Around the ArchdioceseSunday Assembly

Newly formed Marshalltown parish celebrates first ‘Festival on First’ since unification

By Sharon Witty
Witness Correspondent

MARSHALLTOWN — Heat and humidity didn’t stop hundreds of St. Francis of Assisi members and Marshalltown residents from enjoying the something-like 50th annual fall festival held on the grounds and street next to St. Mary Church.

In June, Marshalltown’s St. Mary and St. Henry parishes and Haverhill’s Immaculate Conception Oratory united into one parish, so this was the first year for the St. Francis of Assisi’s Festival on First.

St. Mary began holding a fall festival in 1967.  Nancy Boone, who has been a St. Mary’s member for 67 years, remembers those early fall festivals.

“A sit-down dinner was held in St. Mary’s dining area.  Some of the men built booths out of two-by-fours, and these were set up in the gym.  From these booths, crafts women had worked on all year were sold, as were loose meat and chicken sandwiches,” recalled Boone. “Some of the men stayed overnight to protect the products in the booths. An amusement park was set up outside and an auction held.  The whole town came.  We made big bucks.”

As the years have passed, the church’s membership has diversified, and so has the festival, but it remains a day of food, fun and fellowship.

Father Alan Dietzenbach, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish (left), and Father Michael McAndrew, associate pastor, bless the new cross on St. Mary Church in Marshalltown. The blessing occurred during the “Festival on First” parish festival on Sept. 15. (Photo by Father Dwayne Thoman)

Now, First Street west of St. Mary Church is closed off, thus the name change to Festival on First, and all festivities are held outside.  No longer is a sit-down meal offered, but several popular Mexican and Central American foods are, from enchiladas to posole to papusas to tortas.  But for those who desire American foods, grilled pork burgers and hot dogs are available as are DQ Blizzards and various bars.  No one left hungry from this year’s festival, except those who arrived late, for the Blizzards sold out first, followed by the rest of the foods.

Besides food, festival goers could participate in various activities.  Children could have their faces painted, go fishing or go down the bouncy slide.  Adults could play Lotteria (a Mexican bingo), buy lottery tickets and hope they’d win a prize, or they could sit in the shade and enjoy the Jesus Rey Podersoso praise band (Jesus, Powerful King).  Many enjoyed the medley of opera songs Father Michael McAndrew sang, and all appreciated the blessing of the new cupola and Celtic cross on St. Mary Church.  Many adults took advantage of the chance to just sit and visit.

For Rosie Groteluschen, a former St. Henry member, this was the first time she’d attended the festival.  Not only did Groteluschen participate, she also volunteered to work, obtaining persons to bake bars and working herself at the festival.

“I just enjoyed conversation with people,” she said. “I learned about the food, not only the Mexican, but also the Central American.  It was a great meeting of the people; especially since the unification of the churches, a good way to get the community together.”

It was also the first festival for Father McAndrew, who was ordained on May 25, 2019, and assigned as the associate pastor of St. Francis of Assisi.

“I’ve only been here three months, but it was amazing to realize how many people I’ve come to know,” he said. “The festival was an incredible coming together.  I enjoyed being there, seeing our people having fun, seeing this family together.  And we are a family; we pray together, we share baptisms, and we share funerals.”

The stage has been torn down, the picnic tables returned, the grills picked up and taken home, the dishes washed, and the rain has washed away the chalk drawings on the sidewalk, but the Holy Spirit’s working in the hearts of St. Francis of Assisi family members remains.


Young people dressed up as popular cartoon characters and mingled with the crowd at this year’s Festival on First. (Contributed photo)