August 15 Festival




Mention the word Croatian, to anyone in Chicago, and the next thing they'll say is Velika Gospa. Truly, Velika Gospa and being Croatian go hand and hand. Velika Gospa (August 15th) is to Croatians what St. Patrick's day is to the Irish or Columbus day is to the Italians.

The tradition of Velika Gospa originated in the town of Sinj, a Dalmatian province in Croatia. History tells us that in the year 1715, the barbaric armies of the Turkish empire were advancing toward the town of Sinj. Their plan was to capture Sinj and to press forward. In time the Turks hoped to besiege Vienna and ultimately to conquer all of Europe. The people of Sinj fearing certain annihilation in face of overwhelming odds, implored the intervention of the Blessed Mother. In their church, throughout the night of August 14th, they prayed before the portrait of the Virgin Mary then called "Our Lady of Grace." The following morning, (Assumption Day) August 15th, an apparition of a beautiful lady appeared in the sky which everyone recognized as the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Turkish soldiers became violently ill, they were unable to cross the river to Sinj and thus retreated. Thru Our Lady of Sinj's miraculous intervention the attack was repulsed and the powerful armies of the Turkish empire were in flight. The Turks never returned to Sinj.

In gratitude for so great a victory, against so superior a force, the Croatians increased their love and devotion to Our Lady. The people attributed this miracle to the Lady of Sinj and drapped gifts of gold upon her beloved image as proof of her help and the peoples confidence in her. They rebuilt a larger church and it became the outstanding Marian shrine for all of Dalmatia.

For more than 200 years the Croatians have maintained a special love and devotion to Mary. To this day, thousands of pilgrims, especially from Dalmatia and Bosnia, make the annual pilgrimage to the church in Sinj. They come to ask for help in their hour of need, to give thanks for favors received and to honor the Virgin Mary.

Around the early 1900's, Croatians started setteling in the Bridgeport Area. By 1910 they numbered almost 5000. Most of the new arrivals were from Dalmatia, many from the area close to the town of Sinj. In 1906, a small group of men gathered and formed a fraternal society for social and cultural purposes. The name was to be: The Dalmatian Family Society of the Miraculous Lady of Sinj. The society provided its members with badly needed health insurance and death benefits. The society, became a place for new immigrants to bond. Within a few years the society's membership grew to over 600.

The year 1912 saw the blessing of a new parish for Bridgeport. St. Jerome Croatian Parish opened its doors. It quickly became the home to the 600 plus members of Gospa Sinjska Society. It was at this time that the Bradarich Brothers brought to St. Jerome's a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Sinj. In the church, a side altar was built and dedicated to her honor. How happy were the Croatian people to once more pray before the image they had venerated in their homeland!

Now, having a church and the replica of Our Lady of Sinj, it was decided to follow tradition. As in Europe, a procession with the image of Our Lady carried through the streets was to take place on August 15th. The first Velika Gospa procession was on August 15th, 1913. The Procession started at 9:00 AM from Germania Hall to St. Jerome Church for a Solemn High Mass. All society members participated in the march. Members not attending the August 15th procession were fined $2.00. Three flags were carried, flowers were purchased for each man's lapel and a band was hired to lead the procession. After the Mass, there was a banquet with entertainment and dancing until midnight.

Within a few years other societies joined in the Velika Gospa procession. Among them were: St. George, patron of Poljica C.C.U., St. Jerome C.C.U., St. Jerome Holy Name Society, Our Lady of the Rosary C.F.U., young Ladies Sodality, St. Mary of Cres, St. Anthony C.C.U. and St. Theresa Altar and Rosary Society.

In keeping with tradition, as in Croatia, after the procession and participation in the High Mass there come festivity in the form of a parish picnic. The original picnics were held in the church grove behind the church hall and on 28th place. Velika Gospa became synonymous with barbecued lamb and other Croatian delicacies. In the 1950's the men of the parish roasted as many as a 100 lambs. People came from all over Chicago to purchase this lamb, often waiting hours in line. The men of the parish worked through the entire night so the lamb would be ready to sell by 8 AM. Along with the lamb, came the sale of Croatian food and pastries. These were prepared by the women of the Altar and Rosary Society. These women cooked for an entire week at the church hall in preparation for the feast. With the mostaccioli, rizot, sarma, beef and chicken dinners ready, they began work on the fresh pastries. They turned out numerous strudels, poviticas (walnut cakes) and hundreds of fritula. The only time away from the kitchen was while walking in the procession and attending mass. Most of these original immigrant Croatian women came from small remote villages and were unskilled in the art of baking delicate pastries. It was Mary Mandich, the president of the Altar and Rosary Society, who organized these women and taught them the skills needed to bake strudels and poviticas. For over 75 years, these ladies handled the preparation of the dinners and pastries for this famous feast.

The largest attendance for Velika Gospa was in 1954. The Holy Father proclaimed 1954 a Marian Year. Because Velika Gospa was venerated and celebrated at St. Jerome with such devotion and splendor, Croatians from all over the midwest came on the pilgrimage to Chicago. Groups of pilgrims from the following churches attended: St. Mary's Rankin, Pa., Sacred Heart, South Chicago, Il., St. Nicholas, Pittsburg, Pa., St. Joseph's, St. Louis, Mo., St. Nicholas, Millvale, Pa., St. Joseph the Worker, Gary, Ind., Holy Trinity, Chicago, Il., Holy Trinity, Ambridge, Pa., and Sacred Heart, Milwaukee, Wis.. These parishes, along with various societies and parishoners of St. Jerome made this the largest and grandest Velika Gospa to date. At 5:00 PM, a Croatian Marian Congress was held on the parish picnic grounds. The Format of the Marian Congress was:

Marijanski Hrvatski Kongress

Croatian Marian Congress

5:00 P.M. - St. Jerome Picnic Grounds

Welcoming Address - Rev. Ferdinand Skoko

American and Croatian Anthems

Miss Catherine Tomijanovic

Master of Ceremonies - Rev. Francis Cuturic

Zdravo Marijo - Zbor Preradovic

Molitva pred Majkom Bozjom - Mary Flasch



Uvod - Dario Sarcos

Dalmacija - Mildred Sutalo

Istra s Primorje - Mary Jukic

Hercegovina - Mary Nagy

Bosna - Mary Sarcos

Slavonija - Grace Perovic

Srijem, Banat, Backat - Berardine Krivicic

Lika - Mary Krivicic

Hrvatska Banovina - Rosa Sep

Zakljucak - Alojsije Jukic

Hrvati Pjevaju Hvalospjev Majci Bozjoj - Katice Vrdoljak

Duhovni Vjencic Cvijeca na cast bezgrjesnog zaceca - May Huber

Zdravo Djevo - Pjeva Zbor Djece


Djevice Nevina - Pj. Zbor Harmony

O Pruzi Mile Ruke - Pj. Zbor Harmony

Marijo, Ti Mila Majcice - PJ. Zbor Harmony

Address and Prayer - Msgr. John Juricek

Ave Maria - Pj. Zbor Hrv. Sloga

K Suncem Prosi vsaka Roza - Pj. Zbor Hrv. Sloga

Hrvatski Pjevacki Zborovi Zavrsuju s Narodnim pjesma.

Mali Brodic - Pj. Zbor Preradovic

Hrvatski Pozdrav - Pj. Zbor Harmony

God Bless America - Combined Croatian Singing Socities

His Eminence, Samuel Cardinal Stritch welcomed the Croatian Congress, its pilgrims, and the parishioners and friends of St. Jerome. He preached of the deep love and devotion to Mary by the Croatian people. He told how deeply touched he was by the beautiful and lasting customs celebrated on Velika Gospa.

The 1960's and 1970's saw the demise of most of the original Croatian immigrants. With this came an end to many of the fraternal societies. These societies were the back bone of Velika Gospa. Fortunately, the 1970's brought numerous new immigrants to Chicago. These new arrivals joined the parish and happily began celebrating Velika Gospa.

By 1970, Velika Gospa became the largest single fund-raiser for the parish. To accommodate the large crowds, it was decided to open an outdoor tent to serve food. In the parish hall, one can still find homemade Croatian specialties. The outdoor kitchen (tent) serves; beef, sausage, hot dogs, clams raznici and pizza. Later, another outdoor tent was added to serve freshly made fried dough (fritula), Croatian pastries and coffee.

Today's Velika Gospa is not so different from the original one. The focal point remains the ornately decorated picture of Our Lady of Sinj and the religious devotion to her. The procession now has four bands and numerous floats dedicated to Our Lady. Two of the original societies are still participating: Club Sinj and Club Poljica. Among the groups now represented are: St. Jerome Post and Auxiliary, St. Jerome Holy Name, Altar and Rosary Society, St. Mary of Cres, Hrvatska Zena, Club Zadar, Croatian Catholic Union, Croatian Youth, and Ladies of the parish, Men of the parish carrying flags and the Cardinal Stepinac Croatian School.

The Velika Gospa picnic remains a great fund-raiser for the parish. It is a time for young3 generations and old to enjoy and reminisce. One can feast on hot barbecued lamb and other delicacies. Children partake in the games, while adults can refresh themselves at the large outdoor bar. Perhaps you would rather grab a chair to enjoy the tambura music and watch the kolo dancers.

More important then the picnic is the spiritual strength that the parishioners of St. Jerome draw from Velika Gospa. For 9 days prior to the feast, parishioners attend a novena to honor Our Lady of Sinj. The culmination of the novena comes on the 15th, when participants walk in procession with Our Lady, then partake in the celebration of a High Mass. The parishioners, in this way, thank Mary for all the graces they have received through her intercession to her Divine Son.

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