What’s the big deal about Saint Patrick’s Day?

Saint Patrick’s Day draws nigh.

Holding a shamrock

The day when those who never considered themselves Irish become so for a day of festivity held throughout the nation. Locally, churches like St. Mary Catholic Church in Oakdale and St. Anthony’s in Hughson will hold Corned Beef and Cabbage dinners while pubs and breweries go out of their way for the “Wearing of the Green.” 

The Downtown Turlock Business Association will hold its second Downtown Turlock Pot of Gold Scavenger Hunt March 17-18, inviting participants to hunt for the 17 listed items, photograph them and post them on Instagram. Each entry becomes a chance to win the pot of gold containing gifts, gift cards and coupons valued at $500.

Why all the hullabaloo over an ancient Catholic saint? 

Saint Patrick lived in the 5th century. His path to Ireland began with pirates kidnapping the young Welshman, selling him as a slave in Ireland, his escape and dream that led him to become a priest and return to Ireland as a missionary and bishop. He is the patron saint of Ireland.

It is easy to find the patron saints of countries. France has at least three. We don’t celebrate those feast days in secular and religious settings like this one. What makes Patrick different? 

The first wave of Irish immigration took place in colonial times. The potato famine in 1845 launched the second wave of immigration. Within five years, a million Irish were dead and half a million arrived in America. The Irish constituted a third of all immigrants from 1820 to 1860. They faced anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiments in the predominantly Protestant United States. Yet the people made America their home and became an influential presence.

“It was the Irish who made the [Catholic] Church grow,”

Michael McCormack, National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-American Catholic fraternity, told the Catholic News Agency in a 2021 article by Kevin J. Foley titled “How the Irish built Catholic America”, “By the mid-nineteenth century, Irish clergy had taken the lead in church building to serve the immigrant populations of the industrial cities of the East Coast and the Midwest,” Christopher Shannon, a Christendom College history professor, told CNA in the same article.

“Except for churches founded explicitly by non-Irish groups seeking to maintain their distinct ethnic traditions, every church in the immigrant city was a little Irish.”

The saint, the immigrants, the churches.

It begins with a saint’s festival. Over time, it became a cause for Irish-American pride, a way to band together as citizens of a new country with a shared heritage. As Irish immigrants made homes and lives here in the United States, many kept their connection to their homeland and the people still living there. 

For 800 years, Britain ruled Ireland. In The Irish Story: A Survey of Irish History and Culture author Alice Curtayne illustrates Britain’s to wipe out Irish culture during that time. By immigrating, settling in America and embracing their Irish heritage, Irish Americans and their Saint Patrick’s Day parades emboldened those still in Ireland to demand their freedom from England.

For a country to come out of oppression after eight centuries and still treasure its heritage, promote its heritage and celebrate its heritage is remarkable to me. 

I am a Casey.

Before that, I was a McGuire. “Isn’t that the Scottish spelling?” I asked my father.

“They were probably just Irish pretending to be Scottish because there was so much discrimination against the Irish,” he answered.

All my life I attended the Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner. That made up the bulk of my interaction with Irish culture. But now, as a Casey, with a husband who grew up with more Portuguese traditions than ones that belonged to his heritage, we’re looking for the heritage of our ancestors and embracing the feast and all it stands for, in a religious and secular sense. It’s marvelous when the two sides can come together for a bit of festivity in these early days of spring. 

And the green?

Green is the national color of Ireland. The Irish street ballad called “The Wearing of the Green” decries the repression of supporters of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The Society of United Irishmen adopted green as its color. Its supporters wore green as a sign of rebellion against British rule. And so wearing the color on Saint Patrick’s Day becomes a way of showing Irish pride or support of Irish independence, or dare I say, support that all people should be free and accorded their God-given rights and dignity, which no one should take from them. 

That sounds like an idea we all can get behind. 

Saint Patrick's Day Parade with young man carrying the Irish flag

Local Events

As mentioned before. You can find Corned Beef and Cabbage and live Celtic Music at St. Mary Catholic Church at 1600 Main Street in Oakdale from 5 to 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be bought at the door. My husband will be the one playing the Irish whistle. At St. Anthony’s in Hughson, the Knights of Columbus will host the Michael Hollenhorst Memorial Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner on March 18 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children.

Saint Patrick Day Cheers

And for you Catholic readers

Saint Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday on Lent this year. Tthose Catholics in the Stockton Diocese will be happy to know our Bishop has issued a dispensation from the obligation to fast from meat. Catholics are still encouraged Catholics to make some alternative penance or Lenten devotion that day.

For a fantastic explainer on what that’s about, check out this article by the Pillar.

For our devotion, our family plans to attend mass that afternoon locally and provide some good ol’ Irish hymns.

To get in the devotional spirit, try

  • “The King of Love my Shepherd is”
  • “Be Thou my Vision”
  • “The Lorica of Saint Patrick”

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always with you.

May the sunshine on your always.

Till we meet again.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

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