Festival set for Saturday
The Roll & Stroll. While St. Thomas Aquinas’ Irish-Italian Festival parade has a new moniker, it will be the same ole fun as it has been in years’ past and perfect for the entire family.
The 10th annual Stroll, which is free to enter, gets underway at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 18, as floats, walking groups, decorated cars and others make their way west down 4th Street from the Hillcrest dormitory to the church, located next to the University of Southern Mississippi’s Pete Taylor Park.
St. Thomas member Kim Busche oversees all things festival and had the honor to once again announce this year’s parade royalty..
“This is our 10th Roll & Stroll,” said Busche. “We changed the name from parade to Roll & Stroll, because that’s pretty much what we do is stroll.”
She noted that in conjunction with the parade there will also be a 5K run on March 17 on the Longleaf Trace.
Saturday, the 18th, begins with the Roll & Stroll at 10:30 followed by a Celtic Mass at 4 p.m. and then the 16th annual festival gets underway around 5 p.m.
“As most everyone knows, nothing happens until Mass is over,” Busche said.
Local Hattiesburg band Southbound Crescent will serve as main entertainment once again. There will also be an art show, silent auction, hospitality corner, children’s games, food booths, pizza, spirits, the Shamrock Shuffle, T-shirts and sales for this year’s raffle.
This year’s raffle, for just a $20 ticket purchase, is an all-expense paid trip for two to Ireland. Busche noted that the lucky winner will only need to carry souvenir money and “for an odd beverage or two at a pub.”
Busche describes it as “the best raffle ever. You can’t beat it.”
The festival began 16 years ago. Following the death of a beloved parishioner, James Loftess, church members were down and out and decided they needed a spirit-lifting event and the festival was born.
In the first years, it was only for church members, as they ironed out some of the kinks, before opening it to the public.
As far as royalty for the parade, members of the Catholic congregation sat down knowing that most parades have a king, queen and grand marshal, as well as other dignitaries.
“And we decided we were going to do this,” she said. “Being that the church has a three-fold relationship – one with its church community, another with the USM community, which we work so closely with, and another with Hattiesburg and surrounding areas – Petal, Lamar County, Dixie, Rawls Springs and others all around us.”
They decided to divide up the dignitaries among the three entities, so “we could represent the people who are our community.”
The Roll & Stroll will also be led by the St. Thomas Leprechaun, Sherri Finneran and Italian Chef Joe Ventura.
Last year, the church added the Colleen’s Heart to the festival. Busche explained that in Ireland a queen is known as a colleen. The Queen’s Heart is a jar that will be placed at the festival for people to drop money into. After a successful first year last year they decided to repeat the fundraising project again.
The money is collected for a specific reason, decided on by previous colleens. Last year’s money went to Holy Child Girls’ School in Ghana, which is the home school of Father Godfrey. The money was used to help one of Holy Child’s students, who was trying to finish medical school so she could return to the town and minister, as a physician, to those who live there.
The funds from this year’s Colleen’s Heart will go to tornado relief. “One hundred percent of the money will be used for tornado relief locally.
The Grand Marshal
This position was described by Busche as someone who opens the parade and welcomes people to the Roll & Stroll and the festival.
“This person I’ve known for many years, first as a student at Southern Miss – the shining star. He was someone who was always where someone needed something to be done, always volunteering, interacting, giving and never taking,” said Busche. “He is one of the most caring people I have ever met in my whole life – Rep. Toby Barker.”
Barker, who is a representative in the Mississippi Legislature and candidate for Hattiesburg mayor, said he was honored by the recognition. He noted that the St. Thomas Irish-Italian Festival has become one of the premiere Irish-Italian events in the state.
“Kate and I have enjoyed coming to the festival and now that we have Audra, we look forward to her experiencing it,” he said, noting “what this parish does for this community. This is a cultural tradition our community looks forward to.”
Recognized as Colleen was Dr. Adina Green, project director of Student Support Services, n adjunct instructor in New Student and Retention Programs at Southern Miss and a member of St. Thomas. She also serves as an adjunct professor at William Carey University.
She was described by Busche as “uplifting. I’ve never seen this person not smile. I’ve never seen her not being a giving, consoling, teaching, counseling person. She’s lively and absolutely open of heart. She’s always in church and wants to be in church and her daughter is beside her.”
This was Green’s first crown ever.
Green has been a member of St. Thomas for the 20-plus years she has been in Hattiesburg and said she was “excited to be able to represent both the church and the university.”
“I’m a New Orleans girl, so anytime you say parade, I’m all in.”
Busche described this year’s king, Ike Farris, as “someone who is always there. You don’t have to call or talk to him, you just turn around and he magically appears. He’s also a “yes, I have it or I’ve got it taken care of type of person – jovial, yet serious – but always there.”
Farris, a Hattiesburg resident with wife, Dottie, excelled in football at Hattiesburg High School and Mississippi State University and also graduated from the Mississippi College School of Law. He is the owner of Abstractors of Mississippi.
“We do a lot of good work, have a good time, and raise money for people who need it,” he said.
The public is invited to join in the fun Saturday.