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St. Michael's fest brings together diverse neighbors


For as long as anybody can remember, the brick wall at Lombard and Wolfe has enclosed the "priests' garden."

For for almost all that time, the annual summer fete held in these parts has been called the St. Michael's Carnival.

The bare-bulb electric light strings come out. So do the hot grease caldrons for the fried dough and crab cakes. And the spinning wheels-of-chance (a quarter a throw) never stop whirling for a handful of days in June and July.

There are several other St. Michael's churches in Baltimore, but this is the massive St. Michael the Archangel, the one with a handsome stone Gothic tower clad in copper. It points squarely toward the heaven on a ridge overlooking the harbor.

And once a year, the parish stages a kind of urban fiesta in the old garden formed by the church, the rectory, former parochial school and parish hall. A large statue of St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorist Order, guards this little sanctum of boxwood, rose and hydrangea garden.

The chief of the annual carnival is Barbara Aupperley, whose family's involvement with St. Michael's stretches back to 1869 and six generations of her ancestor Wilfers, Langers and Seluzickis.

"All the people pitching in together is what makes this work," she said.

She recruits all her family: her husband, Bob; son Todd; daughter Marmie; mother, Cecilia Seluzicki; her aunt, Dolores Valis; her cousin and husband, Juanita and Al Freeman; and their sons David and Darrick.

"And that doesn't count my husband's side of the family, who all help out too," she said.

The event clearly reflects the neighborhood which sits south and east of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Once a predominantly German parish (it started with a school in 1845 and the first church followed five years later), St. Michael's is a Baltimore United Nations. There are, of course, surviving Germany families, but add to that Irish, Italian, Polish, Slovak and African-American parish members, plus a large Hispanic contingent.

Rev. John Lavin, a member of the Redemptorist Order and pastor of the church, ticked off the nationality roster: Argentina, Peru, Cuba, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic.

"Have I forgotten any? Oh yes, Spain," he said.

As he said this, Frank Reyes, born in Mexico and raised in Chicago, served flautas (tacos stuffed with chicken and beans) to a line of customers.

The parish takes a little pride in its annual bull roast, another social event held later in the year. It may be the only such event in Baltimore where Hispanic foods are served along with the other Chesapeake favorites.

The summertime carnival's crab cakes are the work of Lillian Schultz, a Canton resident.

"My sister used to work over Haussner's. She taught me how to mix the Worcestershire sauce, the eggs, wet mustard, black and red pepper and the Season All," she said.

Betty Balcer worked the fried dough stand.

"It's bread dough that gets pulled and deep fried quickly. It puffs up fast. Then you sprinkle it with powdered sugar," she explained.

Brother Bosco, a Redemptorist brother, buzzed around the carnival and made sure the place was as clean as your German grandmother's front parlor.

"There's a lot to keep up here," he said, in an unintentional understatement. This massive parish complex includes a huge church, its steeple, a rectory, parish hall and sizable theater, and a former parochial school. The parish hopes to raise at least $20,000 from the affair.

The old Wolfe Street hall was the setting for a number of the fancy tables and prize wheels, the mainstay of a Baltimore church carnival.

Casimir Sobus, a parishioner here for 57 years, recalled a time when the carnival was so large that Lombard Street was closed and the event spilled over into the immediate neighborhood.

"I've built most of the stands and I help keep the wheels working," said the retired Glenn L. Martin employee. He credits his work at the aircraft plant, where he assembled bombers, with giving him carpentry skills. He is a devoted church volunteer.

"I'm here just about every day except when I take off for Atlantic City," he said.

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