St. Pius Church to celebrate 150 years
You're invited to a chicken dinner Sunday, August 16

Beth Rumsey, Staff Writer

Do you have a hankering for crispy fried chicken with all the fixings in a peaceful rural surrounding? Then a visit to the St. Pius Church picnic in Sunman on Sunday, August 16 is in order.

In addition, St. Pius Church is celebrating its 150 years of service to the surrounding rural community. According to Johann Graham, who is compiling the history of St. Pius Church, three acres were donated by Alexander Volz for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a Catholic school and meeting house. Currently, the cemetery and the fellowship hall are located on this original site. It was in 1859 that the church officially became a parish.

The first parish picnics were held in the 1930s under a tent and were known as “family reunions.” According to Mick Braunagel, lifetime member of the St. Pius parish, those parish members who have left the area return for the annual picnic to reconnect with old friends and family.

“The church picnic brings the people together,” said Braunagel. He was a 16-year-old when he first started frying chicken. “And, I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.

According to Braunagel, what makes the chicken dinner at St. Pius unique is that a half chicken is served, with a smaller portion available to the children. Assistants flour and kettle fry the chickens in the area behind the fellowship hall.

The St. Pius picnic was named the best picnic chicken dinner in 2004 by the Cincinnati Enquirer, who featured Carl Heilman, aka “The Chickenman.” Heilman grew up in Lawrenceburg and would spend Sunday afternoon in the summertime with his family attending the area church dinners.

When Heilman became a father, he began to fondly recall his childhood afternoons at various church picnics. According to the 2004 article, Heilman had visited more than 100 church chicken dinners since 1990 declaring the St. Pius dinner to be his favorite.

Funds raised from the picnic are used for church maintenance throughout the year, according to Graham. As well as a chicken dinner and mock turtle soup, there will be games and a silent auction as well as raffles.
One of the items for the raffle is a quilt created by Braunagel’s sister, Marlene Meyers, in honor of their parents, Ed and Edna Braunagel. According to Braunagel, his mother died in 1987 on the day of the church picnic, with his father passing on a year later.

St. Pius is described as a small country church, with only 64 members according to Graham. But, Braunagel sees more new faces every week. “I don’t know what brings the people out here,” said Braunagel, “but we have to set up folding chairs and some will stand for the services.

Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. with the dinner to begin at 11 a.m. and will continue to serve until 3 p.m. There will be plenty of parking, and carryouts will be available.

The church is located off State Road 48 at the intersection of County Road 500 East and County Road 800 North in the Sunman area.

Pictured above are people who enjoy attending the St. Pius Church Chicken Dinner. The hall is always packed as people await the taste of some of the best fried chicken in the state. Below is the church as it stood years ago. The congregation is celebrating 150 years this fall in the church with the land originally donated by Alexander Volz. The public is invited to the annual picnic this Sunday, August 16.