Sunday, March 23, 2014

End of the Green Drought

What happened last Monday in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart hasn't been seen there in perhaps a half a decade.  And in one respect, what happened on March 17th has never been seen – ever.

The academic calendar, and consequently the scheduling of spring break, has been shoving Saint Patrick's Day safely away from our students for five years.  But this year, the calendar had to be shifted a week earlier – which means that we have the opportunity to celebrate the Patron Saint of Ireland's feast day in the Basilica, and to do so for a few more years into the future.

For this occasion, we had the privilege of working with a musician the Folk Choir has known and loved for years – Mr. Skip Cleavinger, Uilleann pipe and tin whistle player extraordinaire.  Skip drove all the way up from Nashville – through the muck of a crazy batch of relentless winter weather – to join us in our celebration.

We've been celebrating the Feast of Saint Patrick since 1988 at Notre Dame.  I know that, because it was also the first year the Folk Choir went on any kind of tour – and that was to Ireland.  I also know that because it was the year Notre Dame won the national championship.

That year, we had begun our work on the Irish liturgy way back in November.  Then our beloved football team went and won the championship game against West Virginia.  In January, 1988, it was announced that the South Bend community would honor the team with a huge parade downtown .... precisely at the time, and on the same date, as the St. Patrick's Day mass.

Here's how the conversation went between me and Sacred Heart's Rector when the parade was announced:  "Steve, we're gonna have to cancel this mass.  You simply can't go up against an event like this – the church will be empty!"
Me:  "The people who care about their faith and their heritage will be there.  And that's all that matters!"

To his credit, the Rector of Sacred Heart was in my corner, and we held to our liturgy as scheduled.  And at 5:15PM on March 17th, 1988, the church was packed.  The place was a sea of kelly green.  And we knew we had created yet another good liturgical tradition at Notre Dame.

And here's another one:  Five days ago, for the first time in our history, Irish dancers led the good bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend down the main aisle of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  Choreographed by our students and mentored by Fr. David Scheidler, c.s.c., our assistant rector, the processional and recessional moments were joyous, animated movements of Celtic heritage.

As always, the choristers and instrumentalists in the Folk Choir sang this splendid liturgy armed with both the Irish and the English languages.  And perhaps, just maybe, you might've seen the clergy ceremoniously skipping their way down the aisle as the final chorus of Rian Phadraig echoed over the assembly.

At the end of the liturgy, our bishop decided to tweak one of Notre Dame's most famous exhortations.  Leading up to the final blessing, he said, "Go Irish!  Go Evangelize!"

Somewhere, I think there's a saint in heaven with green vestments, smiling down upon us.