By Emily Williams
For the past 71 years, Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church has been celebrating its Independence Day with its annual Fourth of July Festival in Homewood. Or has it?
It turns out, the date of the first festival is in dispute, and it might not be helpful that the name and sponsorship of the festival has changed over the years.
OLS Knights of Columbus 4304 member Adam Morel says this actually is the 71st anniversary of the festival’s existence, but some thought it might be the 75th.
In his history of the festival, Morel writes that there was a festival held in Homewood in 1949 that was named the “First Annual 4th of July Festival.” It took place on land next to the property where the OLS Church would be built 10 years later, at 1728 Oxmoor Road.
“Actually, there is no OLS church as we know it, at the time,” Morel wrote. The congregation’s sanctuary, in Birmingham’s Southside, had burned to the ground four months prior.
Regardless, a 50th anniversary was celebrated in 1996, complete with T-shirts touting the founding of the festival in 1946.
“When your first festival is that old, when it pre-dates even your sanctuary, its true birthday becomes apocryphal,” Morel said. “Debates are had, dates are guessed at – and that’s OK.”
Throughout the decades, the festival has experienced many additions and firsts, and this year is no different. It’s the first year the festival has been held during a pandemic.
At the “first annual” festival, a king and queen were selected by a vote. Each ballot cost a penny, and the king who collected the most votes that year was Walter Busehnlehner, who would later found Homewood Toy & Hobby.
Busehnlehner told Morel that, from his earliest memories of the festival, “We always needed volunteers and always got them.”
For 21 years, the event was coordinated by the OLS Holy Name Society and featured the Trash & Treasure rummage sale, a dunking booth and a variety of games.
“The most popular game featured kids shooting at cartons of cigarettes with Daisy BB guns loaded with corks instead of ammunition,” Morel noted, clarifying that cigarettes were not given to the winning children as prizes.
The Knights of Columbus 4304 took over the organization of the festival in about 1970. The amount of barbecue served grew overtime. The rummage sale expanded.
“With all that change of the years, one thing has never changed – the OLS Fourth of July Festival has always had the same goals,” Morel said.
Those goals include providing camaraderie and fellowship between parishioners and community members, and supporting the church’s mission to provide Catholic education and support the less fortunate.
“While many things have changed in the last few months, the Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Homewood will make sure that the show goes on just as it has for the last seven-plus decades,” said John Baldwin, festival chair and OLS Knights of Columbus 4304 member.
Throughout the nation, Independence Day feels a bit different this year. The coronavirus pandemic has placed a kibosh on large Fourth of July parties and celebrations.
“While having social gatherings of thousands of people on the OLS campus in a period of social distancing is not something that anyone is comfortable with nowadays, there will be adjustments made to ensure that his year’s edition of the tradition continues in a safe manner,” Baldwin said.
Over the years, activities and features have been continually added to the event, and last year consisted of the annual rummage sale, bingo, a doll booth, a cake booth, race cars and tours of OLS, among other activities. All of these features will be taking the year off, Baldwin noted.
Instead there will be a raffle, which will include a number of cash prizes, with a grand prize total of $5,000.
What will not change is the food that is served.
OLS’s 40-ft smoking pit – built specifically to accommodate the enormous amount of barbecuing – will be fired up days before the event so that the church’s Knights of Columbus chapter members can smoke about 6,500 pounds of barbecue.
“There will, of course, be the traditional lineup of Boston butts, whole and half chickens, as well as racks of ribs, which people have come to expect,” Baldwin said. The crew also has added smoked turkey breast to the menu, supported by popular demand.
Bulk sales of barbecue will be available for curbside pickup at the OLS school cafeteria on July 2 and July 3 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and July 4 from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Pre-orders can be placed at olskoc.org and require a minimum of one day advance notice.
In addition, takeout lunch plates will be available at the Parish Hall on July 3 and July 4 from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Text or call-ahead orders can be made by contacting (205) 267-1116 and must be made by July 2 at 9 p.m.
For more information, visit ourladyofsorrows.com or the church’s Facebook page; search for Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church Homewood, AL.