After the celebration of the first Mass 150 years ago, the community of Sacred Heart Church in Loretto gathered to celebrate with a picnic.
In the years since, the picnic, held every year on the Fourth of July, has grown to encompass not just Sacred Heart Church, but all of the Lawrence County community of Loretto and the surrounding area.
“I think everybody in Loretto grew up going to the picnic,” said Katy Thomas, who attended the picnic as a child and is now in charge of the picnic’s online auction. “It’s a good time. You see people you haven’t seen in years.”
“It’s like a big family reunion,” added Teresa Leon, the principal of Sacred Heart School in Loretto. “The whole community comes together.”
“Everybody in this town that I know looks forward to it,” said Chelsea Richardson Curtis, who with her mother Lynn Karnes is in charge of the annual beauty pageant for girls up to age 18 and for boys up to age 6. “It takes the whole community to actually make it come together. It really is a community event.”
The Sacred Heart Fourth of July Picnic, now in its 150th year, is a mix of the traditional and the new.
“In today’s day and age, you don’t see a whole lot of tradition,” said Curtis. “We want to keep that tradition that feels like home.”
Besides the beauty pageant, there is a bicycle parade for the children of the community who decorate their bicycles with a patriotic theme, a 5K run to start the day, a Country Store featuring a wide variety of items, children’s games and inflatables, and a return this year of bingo, which has been absent from the picnic for many years.
“Bingo was a huge part of the picnic in the past,” Thomas said. Picnic organizers decided to bring it back this year.
“Everybody is very excited about bingo,” Leon said.
The beauty pageant is another popular event at the picnic as girls and boys vie for the titles of Miss and Mr. Independence in 11 age categories.
“Everybody likes to show their kids off, especially the grandparents,” Karnes said. “The baby category is typically the largest.”
The pageant draws contestants from throughout the area. “We have them from all over,” Karnes said. “It has truly always been huge for us.”
The picnic’s auction has evolved in recent years, moving online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have found everybody likes the online auction,” Thomas said. Bidding online is more convenient for the many volunteers who help with the picnic, who in the past couldn’t get away long enough to place a bid, she said.
This year, auction items include handmade and hand-carved items by local artisans, gift certificates to restaurants, tickets to family attractions, donations from local businesses and more, Thomas said.
People can visit biddingowl.com to view the auction items, and bidding will begin on Sunday, June 26, and continue until 8 p.m. on the Fourth of July.
And like at any picnic, there will be lots of good food, including a sit-down chicken dinner in the evening, made by Sacred Heart parishioners.
“That is a staple,” Leon said. “People will come only for that chicken dinner.”
The women who volunteer to help work on the dinner will start preparing on the Saturday before the Fourth, which falls on a Monday this year, Leon said.
Also available will be authentic Mexican food, hamburgers and hot dogs that will be sold during the day, and Sacred Heart’s “world famous” homemade, hand-dipped corn dogs. “We’ve got the best corn dogs around,” said Karnes.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” she said of the picnic. “It’s a great place you can take your entire family, with great food, lots of fun games.”
All the fun and fellowship are for a good cause, supporting Sacred Heart School.
“This is the biggest fundraiser that we have every year,” said Thomas, who graduated from the school and sent her three children to the school. “It is vital.”
“This keeps us going throughout the year,” said Curtis, who graduated from Sacred Heart in 2007 and is now the third and fourth grade teacher there. “It also gives people the chance to work for something and be proud to be part of that school.”
Curtis, whose family has had four generations graduate from Sacred Heart, and her husband, Zac, the fifth and sixth grade teacher at the school as well as the head baseball coach at Loretto High School, are part of the next generation of Sacred Heart parishioners to help out with the picnic.
Curtis left her hometown after graduating from high school and with her husband, who is a former Major League Baseball pitcher, lived in several places around the country before returning to Loretto.
“It’s kind of come around full circle for me coming back home,” Curtis said. “We’re very active and we’re trying to do everything we can … to make sure that it thrives.”
For more information about the picnic visit the Sacred Heart Loretto Annual 4th of July Picnic page on Facebook.