Father Patrick Tonry, a priest of forty years in the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, has served as a pastor, military chaplain, prison chaplain, spiritual director, and editorialist. I received “The Green Suit” recently which was written by him and have permission to share this St. Patrick’s Reminiscence with our Irish brothers & sisters and those who have the Irish spirit.
As a young boy, there was one day I looked forward to with as much anticipation as Christmas. No, it was not my birthday; the day I eagerly awaited was March 17th.
March 17th held special meaning in the Tonry household. It was St. Patrick’s Day, my parents’ wedding anniversary and the day they immigrated to the United States. My parents were married in 1927, in Ireland on St. Patrick’s day. Immediately after their wedding ceremony, they boarded a ship and sailed to the U.S. to begin their married life in a new country.
If the 17th of March fell dring the wk week, my father would take the day off work. We kids had the day off, as did all the children who attended Catholic schools in Brooklyn and New York City. To properly honor both my parent’s wedding anniversary and the Feast of St. Patrick, we went to early morning Mass as a family.
My parents, my two older brothers and my little sister would dress in their Sunday best. As the youngest son, I was given a special honor. I wore the color of the day I had a beautiful emerald green suit with a matching tie. It was a source of pride for me that i was the only one in the family who had a green suit. Naturally, I was only permitted to wear this suit on St. Patrick’s Day.
After celebrating Mass, we would go back home and eat a big breakfast. This special breakfast would keep us fueled for what seemed to me the longest journey ever: the train and bus rides into New York City for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The train and buses were filled with families going into the city to watch the parade. We would line up along Fifth Avenue and wait for the parade to begin. It was thrilling. I was awe-struck by the high school marching bands. The sound of the drum lines would set my heart racing. It was a beautiful sight to see the Irish dances come down the street, dancing in unison.
Some years, we would shiver because it would be so cold. Yet, we stayed and watched the parade through the rain, wind, snow and sunshine. We never left the parade until the flag of my mother’s and father’s country in Ireland passed.
Right after the parade, our family went to a small restaurant to have dinner. My parents did not have much money, and they saved a little each month so the entire family could eat out on this day. In fact, St. Patrick’s Day was the only time we would ever eat out. We always had dinner at home.
….These traditions in a family ceate meaning that makes family occasions more memorable.
The reason St. Patrick was special to my parents was because he gave his life in service to God and the people of Ireland. His story begins in the early 400’s. Patrick was the son of a Roman official and at the age of 16, he was kidnapped and taken to pagan Ireland. He lived in slavery for six years working as a shepherd. During his enslavement. Patrick turned to God for comfort and companionship. Patrick escaped, returned home and entered the priesthood. Years later, he returned to Ireland as Bishop, his love of the Irish people drawing him back. He traveled throughout the island, overcoming opposition from hostile chieftains and pagan Druids and converting most of Ireland to the faith.
…Today everyone can be like St. Patrick. a living reflection of the Gospel. May the love of St. Patrick be with you and may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Father Patrick Tonry, SM February 2017