NUTLEY, NJ - The Rory O'Moore School of Pipes & Drums marched in to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Nutley playing their Irish music. Behind them were the priests, the Nutley Irish American Association and St. Patrick’s Day Parade dignitaries as the NIAA held their 42nd annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade Investiture Mass at St. Mary’s, dubbed the Irish church, on Saturday morning, March 7.
The Investiture Mass was said by the Rev. Thomas Nicastro, vicar of St. Mary’s and parade chaplain. Also present, the Rev. Richard Berbary and Deacon Ronald Ronacher of St. Mary’s and the Rev. Ivan Sciberros of St. Peter’s R.C. Church in Belleville.
Nicastro said he was thrilled to be the celebrant of the mass although he is not Irish. Traditionally the parade mass has been said by an Irish priest. He didn’t know much about Irish history and was told to focus on the wells of Ireland. “Welcome to the well of St. Mary’s; the wells of St. Patrick,” he said.
Nicastro said the wells were used by Pagans to worship their deity. “We owe a debt of gratitude to St. Patrick. […] He had to use the abundance of wells and streams in Ireland. He used those wells to baptize. […] He converted [Pagans] with the water of those wells. […] He was determined to convert the country and convert the Pagans to Christian and change the Pagan ways to Christian ways.”’
A brick of the church was brought back from Tara in Ireland. Before St. Mary’s Church was built, Irish Americans held their mass at St. Peter’s in Belleville. The immigrants would walk every day from Nutley to St. Peter’s Church in Belleville until St. Mary’s was built. “It was the Irish devotion that filled St. Peter’s, but it was the Irish thirst that built St. Mary’s,” Nicastro said.
Nicstro blessed the dignitaries’ sashes and which were then tied on by Francis J. Costenbader, NIAA legal counsel as Thomas McEnery, NIAA president called them up to the chancel. Judy McIntyre of the NIAA announced the presentation of the gifts.
Grand Marshal Karen M. Smith presented the Purple Heart medal, the oldest military award first given to soldiers during the Revolutionary War by George Washington. At the time, it was known as the Badge of Military Merit.
Irish Immigrants history dates back to the American Revolution of military service. Like thousands of Irish immigrants who came before him, Smith’s father, Thomas from County Cavan, served in the Marines, and was awarded the Purple Heart among other medals after he was shot in the Philippines.
Deputy Grand Marshal Brian Blum presented the Celtic Cross that he has had for over 25 years. According to one legend, the Celtic Cross, a symbol of faith and tradition, was introduced by St. Patrick when he was converting the Pagans in Ireland to Christianity. The legend states that the circles around the intersection of the cross represent unification, totality, wholeness, and inclusion. St. Patrick created the Celtic Cross by drawing a circle over a Latin cross. Another legend states that the shape of the Celtic Cross represents the four directions of the compass and the four seasons.
To Blum, the Celtic Cross is a symbol of his Irish heritage. It is something that he looks at every morning when he sees his reflection in the mirror as he gets ready for the day. The cross reminds him of his parents and the life that they gave him, as well as the sacrifices they made for him and his siblings.
Member of the Year Dan Kane presented a traditional Aran sweater, which takes its name from the islands off the west coast of Ireland that lie at the mouth of Galway Bay and at the mercy of the relentless Atlantic Ocean. The Aran Islands are made up of fishermen and farmers who work hard in harsh weather conditions. The Aran sweater keeps the wearer warm on cold days and nights at sea or on the farm. Some believe that the sweaters were also used to identify bodies of washed up fisherman from the sea. Notable patterns have meaning: the trellis stitch represents the fields of the island, the cable stitch represents the fisherman’s rope and hopes for the day’s catch, and the diamond stitch represents the hope of future wealth.
Parade Queen Erin Baker presented a Shillelagh stick which has been handed down by her great grandfather William Smith. Smith immigrated to America from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the early 1900s. The Shillelagh is thought to have originated in the village of Shillelagh, County Wicklow, which was once said to be surrounded by vast oak forests.
Shillelaghs are usually made from Blackthorn wood or oak, with a leather wrist strap joined to the handle. It is commonly used as a walking cane or walking stick, and can sometimes be described as a weapon. It was traditionally used as a form of Irish stick fighting in the 18th century and by the 19th Century, Shillelagh fighting evolved into a martial art. Reference to the Shillelagh is common in Irish Folk Music such as in “Finnegan’s Wake” and “The Rocky Road to Dublin.” Today, a Shillelagh remains among the most globally recognized symbols of Ireland.
Police Officer of the Year Nutley Police Detective Robert McDermott presented holy water from the Shrine of Knock in County Mayo, where he has ancestral roots. Knock was a typical village in the west of Ireland made up of a small collection of thatched homes and a church at its center.
On the evening of Aug. 21, 1879, Our Lady appeared at the gable of the church with St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist. Behind them was an altar, on which was a cross and a lamb with angels above. Our Lady wore white robes and a large crown and where the crown fitted her brow, a single golden rose. Her eyes and hands were raised in prayer towards heaven. Fifteen local people witnessed this apparition and spent two hours in the rain praying the rosary. Following this miraculous event, numerous cures were reported. Since then, pilgrims have come to Knock in search of healing, reconciliation, and peace.
The 2019 Grand Marshal Ed Saegers and Deputy Grand Marshal Noreen Haveron presented the offertory wine and host to Nicastro. Harpist Merynda Adams played “Danny Boy,” and “Lady of Knock.” Baker presented the rose to the statue of St. Mary.
Remembered at the mass were recently deceased NIAA members Dorothy Greengrove, Joseph Purcell and Bob Sweeney.
The mass ended with the Rory O'Moore School of Pipes & Drums marching back into the church, around the pews and outside.
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