Kalaupapa: Wearing Of the Green
By Father Pat Killilea, St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa
March 17 dawned like any other day here in Kalaupapa. It was just another work day for the National Park personnel, whose workday begins at 6 a.m. For us whose day begins in church, it meant an early rising at 5 a.m. and the celebration of Mass at 5:45. Yet it was a little different for this Irish-born lad. It was the feast day of my patron saint and so I wore a loud shirt with Happy St Patrick’s Day splashed all over the front in vivid green. True to my heritage, I was wearing the green.
Most people, including many who march in the annual big cities’ St. Patrick’s Day parades, know very little about St Patrick himself except that, according to legend, he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, though I might dispute that. Still they may hoist several beers in his honor.
Patrick was born somewhere in Great Britain and, as a teenager, was snatched away by some marauding Irishmen and taken across the sea to shepherd sheep on an Irish mountain. After some years, he escaped to Europe, then later entered a seminary where he studied for the priesthood. Eventually he became bishop and, in response to a dream (I’ve had a few of these) returned to Ireland in 432 AD. to preach to those wild Irish men and women. After spending the rest of his life bringing the Gospel message to the Irish people, he passed away in the year 461 AD. and is buried in Downpatrick in the midst of the green fields of Ireland.
When I was growing up in those same green fields, St. Patrick’s Day meant a day off from school, Mass at our parish church, appropriately named St Patrick’s Church, and the wearing of the green. It consisted of the wearing of a bunch of shamrocks on the jacket lapel sometimes embellished by a golden Irish harp. It was a fun day, a holiday, and a Holy Day, and we were all wearing the green.
At about 6:15 p.m., I strolled to our Care Home, formerly the Kalaupapa hospital. There, armed with ukulele, a few of our patients and some of our nurses had assembled and were singing some old time favorites, including Irish songs. At one stage, Paula got to her feet, put her uke aside, and danced an Irish jig. She invited me to join her on the floor but I reluctantly declined since I dance with the gait of an elephant or the grace of a rhino. I did not see any green beer there that evening, thank God, but there was ample refreshments to go around.
The sun had long set over Maunaloa as I said good night to the party goers and slowly made my way back to my house. It had been a pleasant evening, an evening to remember, an evening wearing the green.