The original Oktoberfest was a party that—against tradition—was open to all, not just royalty, to celebrate the wedding of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. It was so popular it became an annual tradition.
St. Dominic Church’s Oktoberfest, now in its fourth year and set from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 15 at the parish on the corner of 29th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Denver, is similar in that it welcomes everyone—believers or not—to celebrate and build community as it features the breweries, food vendors and musicians of the Highland’s neighborhood, while spreading awareness of the church.
“We want people in the neighborhood to know that wherever they are in their faith journey, we’re here for them and welcome them,” said Dominican Father Wesley Dessonville, 34, the parish’s new parochial vicar who oversees its young adult activities.
Although a native of rural Minnesota and ordained just four months ago in St. Louis, Father Dessonville knows St. Dominic’s well as he spent his first year of priestly formation in the novitiate house adjacent to the church. He also spent his diaconal year at the parish, which turns 127 this month.
“It’s a great parish,” he said. “I’m happy to be here.”
And he’s excited about the special way the religious roots of beer will be highlighted at this year’s Oktoberfest—by offering an ale created by a Dominican brother and brewed for the occasion: St. Dominic’s ALE-leluia. It will be one of six craft beers on tap.
“It’s a crisp, Belgian amber ale,” Father Dessonville said. “Its currently on tap and doing well at Factotum Brew House.
“There’s a long history going back to the early Middle Ages of religious men brewing beer for Lent,” he added. “They would fast so they would make this really thick, substantial beer to get them through. As the tradition grew, they mastered the art.”
Food options to go with one’s suds of choice will include pretzels, sausage, and mac and cheese. Live music—from polka to Latin jazz and salsa—will include a tribute honoring the late North Denver bassist and KUVO radio DJ Jimmy Trujillo. Kids activities include pumpkin painting, a playground and an interactive fire truck display.
A project of the parish’s vibrant young adult community, last year’s Oktoberfest was the largest ever, drawing 1,200 people. But the event is just one of many the church offers that appeal to the youthful urbanites who have moved into the area the last several years, drawn by the nearness to downtown, charming bungalows and modern lofts, tree-lined streets and unique commercial districts.
“We’ve had hiking in the mountains with Mass, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, social events, pot-luck dinners, and Inquiry sessions where people just come with their questions about the faith,” Father Dessonville said. “And there are a lot of opportunities for catechesis and evangelization.”
Capitalizing on the opportunity Oktoberfest offers to spark interest in the faith, the parish’s evangelization team will have a booth there and festival-goers may tour the church and may attend the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass.
The Dominicans—officially the Order of Preachers—whose charism is teaching and preaching, will mark their 800th anniversary in December. They strive to foster the faith in their parishioners that they might be able to pass it on to others.
“The parishioners see themselves as ministers of welcoming,” Father Dessonville said. “The whole leadership team, staff and parishioners work as one bringing the Gospel to people.”
St. Dominic’s Oktoberfest
When: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m., Oct. 15
Where: St. Dominic Church parking lot, 2915 Federal Blvd., Denver
Cost: Free admission. Food and beer available for purchase.
Featured image by Bill Skowronski/Dominican Friars Central Province USA