In keeping with established tradition, Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Association preceded its festive parade, held this year on March 11 with a 9:30 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s Church near Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.
In his homily, Archbishop Charles Chaput, whose ethnicity is mostly French and Native American, delighted the congregation by telling them, “First of all I am Irish, not very much Irish, but Irish.”
As he explained, John Keegan, an Irish immigrant came to the Potawatomi Reservation in Kansas as a teacher in the late 19th century, and there he married his great-grandmother who was Native American.
“I’m personally grateful to Ireland for the gift of my great-grandfather,” the Archbishop said, “and I’m grateful to the Church in Ireland that formed people in the Catholic faith; good people who were interested not only in the welfare of themselves but in the welfare of others.”
The Archbishop cautioned the congregation not to be just cultural Catholics but take St. Patrick’s Day “as a moment to renew our commitment to Jesus Christ.” We have a duty, he said, “not only bishops and priests and deacons, not only religious sisters, but all of us in the Church, from the youngest to the oldest … to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The afternoon was taken up by the grand parade on John F. Kennedy Boulevard and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which saw approximately 200 units of people, young and old, marching bands, dance schools, fraternal groups and whatever, all showing their enthusiasm for their favorite saint.
Many the marchers were old hands at it. “I was the grand marshal in 1979, but I’ve been marching since 1960,” said Judge Edward J. Bradley, who paraded hand in hand with his grandchildren. “It’s a grand day.”
This year’s grand marshal was John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty who is business manager of Electrical Worker Local 98, which fits into the parade theme, “God Bless the American Worker.”
“I can’t remember ever not being at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” he said. “I’m 51 years old and I’ve been coming for at least 50 years. It’s a great day for the community, my family and the whole Catholic world.”
“The Mass with the Archbishop and now the parade, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Msgr. Thomas Flanigan, who remembers first coming as a seminarian and young priest with his birth parish, St. Monica in South Philadelphia. “It gets bigger and bigger, and there are so many young people involved; it’s a great thing for the future.”
Some of the award-winning groups go way back, for instance the Philadelphia Emerald Society, St. Aloysius Academy Marching Band, and the Mayo Association of Philadelphia. Others like the Divine Providence Village Step Dancers, composed of developmentally disabled girls and women, were competing for the first time. Old or young, it was a grand time under sunny skies, a great day for the Irish.