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Schools lead the way on St Pat’s

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St Patrick greets revellers on Pitt St at the annual parade. Photo: Adam Wesselinsoff
St Patrick greets revellers on Pitt St at the annual parade. Photo: Adam Wesselinsoff

By George Al-Akiki and Adam Wesselinoff

Irish-Australians and migrants from the Emerald Isle came out in droves to celebrate St Patrick’s Day on 17 March, with a parade through the CBD and festival in the Rocks.

Led by St Patrick and St Brigid, and with dignitaries including Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill resplendent in bright green outfits, the celebrations were perhaps less religious than previous decades, but the crowds were hardly lacking in joy.

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Holy Cross Catholic Primary School Woollahra, and St Brigid’s Catholic Primary School Coogee, both brought contingents to march in the parade.

“We have many families with strong Irish roots, and St Brigid, like St Patrick, is an Irish saint which means it’s important for us to celebrate,” St Brigid’s principal Diane Cowan told The Catholic Weekly.

“The Catholic faith demonstrates that even just one person can make a difference.

“St Patrick was one such person who made a difference to the Irish community, so it shows that each of us has the power and ability to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Louise Minogue, principal of Holy Cross, said the parade was just one of many ways the school honours St Patrick.

The school has a St Patrick’s Day walkathon, celebrates Mass, and sends children and teachers to St Mary’s Cathedral for the archdiocesan St Patrick’s Day Mass.

“St Patrick’s Day is celebrated as a big feast day at Holy Cross and is a very happy occasion,” Minogue said.

“It is a celebration of a prominent saint, who students can learn from about faith and culture.”

Niamh Sheil, a Holy Cross teacher from Ireland, said she was proud to help the school community stay in touch with their traditions, “which helps keep everything alive.”

“Even today in the playground they are all chatting about what a great day they had being part of the parade. They’re already planning what to wear next year,” she told The Catholic Weekly after the event.

“They can learn from St Patrick how to spread the good news of Christianity.

“Being a part of things like this shows that we’re a school that works together, has fun and also keeps our traditions alive, which is what I think St Patrick did as well.”

Around 60 members of the Holy Cross community attended the parade, with 40 coming from St Brigid’s Coogee.

The Archdiocesan St Patrick’s Day Mass was celebrated by Bishop Terence Brady on 18 March, due to the Sundays of Lent taking precedence over the Solemnity.

Bishop Brady gave thanks for his Irish heritage and asked the congregation to think of the Irish Catholics who built the church in Australia, including the mother church of St Mary’s Cathedral.

The Archdiocesan St Patrick’s Day Mass was celebrated by Bishop Terence Brady at St Mary's Cathedral on 18 March. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The Archdiocesan St Patrick’s Day Mass was celebrated by Bishop Terence Brady at St Mary’s Cathedral on 18 March. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Fr Patrick Mara preached the homily, and said the Irish Catholic legacy remains worthy of admiration.

“I worked with … Irish missionaries overseas, and I saw that they improved the lives of people in countries such as PNG and Fiji,” he said.

“Those people in those countries were so happy we came to them. They were so grateful for our presence, our spirituality, our faith, and what we had done in their communities.

“The Catholic Church in Ireland played a very large role in that. They have so much to be proud of, not of themselves, but to be proud of Christ Jesus.”

Professor Gerard Ryan, of the University of Notre Dame Australia law school, marched in the parade with his Irish dance school.

He was taught by Australia’s foremost authority on Irish dance, Janice Currie-Henderson, and has been dancing on-and-off since he was a boy.

“In the world I grew up in, being Irish and being Australian were like synonyms,” Professor Ryan said.

“One was part of the other—when I started as an altar server way back in the 1970s, a large percentage of families in the primary school and the servers had Irish names.”

He danced in St Patrick’s Day concerts in his youth, and thinks that Irish-Australians should retain their roots and customs, because of the importance of Irish Catholicism to the church in Australia.

But while the cultural connection with St Patrick is vital, the day has “morphed” into a cultural day and “a good marketing exercise” for Ireland, he believes.

“When I was younger you didn’t need to be Irish to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, because St Patrick was basically an Australian saint,” Professor Ryan said.

“He converted Ireland, and the Irish brought the faith to Australia.”

In a multicultural society, more needs to be done to recapture the appeal of St Patrick as a saint of the universal church, and not just an Irish cultural icon, he said.

Parishes, young Catholics and Catholic agencies could help to emphasise the religious dimension of St Patrick’s Day by marching in the parade, Professor Ryan added.

“To be fair to the younger people, I don’t know if they’ve been inculturated into the significance of these things,” he said.

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