By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published March 19, 2015
ATLANTA—Clad in primarily green attire, worshippers filled the pews of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta to remember the “Apostle of Ireland” on the feast day of St. Patrick, March 17.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was celebrant of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass sponsored by the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta.
While the cultural associations of St. Patrick’s Day—from song and dance to food and drink—are to be applauded, the archbishop said a genuine celebration must include recalling the saint’s extraordinary missionary efforts.
“To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we must return to the legacy of faith that he planted deeply within the hearts of the people of that island nation and subsequently that his sons and daughters have so magnificently planted throughout the globe,” said Archbishop Gregory.
Of all the blessed gifts the Irish bring from the Emerald Isle, the most precious is proclamation of the Gospel.
“The Irish bring with them the faith of Patrick and his unswerving dedication to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus,” said the archbishop.
Archbishop Gregory emphasized that Patrick would admonish his fellow citizens if the peripheral parts of Irish heritage overshadowed the faith.
“I can only imagine that his words to all of us would be direct and challenging,” said the archbishop.
He called upon all to “recommit to the heart” of the saint’s missionary labors.
In the fifth century, Patrick was brought around age 16 as a slave to Ireland from his native Britain. After escaping and returning home, Patrick felt called to return to Ireland to share Christ and his teachings as a priest and bishop.
During the presentation of the offertory gifts, parishioners and guests sang “Our Lady of Knock.” The traditional Irish song of blessing, “May the Road Rise to Meet You,” was one of the Communion songs.
Robert F. O’Neil, trustee of the Hibernian Benevolent Society, spoke following Mass and shared remarks from a letter by President Michael Higgins of Ireland.
“He said I could use the Twitter version today,” quipped O’Neil about the supposedly 27-page letter.
Higgins wrote that St. Patrick’s Day is a day to come together and celebrate a migrant who through hardships ultimately provided a narrative of courage and opportunity. In his greeting, Higgins urged all to remember this lesson when working with migrant people.
The letter provided a glimpse of Higgins’ optimism for the future of Ireland, following recent economic struggles.
“St. Patrick’s Day marks a season of regeneration and hope,” read O’Neil from the president’s letter.
The society hosted a reception after Mass featuring Irish goods including scones and soda bread. Dancers from the cathedral parish and the Mulligan School of Irish Dance in Marietta provided entertainment in Kenny Hall.
Eileen Mulligan Evans, a parishioner of Transfiguration Church, owns the school of dance. The reception was the first of many performance events on St. Patrick’s Day and gave her non-Catholic students a chance to learn about the Mass and feast day.
Evans’ mother was a Flanagan and her father a Mulligan.
“We all grew up dancing,” she said of her roots.
A group of homeschool students sat on the floor mesmerized by the steps of the Irish dancers.
The students, attending the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass for the first time, shared what they had learned about the saint.
Mary Catherine Adams, 10, talked about the saint’s capture as a young boy. “He was really brave,” said Adams.
Ellen Anastasio of St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell joins other ladies each year to bake food for the reception.
“We’re all like in competition,” said Anastasio.
She made five loaves of soda bread, and tasty scones with raisins for the events. Her treats are the real deal.
“I was born in County Mayo,” she said.
Anastasio is excited about plans to return to her native Ireland for a visit with her siblings in August. She is one of 13 children and has not seen one of her sisters in eight years.
On behalf of Atlanta’s oldest civic organization, O’Neil expressed his gratitude to Archbishop Gregory and concelebrant Bishop Luis Zarama for celebration of the Mass. He agreed with the archbishop that “above all” St. Patrick’s faith is the most important part of the day.
“That is the greatest gift of all,” he said.