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The day all America wears its green is upon us again. Historically
Irish cities like Boston, New York and Chicago, will have the house
ready to rock. However, a rich shamrock heritage is not unique to
these towns. When the Irish came to the New World, they also dispersed
into the heartland. One of the places they dispersed to, was the great
town on the banks of the
Mississippi River. The St. Louis Irish have lived a history unique in
their own right. This history will be on display for
Catholic Match Nation this St. Paddy’s Day. CM St. Louis is scheduled
for the weekend of March 16-18 and presents an opportunity for members
to not only meet new people, but see another part of the unique fabric
that is the Irish-American experience.

The Irish-American experience has been romanticized to a large
degree. The immigration and subsequent assimilation into the native
culture is seen as the prototype of the American Dream. There is
much truth to the stereotype. As a people, the Irish had little when
they arrived, and yet they rose to the top of all parts of American
society.

Climbing up the ladder wasn’t easy though—the Irish suffered a great
deal of discrimination and they leaned on each other and on the Catholic Church. The St.
Louis heritage reflects this. It’s true that St. Louis was more
hospitable to the Irish than the great cities of the east. The St.
Louis Irish did not endure—at least to any widespread degree—the
indignity of the “No Irish Need Apply” signs that were up and down the
east coast in the mid-19th century. Even so, that didn’t mean assimilation
came easy.

The first waves of Irish arrived in St. Louis after the Potato
Famine. When they left their homeland, the emigrants heard that New
Orleans was good for those who could farm. The Irish who were able, got
passage there. Once they arrived, steamboats brought them up the river
to St. Louis. They arrived in a town whose first millionaire wore the
green. John Mullanphy would have plenty of useful outlets for his
amazing wealth.

Famine emigrants were mostly from southwest Ireland and County Kerry
had been particularly hard hit. St. Louis’ newest arrivals all
congregated together on a piece of land donated by Mullanphy. The
neighborhood was appropriately nicknamed the “Kerry Patch.” It was not
an easy life for the residents of the Patch as they tried to get on
their feet. The buildings were structured virtually one top of one
another, and a slum developed. The Irish found strength in their faith.
St. Louis Irish historian Diane Shaw writes of the Kerry Patch

The heart of the Patch was always its Catholic
Churches: St. Patrick, St. Michael the Archangel, and St. Bridget of
Erin on the near north-side, St. John the Apostle, St. Malachy and St.
Kevin on the near south-side as well as St. Alphonsus Liguouri (the
Rock church) were the backbone of the Catholic community in the Kerry
Patch.”

Over time, the Irish made it out of the Patch and into the
mainstream of society. By the end of World War I, the neighborhood
began to diversify and disperse. By the time World War II was over,
the Irish had mostly escaped the Patch.

Many modern-day Catholics might not be able to identify with the
material hardship the Patch residents faced. That is not necessary though. We can still find
inspiration in the way the vast majority overcame their struggles and
integrated into mainstream society. They did it by hard work, faith and
a strong sense of fellowship, rather than hiding behind self-imposed
walls of anger. Those are lessons that are applicable for people in all
of life’s milieus. The St. Louis Irish that set the tone deserve to
have their example truly honored—not lost amidst a sea of green
beer.

Where better to honor the memory of the Irish and have a good time
doing it, then with fellow CM members in St. Louis? Mary Kathryn-177850
has organized a splendid weekend for her visitors. There are different
activities scheduled to listen to Irish music, mixed in with the chance
to check out the city’s other historic sites, such as the Arch and the
baseball stadium that hosts the defending World Series champion
Cardinals.

Now that the Irish have made it in America, they face new
challenges. Just north of St. Louis, the Irish archbishop of Milwaukee,
Timothy Dolan, regularly reminds his flock of this at Irishfest every August
(another place CMers will be gathering ). The challenge today is not to
be ensnared by materialism and individualism. The antidote to both is
the kind of community that CM St. Louis is putting on display.

The Irish made it in St. Louis by clinging to their faith and to
each other. That’s something worth celebrating and emulating. And doing both is what CM St. Louis is all about.

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