October 20, 2016
“Open the gates and they will come.” That was the idea when Historic Old St. Patrick’s Parish in Chicago’s previous pastor Father Jack Wall first attempted to host a big concert in 1984 to create a buzz as well as raise revenue for the church. It turned out to be the right place and time.
Today, Chicagoans know it as the World’s Largest Block Party. Now into it’s 32nd year, this past June 25, Father Tom Hurley and staff of Old St. Pat’s welcomed the massively popular band Passion Pit to the stage. Musical acts in recent years have included other rock and pop stars including Counting Crows and Train. The event has become iconic in the city’s yearly music and arts scene in addition to the parish’s annual outreach and fundraising. Father Hurley even appeared on local Fox’s Good Day Chicago to discuss the event.
Offering a short prayer, Father Hurley welcomed almost twenty thousand people across adult age groups on the grounds for a day of food, drinks, and games, followed by an evening of music.
While a concert may seem at the fringes of ministry, strictly speaking, Father Hurley describes the experience for many as a “doorway to the mission of the Church,” and the “first point of contact into Old St. Pat’s.” In a way particular to the city neighborhood in Chicago, which attracts a young crowd in a popular business district, a concert allows the church to exercise hospitality in a large-scale way where non-churchgoers recognize the important community presence of the local Catholic Church.
To accommodate the massive effort that must go into the annual event, Old St. Pat’s had to hire two full time social event staff persons to pull it off in addition to working with the booking agency.
Cultural engagement is an important value for Old St. Pat’s, and many parishioners choose to regard the event as a two-way bridge between Catholic and contemporary culture that enriches the city they are called to serve.
By Evan Ponton