The St. Mary Catholic Church will blend community and its parish this weekend with live music, carnival rides, local food and beverages.
The 20th annual St. Mary Festival brings the fun at its the 82 E. William St. church from 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Since 1998, the festival has increased in offerings, square footage and attendance over the last four years, said Christian Cottrell, one of the festival’s three chairmen.
“It was a whole different ball game back then,” he said.
Cottrell said Rev. Michael Watson brought new energy to the festival when he was relocated from a church in Upper Arlington. Watson spearheaded new additions to the festival in 2014 including closing down Henry Street at William Street to have more carnival rides from FunTime, a casino and a second stage for entertainment.
“I’ve had a little experience taking it from more of parish picnic (to a community event),” said Watson, who started a festival at the Upper Arlington church in 2001.
For the St. Mary Festival, Watson was able to secure strong sponsors including from his former parishioners. He started out with $4,000 to $5,000 in funding from sponsors about four years ago compared with about $75,000 this year. About 75 percent of the funds came from parishioners.
Those funds are used to help fund the entertainment and refreshments. But the event keeps the church, which runs St. Mary School, “operationally stable,” Watson said.
“It’s really given us a shot in the arm,” he said. “… This has really helped to stabilize the parish.”
On the food front, the festival will offer St. Mary Grill fare of hamburgers, hot dogs and brats, and three food trucks from FunTime. On Friday night, J. Gumbo’s will be serving up its brand of Cajun and creole cuisine on Friday, while a Columbus restaurant will serve Italian food on Saturday.
The festival will offer a selection of five beers, including two Indian pale ales and its signature St. Margarita.
For entertainment, the Reaganomics, a Columbus-based 1980s cover band, will perform the for the first time on Friday, while The DiVide, a Delaware rock/dance party cover band, will perform as the main act for Saturday. There are a total of eight bands, four for each stage.
“Everybody is welcome to have a good time,” Cottrell said.
“We’re a universal church and we want people to understand that,” he said.
Cottrell said evangelism is not a goal of the event, but tours of the church will be available.
Watson said the festival’s elements create a good time for the general public.
“We like to connect people with their humanity and lead them to divinity,” he said.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.