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Traveling Catholic priest turns Circus Vargas tent into church for performers

Baptism conducted in Circus Vargas tent

Fr. George “Jerry” Hogan, baptizes Bianca Marinelli, as her mother Celeste Marinelli and godfather Patrick Marinelli, center left, look on while dad, Josue Marinelli, and godmother, Mariella Quiroga, right, hold the the baby during a Catholic mass and sacraments of initiation at Circus Vargas in Burbank on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Some members of the circus received baptism, confirmation or first communion under the circus’ big top in Burbank.

(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

The phrase three-ring circus has a slightly different meaning for Rev. George “Jerry” Hogan.

A Catholic priest for the 42 years, Hogan performs three services in one — a baptism, first communion and confirmation of new members to the church under a circus tent, an environment he’s familiar with.

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On Thursday, Hogan conducted his religious hat trick for performers with Circus Vargas, which has been stationed in Burbank presenting its new show, “iLUMINOUS” since May 12. Eleven members from the troupe — mainly the children of performers — took their next steps into the Catholic faith.

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Hogan’s Mass that morning was something he does more than 100 times a year for various circuses, including the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Big Apple Circus. He said he understands that families working in a circus typically do not have time to go to church and formally practice their faith because they are on the road regularly and have hectic performance schedules.

“They do three shows on Saturday and three shows on Sunday, so it’s impossible for them to go to church,” said Hogan, who has been traveling out to circuses for the past 22 years.

With help from nuns Dorothy Frabritze and Mary Seibert, Circus Vargas’ blue-and-yellow tent was temporarily transformed into a church, with an area to perform a baptism and an altar from which Hogan celebrated Mass. The center ring was filled with folding chairs, each draped with a red, faux crushed-velvet slipcover.

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Fr. George “Jerry” Hogan, performs Catholic mass

Fr. George “Jerry” Hogan, performs Catholic mass and sacraments of initiation at Circus Vargas in Burbank on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Some members of the circus received baptism, confirmation or first communion under the big top at the circus location in Burbank.

(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Hogan, who has loved the circus since becoming a priest, kept the service festive and wore a circus-themed vestment.

The Mass was like any other Catholic ceremony, but took about an hour and a half to complete because of the various sacraments celebrated.

Hogan first baptized 2-year old Bianca Marinelli, who was accompanied by her father Josue, her mother Celeste and her godparents. Having a priest come to Circus Vargas was nothing new for Josue Marinelli, who received his first communion and was confirmed by Hogan years ago.

“My older daughter was also baptized by Father Jerry,” he said. “It’s kind of like a family tradition, which is hard, working in the circus because we’re always traveling around. Luckily, we have Father Jerry to help us out.”

It was not just the children of performers who were blessed that morning. Angelina Quevedo, the 47-year-old general manager for Circus Vargas, was confirmed by Hogan, saying that it was because of the busy circus schedule and her wanting to find the right faith that she reaffirmed her belief in the Catholic church.

“I was born Catholic and raised Catholic, but I wanted to find myself and my religion,” she said. “As I got older and I went to many different types of churches, I came back to the Catholic faith.”

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Anthony Clark Carpio, anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

Twitter: @acocarpio


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