OLEAN — The Rev. Gregory Dobson didn’t have much time at this year’s St. Mary of the Angels’ Festival to enjoy Italian sausage with his family and friends. Instead, amidst the announcer calls from the “I got it!” booth and the ticks of the spinning cake-walk wheel, he gave confessions, hosted pilgrims and guided tours.
“We’re tying together our religious tradition and the tradition of a big outdoor street party,” Dobson said Saturday afternoon. “We’re going to be here every June, we might as well say this is what we’re really about.”
The 46th church festival once again raised funds for the recently-designated basilica through its usual collection of street food, games and live entertainment. But Dobson said it was equally important for St. Mary’s to stress the religious roots of the weekend’s festivities.
He added some churches “had a festival that could have very easily been the Erie County Fair — I mean it doesn’t have any religious component.”
That aspect of the festival is meant to be supplemented with the event’s hour changes, in particular the nixing of Friday events and an ending of 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, both of which had in years’ past ran until midnight. Together, those shifts shortened the festival by eight hours.
Did that affect festival attendance? Dobson said he was pleased with this year’s turnout. After skimming the crowd and not recognizing but a few people, he added this year’s festival brought in more people from Allegany, Portville, Wellsville and surrounding areas.
“I’ve seen people come quite a distance to be here,” he said.
Dobson said the time changes were primarily for the good of the volunteers.
“The people said to me, ‘We’re pushing too hard’” said the reverend. He added volunteers were working double shifts and becoming exhausted by the weekend’s activities.
Dobson said one of the volunteers even thanked the reverend for the change, saying “We can do it better without being exhausted.”
Though one festival-goer remarked the church could lose funds based off the shorter hours, many of the Saturday festival-goers said they were unphased by the change.
Danielle Vaughn, 21, of Olean, said she “didn’t really notice.”
To Jeanne Frisina, an Olean volunteer at the festival, St. Mary’s annual event is still “the starting festival of the summer.”
And many said the entertainment, culinary and social aspects of the festival will keep them coming back.
“I think it just really promotes the family atmosphere,” said Amy Windus, a resident of Olean and volunteer at the St. Mary’s festival. “It’s also a great way to support the church, and it’s fun.”
(Reporter Tom Dinki contributed to this story.)