Calendar collision for Irish Catholics

St. Pat's Day vs. Holy Week

Email|Print| Text size + By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / February 21, 2008

The 2008 calendar presents a rare clash between St. Patrick's Day and Holy Week, with parade organizers across the country and in some Massachusetts communities yielding to the Catholic Church.

But the fiercely independent South Boston organizers of one of the nation's largest St. Patrick's Day parades say the parade will roll on during the afternoon of March 16, Palm Sunday.

Chicago and Philadelphia have pushed their parades up to March 9, a week ahead of the start of Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends a week later with Easter celebrations.

Organizers in Worcester and Holyoke also preferred not to hand Catholics a conflict, scheduling their parades for March 9 and March 29, respectively.

But not so in Boston.

"We aren't scared to do things that aren't fitting to, say, 'peace on earth' and all that," said John "Wacko" Hurley, who organizes the parade for the Allied War Veterans of South Boston. "We all want peace, but our obligation is supporting the armed forces. So, nope, we don't have any problems with that."

State Representative Brian Wallace, who represents South Boston, said the parade should not interfere with any church services.

The parade is set to start at 1 p.m. at the Broadway T station. By the time it passes St. Brigid Church on East Broadway, the noon Sunday Mass should be over, Wallace said.

Worcester parade organizers decided last year that they did not want the parade bumping into Easter or Palm Sunday, said organizer Leo Quinn.

"A good part of us are Irish Catholics, so that had some bearing on it," said Quinn, who has been involved with parade planning for about 25 years.

This is the first year since 1940 that St. Patrick's Day will fall during Holy Week, and it won't happen again until 2160.

Because of Holy Week observances, no Mass in honor of St. Patrick can be held on Monday, March 17, according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. But Roman Catholic leaders in Savannah, Ga., and Columbus, Ohio, have urged their cities to keep parades and festivals out of Holy Week altogether.

Savannah moved its festival to Friday, March 14. Columbus parade organizers are sticking with their celebration on Monday, March 17.

Asked about the timing, the Archdiocese of Boston released a statement that kept the focus on the religious observances, avoiding the nettlesome issue.

"The archdiocese invites all of the faithful to participate in the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday on Sunday, March 16, and leading up to and including the Easter Sunday celebration," said Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman.

Boston's parade has been surrounded by controversy before. Parade organizers won a unanimous US Supreme Court ruling in 1995 that allowed it to exclude an Irish-American gay and lesbian group from marching. Mayor Thomas M. Menino refuses to march in the parade because of the organizers' exclusion of the gay group.

Through a spokeswoman, Menino, who is Catholic, declined to comment on the parade's timing.

Wallace said that since the parade is the centerpiece of what has become a monthlong celebration, it is too late to consider changing the date.

"It would just throw everything completely off," Wallace said.

Not that Hurley would have given it any thought.

"We won't be dictated to," Hurley said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. John C. Drake can be reached at

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