By Andrew Nelson | Published March 14, 2017
I drove some 50 miles to St. Mary, Mother of God, Catholic Church, in Jackson. It well may be the most southern parish in the Atlanta Archdiocese. Driving past green fields and cows in pastures it felt that way.
Awaiting me was a bagpiper and a tenor drummer, a husband and wife duo. It was an opportunity to write a story touching on St. Patrick Day, a day of Celtic pride with the skirl of the bagpipes found in any worthy parade. Sure enough, Missy and Rich McPhee trace their family tree to Ireland (and Scotland) and play in a Highland pipe and drum corps. (And here’s the story.)
It was also my first time to this parish. The church sits surrounded by lovely tall pine trees. The entry leads to a large gathering space and the sacred space is to the left behind glass doors. A feature in the church I noticed is how above each of the half dozen windows is a different form of cross. There is the X of the St. Andrew Cross. The Tau cross where the cross bar is at the top of the vertical bar. The Chi Rho cross which uses the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ.
Father Jose M. Kochuparampil came to see what all the hoopla was about, with the bagpipes and the sound of the drum. He has been the spiritual leader of the 300-family parish since the summer of 2016. He joined the small crowd of avid listeners of Rich on the bagpipes and Missy on the tenor drum. It turns out March 17 is also the McPhee’s wedding anniversary. This year is number 38.
Civil War Irish priest honored by Atlanta
I met Rich in the spring of 2016. He played the bagpipes at the annual tribute to Father Patrick O’Reily, pastor of the Shrine of Immaculate Conception during the Civil War. To this day, the Catholic Irish priest is remembered for trying to save civic and church buildings during the occupation of Atlanta under Union troops. The idea this year was to profile a Catholic with ties to St. Patrick and the Irish. The McPhees checked that box.
I spent spent close to 2 hours with the McPhees, talking to them about their life on the road as a military family. The McPhees were generous with their time, telling how they raised their three children as they moved from military post to military post. They said a glue that held them together was the Catholic community found in the chapels on or near every military installation.
Rich talked about how he always travels with his pipes. They are as much a part of his go bag as other essentials. He talked how he when he was learning the bagpipes, they’d come out at times that would make his then teenaged children crazy. (It’s just the way of fathers. My father would do the same, not with bagpipes, but with his affable way he’d talk with strangers.) As a parting gift to his youngest, Rich played the bagpipes on the drill field at the U.S. Military Academy when Cadat McPhee spent his first night in the dorms.
So, as a treat, here they are playing “Scotland the Brave.”