St. Patrick's in Lowell celebrates Irish heritage

LOWELL -- St. Patrick Parish's tradition of holding an annual Irish Cultural Week seemed even more special to the community this year.

One reason is that it is the first time since the start of the pandemic that they have been able to hold a full week of events. In March 2020, the celebration was shut down immediately after the opening Mass, and in 2021, they held an abbreviated Mass."The Irish Cultural Committee is extremely happy to be able to hold a full calendar of events this year," parishioner Raymond Leavitt said in an email to The Pilot.

This year's celebration is also significant because it marks the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first Irish laborers in the area that would later become Lowell, leading to the formation of St. Patrick Parish, the third oldest parish in the archdiocese.

The week began with an opening Mass on March 6. People arriving at the church were greeted by bagpiper Philip Kilbansky. The Mass was preceded by a concert of Irish songs sung by Alison Burns, accompanied by Jeffrey Smith on the church's organ. The program included such favorites as "Danny Boy" and "Be Thou My Vision."

Representatives of the Knights of Columbus, the Lowell Police Department, the Lowell Fire Department, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians processed into the church. Then, accompanied by fiddle music, Heavey Quinn School of Irish Step Dance students danced their way down the aisle and around the church. Three icons of Irish saints -- St. Patrick, St. Bridget, and St. Columba -- were carried in and placed on the altar while "St. Patrick's Breastplate" was played.

Father Frank Silva, a native of Lowell and graduate of St. Patrick School, was the principal celebrant of the Mass, with parish administrator Father William Acevedo and parochial vicar Father Joseph Almeida concelebrating. Eileen Sullivan, chair of the Irish Cultural Committee and a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, proclaimed the first two readings in Irish Gaelic.

Even while celebrating their own culture and history, the current warfare in Ukraine was on people's minds. At the start of the Mass, Father Silva asked the faithful to pray for the people of Ukraine. Before the dismissal, the assembly stood as the Ukrainian National Anthem was played.

After the Mass, everyone exited through an honor guard formed by members of the Lowell High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Then, there was a parade to City Hall, with representatives from the National Park Service, members of the City Council, and other local dignitaries participating.

Lowell Mayor Sokhary Chau participated in the parade and shared remarks outside City Hall.

"The celebration of Irish Cultural Week once again puts people in touch with the Irish heritage and cultural traditions and gives a grateful glimpse back to the many years of struggle and hard work that benefited the people of Lowell. The Irish have a very long history in our city, beginning with the construction of canals, mills, and boarding houses. The accomplishments grew in the decades that followed and the hard work by members of the Irish community led Lowell to be the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution," Chau said.

The flags of Ireland and the United States were raised, and the Irish and American national anthems were sung. The group then moved to Cardinal O'Connell Parkway and placed a wreath on the Irish monument there. Sister Joanne Sullivan, SND, principal of St. Patrick School and Education Center, offered a prayer. They then returned to the church for brunch, music, raffles, and step dancing.

Another significant event planned for Irish Cultural Week was the presentation of the Acre Forum/Anam Cara Awards and Irish Person of the Year Award on March 9. The featured speaker this year was Dr. Brian Mitchell, former president of Bucknell University, current chair of the board at Merrimack College, and author of "The Paddy Camps -- Lowell Irish 1821-1861."

"Anam Cara" is Irish for "soul friend." There were three recipients of the Anam Cara Award this year: politician Philip Shea for his work on behalf of the citizens of Lowell; Micky "the Fighter" Ward for his philanthropy; and Devin Visconti for his work to restore St. Patrick Cemetery. This year's Irish Person of the Year Award was granted posthumously to Father Charles McGrail, who was the organist and choir director at St. Patrick Parish prior to entering the priesthood.

Other events scheduled for Irish Cultural Week included an Irish movie night on March 8, showing the movie "Leap Year" at Mt. Pleasant Golf Club; an Acre Neighborhood walking tour on the morning of March 12, led by historian David McKean; an annual dinner dance at Lenzi's Mill House in Dracut the evening of March 12; an afternoon of traditional Ceili (Irish folk dancing) at the Lowell Lodge of Elks on March 13; and a multicultural St. Patrick's Day Mass at St. Patrick Church on March 17.