Sweet bread feeding evangelization efforts at Manito parish

Assembling the povitica are (from left) Tricia Parkin, who is rolling up a loaf of the Croatian delicacy, while Karen Cole, Julie Hopkins, Penny Ross, Charlene Oberle and Anita Crum attend to other parts of the process.

MANITO — It smells like Christmas when you walk into the parish center at the new Immaculate Conception Church when povitica is being made.

The Croatian bread has become much more than a sweet treat the Bread of Life Bakers make at Christmas, according to Joan Mattson.

“Our bread is our sustenance,” she said.

A group of parish volunteers led by Theresa Sondag, who uses a family recipe, made about 2,800 loaves last year and have raised nearing $60,000 through their baking in the last two years, Mattson said. This year they hope to make 3,000 loaves and have set their goal at $45,000.

“Our baking is a gift God’s given this group to fulfill our mission here in Manito, which is to evangelize our whole community,” said Mattson, who takes orders for the povitica and coordinates mailing.

“From a faith perspective, we’re recognizing how God is blessing us in his providence,” Father David Whiteside, pastor, said. “This whole building project has been a work of faith, one step at a time to get to this point, which is a miracle for a small parish in a rural community.”

The evolution of their fundraising through the povitica sales flows out of trusting in that providence, he explained.

“He will provide so we can have this,” Father Whiteside said. “It really has been a huge success.”

He added that paying for their new church with bread — a eucharistic symbol — isn’t lost on parishioners. That’s why the volunteers are called the Bread of Life Bakers.

“It’s like the little bit of yeast Jesus talked about. . . . The kingdom of God makes the dough expand,” Father Whiteside said. “Our little bit of effort here is making this happen, but God’s really doing the work. He’s blessing it. We’re just doing our little bit and he’s making it successful.”

The project grew out of the work Theresa Sondag did at her bakery, Liz Marie’s Recipes in Manito. The povitica was one of the popular items there and the bakery developed a large clientele for the Croatian delicacy.

Even though Liz Marie’s Recipes closed about five years ago, that client list has been vital in making the fundraising project at Immaculate Conception a success. Mattson said she has five business customers, for example, who have requested that the Bread of Life Bakers make and ship individually wrapped loaves to 50 or more customers for Christmas.

She has sent them all over the United States and last year mailed povitica to Japan and Germany.

Since the bakery closed, parishioners have used other facilities on a short-term basis but now have everything they need to make and process the povitica in the kitchen of their new parish hall. That includes the oven and mixer from Sondag’s former bakery, which they have been able to acquire again.

Sondag learned the recipe from her grandmother, Caroline Juraco, and mother, Elizabeth Juraco, who became the Liz Marie in the bakery’s name. The Bread of Life Bakers have made only pecan povitica until this year, when they started making cream cheese povitica.

Mary Beth Watson, who worked with Sondag at the bakery and continues to make the dough, said she thinks the povitica are so popular because they’re a treat.

“You can’t eat just one piece, can you,” she said with a laugh.

Both flavors of the povitica are available for $20 per loaf. All proceeds go to pay down the debt on Immaculate Conception Church, which was dedicated on Sept. 27.

For more information, contact Joan Mattson at (309) 360-7841 or breadoflifebakers@gmail.com.

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