by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — If you were to pass someone on the street and ask them what they associate with St. Patrick’s Day, what response would you probably get?
Beer. Party. “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.”
If you were to pass a Catholic on the street and ask the same question, would the response be different?
It should be. That’s because for Catholics, the day is meant to be a celebration of the life of one of the greatest missionaries of the church: St. Patrick is credited with converting the whole of Ireland.
The Catholic community in Leavenworth continues to celebrate the life of St. Patrick with the 35th annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass at Immaculate Conception Church there, followed by a parade through downtown on March 17.
“The linkage between the Mass and the parade is a beautiful one because it reminds everyone of the real cause for our celebration,” said Father David McEvoy, O.Carm., pastor of Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Church. “The parade is a lot of fun for the Irish families of Leavenworth and for the entire community, as well.”
Though not Irish himself, St. Patrick is beloved by the Irish people because he was the first to bring the Catholic faith to Ireland and convert the people, Father David said.
“Saint Patrick is always a symbol of Irish pride,” he said. “He is a great model of evangelization for us today.”
Though Immaculate Conception was not designated a “national” Irish parish, it was the cathedral parish from 1855-1947 and has been home to many Irish immigrants and their descendants, he said.
“Many of us owe the faith that was passed down through our families to ourselves to the church in Ireland, and ultimately to St. Patrick himself,” he said. “Catholicism was not always so accepted in the United States, despite our freedom to profess our faith here.
“So, the St. Patrick’s parade is a way for us to publicly celebrate our Catholic roots.”
Even now, there are several members and families in the Immaculate Conception community who claim those Irish roots. One such member is longtime parishioner Marilyn Murray.
“It’s something we look forward to every year,” she said. “It would be something very disappointing if the parish didn’t continue to do it.
“We just take it for granted that we are going to have a St. Patrick’s Day Mass and a big celebration afterwards.”
“It is good for a family,” she continued. “It brings them all together and I think it’s good to have a tradition and keep the tradition of your grandparents who came all the way over here.”
The Mass features bagpipers, traditional Irish hymns and a collection for the St. Vincent Clinic in Leavenworth.
Each year, a grand marshal is chosen, usually someone of Irish descent and involved in the Catholic community. This year, Rod and Susan Bray of Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph were chosen for that honor.
The selection recognizes their service to the Leavenworth churches, the Leavenworth Catholic schools and the Knights of Columbus, said Tim Scanlon, a parade committee member.
Susan Bray said she and her husband were surprised to learn they were chosen.
“We certainly did not ever in our wildest dreams think that we would be chosen to be grand marshals,” said Bray. “We are among a lot of great people that have been grand marshals in the past, so it is quite an honor.”
Bray said she loves how the parade brings everyone together as a community.
“It’s such a good family event. When you talk about the Leavenworth parade, people’s eyes just light up, because you just know everybody that’s in it,” she said. “It’s a way of connecting with the community and everybody.”
“Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” she concluded. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Irish or not. It’s just a wonderful parade.”
Father David uses a different word to describe the day: joy.
“Ultimately, St. Patrick’s Day is about joy,” he said, “joy that this great saint brought the faith to Ireland, joy that we cling to that faith today.”
“And joy,” he added, “that we live in a nation where we can freely profess our faith and ethnic roots.”