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July 19, 2009

Having a good time and doing some good, too

By Hilary Anderson


Old St. Patrick Parish in downtown Chicago has celebrated another milestone. The historic church observed the 25th anniversary of its now-famous World’s Largest Block Party. The successful event raises money to support the many social-service causes the parish has taken under its wings.

“Some people get the wrong idea about the event,” said Dianne Brady, who is among the approximately 1,200 people who volunteered at the event. “It is more than a social event. The block party is a place where people with the same values, morals and interests can gather, volunteer if they want, meet new people and have a good time while doing so.”

The money raised by the block party helps people in the local community, she said. “In a sense, it’s a modern method of living the Gospel,” Brady said.

Some of the programs that benefit include those held in Old St. Pat’s Center for Social Concerns, located on the parish campus.

One is the CARA Mentor program, which assists people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in their efforts to return to a life of self-sufficiency by providing job readiness training and permanent job placement to those who complete the program.

Another is the Career Transition Center of Chicago. The center provides professional, emotional and spiritual support to hundreds of Chicagoans who have lost their jobs.

The Horizons for Youth, another Old St. Pat’s program, creates opportunities for and builds relationships with children from lowincome families so they can conceive of and achieve their dreams.

The parish also uses some of the proceeds received to help local food pantries.

Yet another program that benefits from the Block Party is the Global Alliance for Africa, which works with African organizations to design and develop economic strengthening programs for children orphaned by AIDS.

Coupling up

“The Block Party is marvelous, with its way for young adults to stay in touch with their religion,” said Brady. “Those who come get to meet new people in their age bracket, individuals who have similar backgrounds. If they meet someone they like, fall in love and eventually marry, great. But if they don’t, it’s still a good time for all.”

Brady and her husband, Mick, are among the 80 couples who say they’ve met their spouses while attending the event.

“My girlfriend dragged me to the block party,” Brady said. “She and I were standing in the porta-potty line. I turned around and saw this guy. He said, ‘You’re cute.’ I ignored him but he got my phone number. Mick later told me he knew he was going to marry me right then and there. I didn’t know it until the following March.”

Brady says they were opposites who were attracted to each other. She is a North Sider and Cubs fan. He was a South Sider and a White Sox fan. The couple is celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary. They have two daughters: Shalyn, 11, and Kaily, 8.

The Block Party had it genesis in 1984 when Old St. Pat’s had only four registered parishioners. The pastor, Father Jack Wall, needed to renovate the parish buildings and build awareness of the church in order to increase its number of parishioners. He looked to volunteers including Jack Hartman, Terry Tuohy and members of the Harney family. Together they supplied Wall with mailing lists of clubs to which they belonged.

The first Block Party ran one night with 5,000 people attending. It raised enough money to restore Old St. Patrick’s Church.

Since then, the Block Party has grown to a two-night event, entertaining close to 20,000 people.