Since the annual homecoming picnic at St. Patrick’s Rock Church on Rock Church Road, Catawissa, was revived 42 years ago, the event has grown to one of the biggest in the county.
On Sunday, Aug. 17, the picnic will again bring together generations of families associated with the old parish and provide the bulk of revenue to maintain the 1867 church and grounds.
The picnic which features family-style chicken and roast beef dinners, games, a country store and country music has raised more than $1 million, which has all been spent on the seven buildings in the complex, especially the 1867 Missouri limestone church.
The St. Patrick’s Preservation Society, established the year the picnics were revived, maintains the property and organizes the picnic.
Approximately 300 volunteers, led by Billy Murphy, Preservation Society president, and Bob Conley, picnic co-chair, have worked for weeks spiffing up the church, cemetery and grounds for the picnic, which is the only fundraiser for the remote country church.
On the day of the event, volunteers park cars, man bingo tables, operate game, children’s and memorabilia booths, fry chickens, make homemade noodles, and for six hours they serve a steady stream of diners all they can eat.
The day begins with 11 a.m. Mass. Fried chicken and beef dinners are served immediately following in the long screened dining room fand throughout the afternoon.
Many of the volunteers are descendants of original parishioners and first joined the homecoming picnic corps to make sure the cemetery, where family members are buried, was maintained. They come from across the United States each August to do their part to help take care of the old place. Each year it seems to look better.
Ten years ago, the Society completely restored the priest’s residence, which was listing like a sailing ship or the Leaning Tower of Pizza, by jacking the structure up, building a new foundation, and putting it all back together board by board.
Two years ago, the large Mark Pross pavilion, with its green tin roof that matches all the other buildings, was added to the quad where four antique maples once provided shade. The perennial bingo games are held there.
Last year, the 1865 priests barn, the last building in the compound to be restored, was completely rebuilt, set on a new concrete slab, painted a shade of barn red the old priests never dreamed of, and topped with a matching green tin roof. An extensive search found an antique buggy, like the one the priests used which is on display there.
This year returnees will see two large pillars, crafted of stones that look as old as the stones of the church, guard the entrance to the cemetery, waiting for a high wrought iron arch to connect them and wrought iron gates.
“I don’t think we can have the gates in time for the picnic,” Murphy said. “But I think people will like the stone columns — they make us look substantial.”