Winnie Russel, Ella Hunnicutt and Mariah whirl to polka tunes during the 25th annual Polish Festival Sept. 23 at St. Stanislaus Parish. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Winnie Russel, Ella Hunnicutt and Mariah whirl to polka tunes during the 25th annual Polish Festival Sept. 23 at St. Stanislaus Parish. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Joseph Bylina, a musclebound Polish fisherman who immigrated to the United States in 1982, donned his best white suit and a bold red-and-white tie for North Portland’s annual Polish festival Sept. 22-23.

Proud of his ethnic heritage and his Catholic faith, Bylina helped with security during two days of sausage, latkes, pastries, music, dancing and beer on the grounds of historic St. Stanislaus Parish. When it started 25 years ago, the event would be pestered by a few troublemakers. The trouble has faded away, says Bylina, who, when asked what he feels about the festival, simply put his hand to his heart, gazed heavenward and chortled contentedly. He stood near a sign that read witamy, or welcome, in Polish.

For more than a century, North Interstate Avenue has been the spiritual and cultural home of Polish immigrants to Portland. St. Stanislaus Church and the Polish community hall are handsome buildings from an earlier era among flashier urban renewal.

Marcin Jeske wore an outlandish hat with Polish red and white checks Sept. 23 as he flipped latkes, potato pancakes. He’s volunteered at the festival for 15 years. The weekend allows visitors, and volunteers, to get immersed in Polish culture, Jeske said. Croatian Catholics, who also call St. Stanislaus home, also tend a booth.

The silver anniversary festival was dedicated to Piotr Pomykala, a St. Stanislaus parishioner who adored the event. He died in January at age 65. A collage of photos in the parish hall paid tribute to Pomykala.

Kelly Hunnicutt, a member of St. Mary Cathedral Parish, sat and watched her 7-year-old daughter, Ella, hold hands with other children and dance wildly to polka music. Ella wore a crown of flowers.

The family comes regularly to mark Kelly’s Polish heritage.

“I love the music, the dancing, the food and — should I say it? — the Polish beer,” Hunnicutt said.

Asia Ryerson, a parishioner and festival volunteer, said the event spreads the gifts and knowledge of Polish life. It’s also just fun, concluded Ryerson, whose favorite part of the weekend is the catchy music.

Father Piotr Dzikowski, pastor of St. Stanislaus, walked through the crowds in black cassock, greeting guests. He enjoys the festival, but said it has become more a project of the Polish community than of the parish. At one time, he said, it unified the parish splendidly, but that is not so much the case now. Of the 300 volunteers, not as many are connected to St. Stanislaus as in the beginning.

But Father Dzikowski is glad that the event brings so many visitors close to the parish and its classic little church. The sacred space remains open for prayer throughout the weekend and Sunday night Mass begins not long after the festival’s close. At the end of that liturgy, Father Dzikowski led an Angelus prayer for the welfare of all who visited and volunteered.

edl@catholicsentinel.org