Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


St. Patrick’s Day Mass Brings Out Atlanta’s Irish

By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published March 25, 2004

The Cathedral of Christ the King was awash in green and the festive atmosphere peppered with the sounds of lilting Irish brogues as Irish Catholics from across the archdiocese gathered to celebrate the feast day of their patron saint.

Sponsored by the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass was celebrated by Archbishop John F. Donoghue and concelebrated by 15 priests of the archdiocese March 17.

The pews were filled with native Irish, those of Irish ancestry, and those “Irish for the day.”

Father Brian Higgins, himself born of Irish descendants, was the homilist for the Mass.

Father Higgins began his homily with trademark Irish wit.

“Upon writing this morning’s homily, I reflected on the fact that since the days I was a seminarian to my four-plus years as a priest, I have had nothing but Irish pastors,” he said. “So I can say in all sincerity, I am the priest I am today because of the Irish. May God have mercy on your souls.”

His relatives came to America during the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, and his great-grandmother soon opened up a boarding house for Irish immigrants, Father Higgins said. While he loves America, he said, he cannot ignore the country from which his ancestors came.

“And I am reminded of my ancestry in the everyday details of my life,” he said. “I know I am Irish when I find humor in the absurd. I know I am Irish when I find joy in a good argument, even if I have to contradict myself several times in the course of the debate. I know I am Irish when I don’t let facts stand in the way of a good story, and I know I am Irish when my heart yearns to be closer to Christ and His Church.”

Every Christian, Irish or otherwise, has an obligation to bring Christ to others, he said.

“My friends, whether we were born in Ireland or not, we can proudly proclaim we are her sons and daughters. And as her children we have a mission, a mission much like St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and St. Brendan before us to bring the Word of God forward to a world, much like theirs, that does not want to hear the truth,” he said. “Yet we cannot be deterred, for we have a mission, a mission to make Christ present, to make Christ visible to a world that is growing ever blind.”

Finally, Father Higgins reminded the congregation that the only ancestry that truly matters is that of Christ.

“My great-grandmother never forgot where she came from and neither should we, for we are all from Christ no matter where we were born, and like St. Patrick, Christ must be our destiny.”

As the soft pluckings of a harp sounded throughout the Cathedral, girls from the Helen Mountaine and Eileen Mulligan Schools of Irish dance, with their bouncing curls and ornate sequined costumes, brought up the offertory gifts, the taps on their shoes clip-clopping down the aisle.

Following Communion, Father Frank McNamee, pastor of St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell, and a native Irishman, read a St. Patrick’s Day greeting from Mary McAleese, president of Ireland.

After Mass, the congregation gathered in the parish hall to dine on Irish soda bread and other treats and to be entertained by the Irish schools of dance.

Matt Naughton, a native of Ireland who has been in the United States for 44 years, said his Irish heritage is more important as he gets older.

“St. Patrick’s Day is a day to go back to our roots,” he said. “But being Irish today is different than when I was younger. Back then we were just that little island. Now I think the Irish consider themselves more European than they do Irish.”

St. Patrick’s Day is “a holiday in Ireland. You wore a sprig of shamrock and you went to church.”

But when Naughton came to New York, March 17 was a day for the Irish to express that “we’re here.”

In the early 60s, he recalled, the mayor of New York City was trying to “de-Irish the city.” He stopped the tradition of painting a green stripe up the middle of Fifth Avenue. But that didn’t deter Naughton and his friends.

“We drove up Fifth Avenue in the middle of a Sunday afternoon with a paint roller,” he said.

The group painted about two blocks of Fifth Avenue with a shiny green stripe.

Naughton’s wife of 34 years, Caroline, who is not Irish, said that she has been “very welcomed by the Irish in Atlanta.”

“We have been active in the Irish group for years,” she said. “It’s a huge part of our lives. It’s a time to get together with friends. It’s a special time.”

Maureen McGrinder, whose mother was born in Ireland, said that the religious aspect is the most important part of St. Patrick’s Day.

“To me, it’s a religious holiday. I remember when I was younger, we’d go to Mass early and then we’d go to the parade in New York City,” she said. “It was a deeply religious day, it wasn’t about the partying and drinking.”

Rose Begley, who has coordinated the St. Patrick’s Day Mass for nine years, said that she was pleased with the turnout. She estimated about 300 people attended the Mass.

“I thought it was excellent, just really wonderful,” she said. “It just keeps growing and growing. And we had a lot of priests this year, which was really great.”