by Jill Ragar Esfeld
PRAIRIE VILLAGE — “I’ve got a 1931 Ford convertible with a rumble seat in the back,” said St. Ann parishioner Brian O’Laughlin. “And I’m riding in that with signs on the side.
“I’ll be in the St. Patrick’s Day Shawnee parade, the Brookside parade and the downtown parade.”
The “signs on the side” will tout O’Laughlin’s honor as Hibernian of the Year, and he’ll be leading the way for the Father Bernard Donnelly Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in each parade.
It’s an impressive group to set in motion.
“We have our honor guard who are all in kilts,” said president Zach Kittle, a member of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park. “We march with the Irish flag, American flag and Vatican flag.
“And then we have a group of guys behind us with all Irish flags and then all of our families ride on Governor Stumpy’s fire truck that follows us down the road.”
The Hibernians are a fraternal organization of Catholic men that promote Irish culture and support the Catholic Church.
The Father Bernard Donnelly Division received its charter in 2002. With more than 100 members, the organization is well known in the area for its charity and volunteerism.
“We meet at the Lucky Brew Grill in Mission,” said O’Laughlin. “Most of our priests show up to our meetings, and that’s pretty cool.”
Because of its namesake’s commitment to Catholic education, that is a primary cause for the Father Donnelly division.
“Christian charity is the cornerstone of what we do,” said O’Laughlin. “In addition to our volunteer work, we give out scholarships to eighth-graders going to Catholic high schools every year.
“We also support SAFE (Surviving Spouse and Family Endowment) that takes care of families of fallen first responders. And we support the Duchesne Clinic (in Kansas City, Kansas).”
O’Laughlin is humble about his distinction as Hibernian of the Year.
“There are other people equally qualified for the honor,” he said. “It just happened to be my year, I guess.”
Kittle is clearer about the reason for the choice.
“Brian is a great guy who shows up and helps out whenever he’s needed,” he said. “He’s all about the organization and helping promote it — making sure we’ve got good guys coming into the organization and making sure we’re bringing back guys who have been in our organization and have maybe fallen away.”
O’Laughlin also hosts the group’s Christmas party and is a key volunteer in the group’s biggest yearly fundraiser — Irish road bowling (see sidebar).
But if asked what he likes best about the organization, O’Laughlin is quick to laud the group’s catholicity.
“We begin and end each of our meetings with prayers,” he said. “We offer up the intentions of our families and friends and people who need prayer support.
“When one of our members dies, we all go to the funeral and say a rosary expressing to the people that both his Irish heritage and Catholic faith are important.”