When parishioners at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Bourbonnais looked at ways to

A mime made dinner conversation enjoyable

revitalize their parish picnic, they turned to their heritage. The church — and the city of Bourbonnais — was founded by French Canadian settlers back in the 19th century, before the Civil War.

Viatorians came to the parish in 1865 from Canada, at the request of the local diocese. Officials were looking for an order of priests and brothers who could teach French speaking children at the school and minister to French Canadian settlers.

“There is a great deal of history here,” says Fr. Richard Pighini, CSV, pastor. “Even the church was built on the property of one of the original French Canadian settlers.”

Consequently, the parish’s first annual French Canadian Fest took place on Sept. 9 and 10, and drew more than 3,000 people, church officials estimate.

A French chef on stilts thrilled the crowd

“It was a huge success,” Fr. Pighini says. “It was something of an experiment to see how it would go, but it turned out to be far bigger than any of the parish picnics we ever had.”

Even Br. John Eustice got into the act, calling Bingo

Guests enjoyed perusing the goods offered by nearly 40 vendors at the open air French market, while eating the French-themed food, ranging from meat pie, quiche and beef bourguignon, to French dip sandwiches and French pastries created by the Sisters of the Fraternite of Notre Dame at St. Roger Abbey in Wilmette.

Patrons lined up for pastries made by the Fraternite of Notre Dame sisters

Guests also enjoyed mingling with a mime, a woman dressed as a French chef — on stilts — and a Parisian juggler. They also had the chance to find out more about their French Canadian roots with members of the Genealogical Society and the Bourbonnais Historical Society.

Many guests also took advantage of the self-guided tours of historic Maternity BVM Church, its cemetery and grotto.

“We wanted to try something different,” Fr. Pighini adds, “and it turned out to be a great event for the whole community.”