Moldovan's Romanian Heritage to Be Honored at Sept. 1 Roots Aurora Festival

Moldovan’s Romanian Heritage to Be Honored at Sept. 1 Roots Aurora Festival

Viola Moldovan, a native of Aurora and a keeper of Romanian culture in the city, will be honored at the 2017 Roots Aurora festival on Sept. 1. Every year, the festival salutes individuals deemed Cultural Champions because of their work to preserve their native customs and share them with the citizens of Aurora.

Viola Moldovan on the steps of St. Michael Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church, 609 N. Lincoln, Aurora, IL. Courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.

Moldovan has spent her entire life on Pigeon Hill in Aurora, a near east side neighborhood that has been home to generations of immigrants who flocked to the city beginning in the 1850s, finding railroad and manufacturing jobs and building the churches, schools, social halls, groceries, taverns and cemeteries that to this day illustrate the ethnic diversity of Aurora.

Her roots go back nearly a century, when her grandparents and parents arrived and settled in a Romanian-American enclave on the hill.

Although born in Aurora, Moldovan recalls that when she enrolled at St. Michael Grade School at the age of 5, during the Great Depression, she didn’t yet speak English. Straight out of Madonna High School she entered the workforce, building up a secretarial career first with Austin Western Manufacturing and then, when that plant closed, with Home Savings and Loan.

It was during that time that she and her mother, Emma Moldovan, as well as friend and neighbor Vera Popp, answered the call from the Aurora Public Library to decorate a Christmas tree in Romanian style for a new program saluting ethnic diversity in the city. This year will mark the 41st annual display of holiday customs at the library and Moldovan has contributed a tree every year. Recently she has been assisted by her cousin, Darlene Ardelean.

Food also featured prominently in Moldovan’s efforts to retain the traditions of her ancestors, and she has donated endless hours every Christmas and Easter to baking breads and cookies from the recipes of her family and neighbors for the popular bake sales at St. Michael Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church.

Still volunteering in retirement, Moldovan points out that although she is a strong proponent of Romanian culture, she has never moved from Pigeon Hill or very far from the grade school where she began.

One of her jobs now is to go into St. Michael’s cemetery, just a few blocks north, to show the gravediggers where to dig next.  She says the names there are all reminders of just how much Romanian influence  there has been and continues to be on Aurora.

The Roots Aurora Festival will take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, on Water Street Mall in downtown Aurora. The festival will feature ethnic entertainment, food, crafts and children’s activities, as well as the 6 p.m. presentation of the Cultural Champions award.

Romanian Roots

St. George Byzantine Catholic Church

Although present-day immigrants from Romania mostly choose to settle in the northern suburbs of Chicago, many make Aurora their spiritual home because of the two Romanian churches there.

St. Michael Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church and St. George Byzantine Catholic Church are located just six blocks apart in the Pigeon Hill neighborhood and are two of only 14 Romanian Uniate churches in the United States. Services in the Romanian language are still conducted several times a month at St. Michael.

On Sept. 23, 2017, St. George parish will hold its annual Romanian Festival on the church grounds at 720 Rural St. The festival runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and features homemade sausage and baked goods, a beer garden, live music and a folk dance group.  St. George also holds a homemade sausage sale during the holidays.

About Roots Aurora


Roots Aurora, the free community block party celebrating the cultural richness of Aurora, will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, at the Water Street Mall & Mundy Park in downtown Aurora, kicking off the Labor Day Weekend.

“We are incredibly excited for the event his year,” said Mariana Osoria, vice president of Centers of Family Focus, which has presented the festival for the past three years. The city of Aurora, African American Heritage Advisory Board, Aurora Historical Society, Indian American Outreach Advisory Council, and the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Council are also co-producers of the event.

Roots Aurora is a community celebration of dance, music, art and food, presented by local non-profit organizations and community leaders. The free event is made possible with sponsorships from businesses and individuals, with proceeds supporting Family Focus, which nurtures children by strengthening families in the Aurora community.

For more information, visit or call 630-844-2550. Sponsorships are also available.

Family Focus Aurora has been providing critical support services to the community for more than 30 years. The center, located at 550 East Second Avenue provides early childhood, youth development, educational services, family advocacy and immigrations services. For more information, visit or call 630-844-2550.

SOURCE: Aurora Historical Society news release