Fr. Vakulskas visits Plymouth County fair July 29, celebrates Mass, blesses
By Jamie McClure, Globe Intern
August 9, 2007
It's not uncommon for people to visit carnivals and fairs this time of year.
But for Father John Vakulskas, a priest in the Diocese of Sioux City, he visits
surrounding carnivals and fairs to welcome the entertainers, celebrate Mass with
everyone and bless the rides and games for the children. Recently, he attended
the Plymouth County fair in Le Mars on July 29.
Father Vakulskas refers to this as carnival ministry and has been involved
with this ministry for 38-plus years. He attended the Plymouth County fair at
the request of the Dean and Lawrence McDermott of the McDermott Family Shows who
run the fair. They are from Anthon and Father Vakulskas has been at their show
many times and has been at the Plymouth County Fair many times as well. He also
attends fairs all around the United States and takes two big trips a year to
places such as California, Kentucky and Missouri.
"Along with the carnival ministry and besides the Holy Mass and blessing
of the rides, we take time to have special prayer with individuals who may be
experiencing difficulties in their lives at the time," said the priest.
"These folks all have homes that they operate out of but they are on the
road for months of the year and during the height of the fair season, their
schedules are such that it is difficult to find time to get groceries, much less
take care of their spiritual obligations."
Father Vakulskas also talks with the owner of the show, McDermott, to ask how
the local church can help and he offers a Mass for the carnival folks at a time
that works best for their schedule. He has tried over the years to visit with
the local clergy (Protestant and Catholic) about this ministry. He also tries to
get the word out when the carnival comes to town, and he focuses on the men and
women and families who set up the rides and games and who make everything work.
If a church or organization has a food stand at a fair, he asked that they show
Christian hospitality and invite the carnival workers for a special breakfast or
During his homily at Mass on July 29, Father Vakulskas said, "Ask and
you will receive, not might receive. Every one of us has special gifts that we
were blessed with and that we should embrace."
After Mass, Father Vakulskas, pastor of St. Mary's church in Alton and St.
Anthony's church in Hospers, went around to the carnival rides and blessed them
with holy water. Four altar servers accompanied him as he blessed the rides.
Their names are Carli Murphy and her sister Caitlin Murphy, Kimberly Streff and
her sister Rebecca Streff. Father John also blessed the ticket stands to help
them with their success.
While praying and blessing the rides, Father John wears an alb to cover his
"Alb comes from the Latin word albus meaning white," explained the
priest. "It is symbolic to show that we are all God's children and by
virtue of baptism we remain children of God. In God's eyes, we are all equal.
This covers rich man's clothes or poor man's clothes."
"In the year 2000, as part of the millennium celebration, Pope John Paul
II honored all in the entertainment industry as well as those who minister
spiritually to this industry," said the priest. "I was one of 10 who
were honored for my work in the carnival industry in the United States."
The late Holy Father thanked them for providing family entertainment for all
"Doing this for the 38-plus years has been a blessing, especially now
seeing the fact that I am working with the second generation of
show-people," said Father John. "I am really honored and humbled,
first of all that the Lord chose me to be a priest and second that the Lord
chose me to do this work. I am here to push God's blessings of forgiveness,
understanding and peace."
Father John stressed that all of the offerings from Mass at the Plymouth
County fair do not go to his parishes or straight into his pocket, but instead
they go to the Mother Theresa fund and the ministry.
"This fair is wonderful and having Father John bless the rides and hold
a Holy Mass for us has been a blessing," said McDermott. "He has
helped everything to become more of a success for us over the years and I don't
think I even have the words to describe what it means to us to have him