Two Catholic priests share bit o’ Ireland on feast day|[03/17/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 17, 2008

Before the parades and revelry marking modern-day celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, only a small, strategically placed bit of greenery existed to remind those of the Roman Catholic feast day.

“It was a little shamrock, worn on the lapel pin,” said the Rev. Patrick Farrell, pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, recalling his days growing up in the northwest Irish province of Connacht.

For the Rev. P.J. Curley, pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church, the memories are ones of Irish pride and faith in God.

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“It showed your patriotism,” said Curley, who grew up in the neighboring Connacht county of Roscommon. “It’s like when you pin on a decal of the United States.”

The day honoring the first of Ireland’s three patron saints remains a public holiday there, but it once carried with it an air of reverence associated with other Holy Days of Obligation in Ireland. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. The three-leafed clover or shamrock grows there as well as in the United States, one of the first grasses of spring.

Wearing the symbol to church was a custom for boys and girls. As time went on, it had evolved to include relatives in the United States.

“Families would mail them little pieces of shamrock,” Farrell said.

Though his holiday reminders now consist of greeting cards like most people, Farrell still keeps the roots of the occasion fresh in mind.

“It was his way of explaining the Trinity,” Farrell said, easing into St. Patrick’s reasoning for the shape of the three-leafed clover. “As there are three leaves on the clover, there are three persons in one God.” The holy trinity consists of God the Father, Jesus who is God the Son and the Holy Spirit.

March 17 is kept as an obligation by Catholics worldwide, but is practiced as such most particularly in Ireland. In addition, it is a public holiday in the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and on the British-controlled island of Montserrat, both home to large populations of those of Irish descent.

Churches where St. Patrick is the principal patron and where the day is customarily commemorated as a solemnity were allowed to move the feast day back to March 14 or 15 because today’s date falls during Holy Week — the week from Palm Sunday to Easter — for the first time since 1940.

Last year’s announcement by U.S. bishops caused some parade dates in cities like Philadelphia and Milwaukee to be changed. The nation’s, in New York, still took place today.

“It strikes me that in the U.S. it is a big parade day,” Farrell said. “In Ireland it was national as well as church.”

Though St. Patrick’s Day will not coincide with Holy Week again until 2160, Curley sees a sort of commercialization of the holiday consistent with Christmas, also a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus.

“We’ve romanticized the notion of St. Patrick’s Day,” Curley said, referencing the green-dyed Chicago River and cabbages and carrots seen flying off parade floats in New Orleans.

Curley reflects on the spirit of St. Patrick, the man — taken hostage as a teen in modern-day Great Britain and held captive in Ireland.

In particular, Curley thinks of the spirit of forgiveness toward his captors detailed in “Confession,” one of two letters believed to have been written by Patrick, elevated to sainthood in an earlier period of Christianity when canonizations were done on the regional level and not by a pope.

“There’s a sense of reconciliation. Spiritually, we’re seen as so unforgiving, so unwilling to meet with our enemy,” Curley said.

For youths in Farrell’s and Curley’s Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was just as good a time as any to explore one’s faith.

“We went to church to show faithfulness to God,” Curley said.

St. PatrickThe person who was to become St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales about AD 385. His given name was Maewyn.

Until age 16, he considered himself a pagan. He then was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village. During his captivity, he became closer to God.

He escaped after six years and went to Gaul where he studied in the monastery under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre for 12 years. During his training he became aware that his calling was to convert the pagans to Christianity.

His wishes were to return to Ireland, to convert the native pagans to Christianity. But his superiors instead appointed St. Palladius. But two years later, Palladius transferred to Scotland. Patrick, having adopted that Christian name earlier, was then appointed as second bishop to Ireland.

Patrick was quite successful at winning converts. And this fact upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times, but escaped each time. He traveled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries across the country. He also set up schools and churches which would aid him in his conversion of the Irish country to Christianity.

His mission in Ireland lasted for 30 years, until he retired to County Down. He died on March 17 in AD 461. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.

The St. Patrick’s Day custom came to America in 1737, the first year St. Patrick’s Day was publicly celebrated in this country, in Boston.