Irish-American Catholics negotiate St. Patrick’s Day and Holy Week conflict


A Holy Week calendar conflict with St. Patrick’s Day is forcing some localities to choose between parades and piety.


For the first time since 1940, March 17, St. Patrick’s Feast Day, falls during Holy Week.  Due to the solemnity of the period, Masses for Saint Patrick cannot be held during Holy Week.  Parishes must petition their bishop for permission to say a Mass in honor of the saint.


According to USA Today, some American bishops have moved the celebration of Ireland’s patron saint up to March 14.  The move has caused some secular organizers to change their schedule as well.


"To us first and foremost, it's a religious holiday, and we would never hold our festivities without the Mass," said John Forbes, general chairman of Savannah, Georgia's St. Patrick's Day Parade. The parade will follow religious services honoring St. Patrick on March 14.


Other cities are continuing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 or the Sunday before, which is Palm Sunday.


"It's not at all surprising that the conservatives would recoil from parades" during Holy Week, Thomas Hachey of the Center for Irish Programs at Boston College told USA Today. "The festivities have degenerated in some instances. … They're not so much honoring a saint as they are a reflection of embarrassing displays of drunkenness and increasing amounts of commercialism."


In Columbus, Ohio, Bishop Frederick Campbell tried to persuade the organizers of the secular festivities, the Shamrock Club, to keep Holy Week free of parade floats or extravagant parties.  Despite months of negotiations, which included offers to make the bishop the grand marshal of the parade, both sides are at an impasse.


"The 17th of March is a huge day for any Irish community," said Mark Dempsey, president of the Shamrock Club of Columbus. He said that Irish-Americans "rely on that day (to communicate) a huge tradition of public service and charitable giving that Irish organizations do throughout the year."


Bishops in Boston and New York have not made objections to the local parades coinciding with Holy Week.

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In Chicago, traditional celebrations such as dyeing the Chicago River green and its parade are always scheduled for the Saturday before March 17.


According to the Southtown Star, a parish priest in Chicago foresaw the conflict in 2006 and brought it to the local St. Patrick’s Day committee’s attention.  Father Frank Kurucz, pastor of St. Cajetan’s Church, was new to the parish when he looked at future calendars.


"I was looking at Easter for the next five years," he said. "I wondered, 'When's the parade?' "


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After checking the calendar, he noticed the conflict.


"I thought, 'Uh-oh,' " Kurucz said.


"All of the credit for everything going so smoothly and avoiding some of the issues that are plaguing some other organizing committees goes to Father Frank," said Mary Beth Sheehan, the Chicago parade’s spokeswoman.


Tom MacNamara, the 2008 parade coordinator, said holding the Mass was important, but so was the need to honor Holy Week.


"Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week," said Tom McNamara, this year's parade coordinator. "Holy Week is a somber and reflective time leading up to Easter. It's not a time for a big celebration and parties."


"A big part of the parade day for many people is Mass at St. Cajetan Church," he said. "It's a special liturgy with an Irish theme and Irish music. You wouldn't be able to do that on Palm Sunday."


St. Patrick’s Day will next fall during Holy Week in 2160.

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