How the Basilica Block Party became a Twin Cities hit

This weekend, one of the Twin Cities’ biggest music festivals is underway: the 25th annual Basilica Block Party. But 25 years ago, not everyone felt it was appropriate for a Catholic church to host a music festival.

The Basilica Block Party continues to grow year after year and allows the country’s first basilica to keep its doors open for anyone that wants to come inside.

“The Catholic Church is often looked at as very state, very serious,” says Johan Van Parys, director of worship and sacred arts. “And to have a festival like this seemed a little contrasting.”

At its inception, it was meant to be a fundraiser. At its inception, the church had one goal.

“The roof was completely destroyed,” says Van Parys. “The dome was so heavy that it was pushing the pillars out. So we had to intervene, otherwise, it was going to collapse.”

The then-small parish decided they couldn’t let it collapse. They had to restore it. “Of course, such an endeavor costs a lot of money, and we looked at different options to raise money and the Basilica Block Party was one of those options,” said Van Parys.

Bringing music to the steps of a basilica is not exactly well-received by all parishioners. “There were those that over the years thought that it was not appropriate, but we have proven them wrong because over the years not only have we raised money, but we’ve actually grown our parish community.”

In 1926, Pope Pius the 11th named it the first basilica in the country. Now, thanks to a decision made in 1995, it still stands, it’s still being restored, and it’s still growing.

“For us to be daring and to go out a little on a limb and to say, ‘let’s try this, let’s dialogue with the culture of today. Let’s not close ourselves off, but let’s open our doors,” said Van Parys.

In its inception, it was to be a fundraiser. 25 years later, it’s so much more. “When you look at the basilica, it’s really like a fortress, and bronze doors, and people like ‘oh, should I go in there?’ But when the block party happens, everybody comes here.”

In nearly its 25 years, the Basilica Block Party has raised more than $5.5 million. That money goes toward restoration, but also to the Church Outreach Ministries.