For Noreen McInnes, March festivities honoring St. Patrick are as much about the legendary saint’s life lessons as they are about shepherd’s pie, Irish whiskey, Guinness stout or even church services.
“The story of St. Patrick is about a heart bursting with love for the Lord,” declares McInnes, director of the Office for Liturgy and Spirituality for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego. “In dark years and in difficult times, when he experienced hardships and loneliness, he turned to God for comfort and consultation.”
After he was kidnapped from his homeland as a boy and shipped to Ireland as a slave, McInnes explains, Patrick escaped and returned to Wales. There, she says, “his faith was nurtured, grew, and he was so grateful for that gift that he felt called to return to Ireland to share his faith with others.”
Legend and lessons
As a proud Irish-American with strong interest in her own heritage, McInnes said she believes St. Patrick offers extraordinary lessons — even for those without faith.
Historical evidence shows that upon returning to Ireland, Patrick climbed Croagh Patrick, the country’s holy mountain, then fasted for 40 days. Only then did he begin his ministry of evangelism.
So, McInnes says, people of faith honor him for his tireless mission to convert the Irish people to Christianity and his physical and spiritual strength, unending dedication and determination to succeed in the face of darkness and hardship.
St. Patrick’s purpose was always at the forefront, she says.
“His example teaches us to keep going, no matter all the struggles of our lives,” she said.
St. Patrick’s Day, American style
In the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with everything from family parades to pub crawls and meals ranging from Irish stew to corned beef and cabbage. As a secular holiday, it’s about having a good time — sometimes such a great time that hangovers prompt many Americans to call in sick on March 18.
What would Ireland’s patron saint think about how Americans celebrate his feast day?
“He’d like that, on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish,” McInnes says. “He would enjoy the fact that everyone is welcome to the party — that there’s no cultural appropriation in marking the day.”
His and her histories
McInnes — who lives in Encinitas and is married with three children — found the baptism records for her third and fourth great-grandfathers in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dungannon, in County Tyrone, during a trip to Ireland.
“It was such a joy to find the connection and know that I had walked on the soil of my ancestors and shared their faith and strength,” she said.
Having recently nursed her father — Frank Madden, a coal miner who came with his family to America during the Irish potato famine — in her home during his last illness, McInnes said she believes the fighting Irish spirit is in her blood.
In honor of her late father, she published “Keep at It, Riley!: Accompanying My Father Through Death Into Life” in January. Part memoir, part family history, the book is available on Amazon.com in Kindle ($14.95) and paperback ($22.95) versions. Bishop Robert McElroy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego praised her book in a written testimonial.
“Noreen Madden McInnes has skillfully woven into a deeply personal testimony to the life and death of her parents an intricate reflection upon the sacramental life of the Church and the depth and breadth of Catholic faith and spirituality,” he wrote. “The author’s mastery of the Church’s liturgical theology is constantly embedded within the profoundly human realities that form the sacramental nature of our life on this Earth.”
McInnes holds a bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University, a master’s degree in engineering from Villanova and she studied liturgy at Notre Dame University.
Celebrating St. Patrick with prayer
McInnes will mark St. Patrick’s Day this year with a corned beef-and-cabbage feast, a Jameson’s Irish Whiskey toast and a few Irish jokes, which she said she believes St. Patrick would approve.
“He had to have been a fun guy,” she observes. “The Irish love him. He had a twinkle in the eye.”
As they end the evening, she and her family may bow their heads and pray this snippet from St. Patrick:
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”
Or, they may share the traditional Irish blessing:
“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
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San Diego St. Patrick Celebrations
These are several of the many San Diego events available for families, couples, and singles.
St. Patricks Day Parade and Festival: 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 11 on Fifth Avenue at Laurel Street. See dignitaries and honorees, floats, high school marching bands, police and fire department units, Irish community groups, dancing groups, equestrian units, clowns, antique cars, Irish setters, and more. Following is a family-friendly, free-of-charge festival in Balboa Park at Sixth and Maple, with live entertainment on two stages, Irish dancing, kids zone, craft and vendor booths, and food and other items available. carnifest.com/san-diego-st-patricks-day-parade-festival-2023/
St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl & Block Party: 4 p.m. Friday in Pacific Beach. Tickets include admission and drink discounts at more than 10 venues. 4190 Mission Blvd., San Diego. $18-$34. eventbrite.com/cc/pacific-beach-st-patricks-day-events-428359
St. Patty’s Day Music in the Courtyard: Noon to 2 p.m. Friday in Carlsbad. Adrienne Nims performs jazz, pop, Latin, traditional and Celtic music. Village Faire Shopping Center, 300 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad. Free. shopvillagefaire.com
St. Paddy’s O’Beach Party: Ocean Beach celebrates the holiday with a two-day street party from 1 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday by the Ocean Beach Pier. Featured events include a beer garden, live local music, invitational cornhole tournament, pup pageant, leprechaun limbo. 1850 Front St., San Diego. $20. stpaddysobeachparty.com
Douglas is a freelance writer.