SHELTON—More than 45 years ago, when America was facing a financial crisis, the young parish of St. Margaret Mary was confronting harsh economic realities of its own. The church had closed the school that summer and was struggling to pay off a staggering mortgage.
That winter, a group of women conceived of a Christmas celebration to help the parish. They called it the “Holly Fair,” and from that first year, it was an enormous success, offering homemade food, arts and crafts, a raffle, baked goods, music, activities for children and, of course, a visit from Santa.
The Women’s Group of St. Margaret Mary has continued the tradition, and hundreds of people showed up December 7. Under the leadership of President LeAnne Sheldon, the fair showcased several dozen crafts vendors, a “cookie walk,” a basket raffle, a bake sale and for the first time, a children’s holiday boutique, which offered inexpensive gifts for kids to buy for their family and friends.
“It has always been a really good fundraiser and community event,” said Sheldon, who chaired the committee for the fourth year. “The women love getting together to work on it and we look forward to it every year.”
Money raised from the Holly Fair assists ministries of the parish, including the youth group, Sheldon said.
The Women’s Group has a history of helping the parish and the larger community, said former pastor Father Philip Brady, who at 101 still celebrates Mass several times a week at his senior residence in Orchard Park, NY, outside of Buffalo.
“The fair began in 1973, after I had been pastor for five years,” he recalled in a phone interview. “The ladies did all the work. It was a big event and went over well. The women are a great group and hard workers, who put on a number of events during the year to raise money for the parish.”
One of the popular activities this year was the “Cookie Walk,” which was held in the new Sacred Heart Parish Center, completed under the leadership of Father Ciprian Bejan, who recently celebrated his fifth year as pastor.
Parishioners each donated five dozen of their favorite homemade cookies, from Italian anginettes to short bread, butter balls and fudge, and people walked past the tables, selecting their favorite assortment.
Barbara Nordin and her husband Dave, who have been parishioners since 1966, work at the fair every year. “Everyone is always eager to help,” she said. “And Father Ciprian is doing a great job. He is a blessing to our parish. Everyone loves him and wants to help him.”
Barbara Mariano, treasurer of the Women’s Group, said, “This is a popular tradition for the parish that attracts a lot of people.
As Father Bejan made his way through the tables of gifts and crafts, he said, “Every year it improves. The woman organize the fair and what they raise helps other groups and charitable organizations. People come and go, and priests come and go, but this fair shows continuity for future generations.”