expenses.
“Without the foundation’s support, we probably still could have done it, but it was nice to maybe make it known to the diocese,” he added. “I think we are the only parish with apartments attached to it. It’s unique and we want to take advantage of it.”
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