The springtime carnival at St. Helena’s Church, a tradition in North Wilmington that dates back at least to the 1960s, has been canceled.
The parish council made the decision “with great reluctance and sorrow,” said Monsignor Stanley Russell, who has served the Bellefonte Catholic church since 1994.
The carnival was damaged by unfounded reports of trouble one night in 2022, and the parish increased security in 2023.
But on May 6, the last night of the 2023 carnival, a group of young people climbed the fence surrounding the carnival, Russell said. When they were discovered without wristbands denoting that they had paid admission, they were ejected.
They then walked over to a nearby Wawa, ransacked the store and threw items from the store at vehicles moving along Philadelphia Pike, he said.
“Apparently, conditions are such that we cannot continue without fear of violence,” Russell said. “We came very close to having something terrible happen.”
Fundraisers like the carnival – rides, games, a food court, a beer garden and other draws – were a significant part of the parish budget.
The fiscal 2019 budget totaled $832,000 in operating income, and “parish fundraising activities, less related expenses” totaled $202,000, with the carnival generating more than half of that.
At least the parish is getting some steady income from the Brandywine School District renting part of its old elementary school building, he said
The parish is working on how to turn the convent on its compound from an expense into an asset. The Sisters of St. Joseph moved out in 2016, and “we continue to incur the maintenance and repair costs for this aging building,” the 2019 budget said.
“A crowd of people at the event became alarmed April 30,  when rumors of a person with a weapon circulated among carnival-goers,” The Dialog, the diocese newspaper, reported.
“No criminal activity was discovered,” the parish and The Dialog later posted, quoting Kerry Reinbold, commander of Delaware State Police Troop 1, which lies across Philadelphia Pike from the church grounds.
The News Journal, in its coverage, reported a “panic” and a resulting stampede.
Other carnivals in the diocese
“The safety of everyone is paramount for us,” the parish wrote the next day on Facebook. “We are evaluating the policies & procedures of the Carnival so it stays safe and family-friendly.”
A 2023 post on the parish’s Facebook noted “a great deal of security” planned for this year’s carnival, and Facebook fan page reported metal detectors in use this year.
Other churches in the diocese have canceled their carnivals, Russell said, but they continue at St. Anthony’s in Wilmington (the Italian Festival is one of Delaware’s most popular annual events), St. John the Beloved in Milltown and St. Joseph’s in Middletown.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “We’re rewarding those who cause trouble and hurting those who enjoyed the carnival.”
Share this Post