July 17, 2017

Annual Polka Mass and Dozynski Festival celebrate Polish culture

Story and photos by Kathleen Harrington

SPRINGFIELD – The 37th annual Polish-American Dozynki Festival got underway Saturday, July 15, at Immaculate Conception Parish in Indian Orchard.

By mid-afternoon, under the main tent, the dance floor was filled with people fast-stepping to the lively music of the Dennis Polisky and the Maestro’s Men Polka Band. Just before 4 p.m., the tempo changed. The first Mass of the weekend got underway with Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski as the principal celebrant.

After months of planning and days of cooking, hundreds of people filled the church grounds for Polish and American foods. The band took a short break as the dance floor was transformed into the altar. Food and drink booths shut down when the church bells rang out. Then, striking up again, the band played the entrance hymn polka-style.

Leading Bishop Rozanski and Father Stanley Sokol, pastor of Immaculate Conception, into the tent was a solemn procession including a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, food to represent the harvest and a group of people in traditional Polish dress.

The readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time tell of Christ sowing seeds of the words of God and reaping the harvest. In his homily, Bishop Rozanski recalled his pilgrimage to World Youth Day last summer and spoke of the farms that still dot the landscape of Poland.

“The farmers who worked so hard to feed so many, give thanks for the bounty of their harvest,” he said. “As we give thanks to God for the fruits of the harvest, for the food that nourishes our body, let us also profess our faith in the food that is forever, that which gives us the medicine of immortality for life that is eternal.

“To God be the glory. In all things may our lives glorify him. And as we take part in the everlasting bread, we will have life,” said Bishop Rozanski.

Among the gifts presented at the Mass was freshly baked bread representing the harvest. As people lined up to receive Communion, the polka rendition of “Lord, You have come to the seashore” played. Among the faithful, there were some people who sang along in Polish.

“It’s the best to have Bishop Rozanski here for Mass especially because he’s Polish,” said Sandy Bolek a lifelong parishioner of Immaculate Conception. Bolek’s husband organized the Dozynki Festival for more than 30 years. This year she was part of the army of pierogi makers.

“About 20 to 25 people worked seven to eight hours a day to make the pierogi,” she explained. Working in the kitchen in the lower part of the church, her friend Stacia Kopec was a key member of the team. Immigrants from Poland, Stacia and her husband have been members of Immaculate Conception Parish for more than 30 years. Kopec earned a ringing endorsement from Bolek. “Stacia makes the best pierogi,” she said.

This is a parish-wide event. One family grew 1,500 heads of cabbage to donate to the fundraiser. The volunteers made 15,000 pierogi including sweet cheese, blueberry, cabbage, and potato and cheese. Others worked on the golumbki, making 8,000 to serve over the course of the festival. Also on the menu were kapusta and kielbasa.

Heading back to the sacristy to unvest, Bishop Rozanski stopped to take a photo with a parishioner. Eager to enjoy dinner, he said this is the food he grew up eating. His favorite: the golumbki.

“I hear the golumbki here are the best,” he said. “They made eight thousand,” offered Father Sokol. “I won’t eat all of them,” joked Bishop Rozanski. “Just a few!”

“It’s a privilege and a joy to be here today to celebrate the Dozynski Festival and to give thanks to God for the fruits of the earth and also as we heard in the Gospel, the fruits of our faith,” Bishop Rozanski added, as he headed to have dinner with Father Sokol. “So tied up in Polish culture and Polish expressions of faith and we find them all here today,” he said.

As the Mass ended, the faithful stood to make a consecration to Our Lady of Fatima. Outside the tent, the crowd grew and people stood in lines in anticipation of the food counters reopening. The festival attracts people from all across the city and the Diocese of Springfield, including Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and parishioners from Christ the King Parish.

“I used to come for the rides, now I come for the food,” said a teenage boy from Ludlow. Others were eager for the polka band to begin playing again. Several couples from St. Stanislaus Church in Chicopee came for the homemade food and an evening of dancing. 

The festival continued on Sunday, July 16.