Nothing Stops Cathedral Prayers on St. Patrick’s Day


Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue was empty of marchers on March 17, save for a few dozen who carried on the annual tradition for the 259th time. A stirring summons was issued at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that day encouraging Catholics to join a different parade. This march boasts no bands or bagpipes; it strides through the centuries, in the tradition of St. Patrick himself, as “the parade of faith.”

Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen, vicar for clergy, was the celebrant and homilist at the Mass on St. Patrick’s Day; Cardinal Dolan presided. Although the cardinal suspended the celebration of Masses throughout the 10-county archdiocese to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Mass was offered in the cathedral to mark the feast of St. Patrick, patron of the New York Archdiocese.

Very few were present in the cathedral, but many watched at home. Cardinal Dolan told a television reporter that “apparently hundreds of thousands are plugging in literally to get the benefits of their faith and worship.” He added that viewership has “skyrocketed” for the livestream of Sunday Mass.

Bishop Whalen remarked in his homily that Fifth Avenue was “eerily quiet.”

Cardinal Dolan agreed; in remarks after he gave the blessing at the conclusion of the Mass, he said, “We’re used to seeing the cathedral jammed with people…Fifth Avenue teeming with bands and horses and marchers. But as (Bishop Whalen) reminded us, we are not alone.

“We are together in the solidarity of faith. When we’re in connection with God, as anybody listening or watching is now, we are in union with all his children. And that’s especially good for us now, at this moment of trial in our nation and in the world. Jesus tells us today in the Gospel, ‘Be not afraid,’ and we’re not, because we know we’re one nation under God, and God is with us.”

As far as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee is concerned, a parade took place on St. Patrick’s Day, keeping the parade tradition intact since 1762. In the early hours of St. Patrick’s Day, a group of fewer than 50 marched from the 69th Regiment Armory on East 26th Street to Fifth Avenue and on to the cathedral, where they received a priestly blessing. Switching from street to sidewalk, they marched to the end of the parade route. Marchers included soldiers of the 69th Regiment and parade committee members, among them Patti Ann McDonald, widow of NYPD Det. Steven McDonald.

Bishop Whalen, in his homily at the cathedral Mass, spoke of meeting the challenges of the pandemic with the faith that Patrick brought to Ireland and generations of missionaries spread throughout the world.

St. Patrick’s Day is truly a celebration of faith, he said, and he added, “That’s why, despite the pandemic, we do march, we march in…that parade of faith, led by the cross of Christ that vanquishes all evil.”

He said that he was speaking not about the annual assembly of marchers on Fifth Avenue but of “the parade of every day,” made up not only of Irish people but of all people of faith. “Today, whether you’re from Portadown, Portofino or Puerto Rico, Patrick’s our patron, the patron of a people united in faith in the face of adversity.”

He remarked with dismay that in the past few decades St. Patrick’s Day had seemed to turn into a shallow “St. Paddy’s Day,”

“It’s not,” he said. “St. Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate and live with renewed vigor the service of the Irish people and all people of good faith to one another.”

Bishop Whalen cited three Irish immigrants who exemplified faith and service: Sister Mary Daniel McLaughlin, a Sister of Charity; Father John Drumgoole, founder of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, Mount Loretto, on Staten Island; and Msgr. John P. Monaghan, a labor advocate who was chaplain of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists and served at St. Margaret Mary parish on Staten Island (now combined with St. Christopher’s).

Sister Mary Daniel spent decades serving in the hospitals of the Sisters of Charity. Bishop Whalen described her as “responding to the fear—the fear we feel now, the fear that patients felt,” and calming them “with a smile and with faith that allayed their fear.” Even when elderly she walked up and down the halls of all the congregation’s hospitals, visiting every patient, he said.

Father Drumgoole, a shoemaker by trade, became sexton at St. Mary’s on Grand Street in Manhattan and began caring for homeless children on the Lower East Side. Realizing that he needed to care for their spiritual as well as their physical and educational needs, he began seminary studies in middle age and became the parish priest at St. Mary’s. Mount Loretto, the home he founded to give the children fresh air, became “the largest orphanage in Christendom,” Bishop Whalen said.

Msgr. Monaghan, dedicated to Church teaching on social justice, was chaplain of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists and played an active role in the Catholic labor movement in the 20th century. He was “punished for being too outspoken,” Bishop Whalen said, by being assigned to a poor parish during the Great Depression: St. Margaret Mary, with an unemployment rate of 60 percent.

“He told those people, ‘We may be a poor parish, but as poor people we can do great things,’ ” Bishop Whalen said. Later Msgr. Monaghan was pastor of St. Michael’s in Manhattan, where “the calamity and the grinding poverty were answered with a commitment to charity,” said the bishop.

Bishop Whalen called on all to “pray with Patrick in a new way…making the pandemic a time of prayer, answering the fear with faith, answering this hardship with hope, answering this calamity with a renewed commitment to charity.”