NEW YORK — Green turned blue March 4 for thousands of Catholics on Staten Island who boycotted an early St. Patrick's Day parade on Staten Island.
At issue is whether a local politician who supports abortion should lead the annual parade, which is underwritten by the Hibernians.
According to Msgr. Peter Finn, co-vicar for Catholics in the borough, the answer is No: The Hibernians are pro-life, and the man leading their largest event of the year should be pro-life too.
But a majority of the Hibernians responsible for choosing the parade's grand marshal disagreed. In January, they elected Councilman Jerome O'Donovan, who supports legal abortion, to fill the honorary role.
Staten Island Hibernian President Bill Reilly would not return calls for this story.
Contacted in Florida, the organization's national president, Thomas Gilligan, also said he “had nothing to say” about how the abortion issue rained on his affiliate's parade.
The choice was a defiant one. Two weeks before the election, Msgr. Finn met privately with the parade committee and O'Donovan, explaining that he would boycott the parade if a pro-abortion politician led it.
“The sad thing is that the selection was made in spite of those discussions,” Msgr.
Finn told the Register. “The point here is the honor and highlighting, if you will, that goes with the position of grand marshal.”
When Msgr. Finn announced that he would honor his pledge by boycotting the parade — a move that was quickly seconded by the Knights of Columbus, the Ladies Division of the Hibernians and several Staten Island schools — parade organizers held their ground.
Preparing for the prospect of depleted numbers, they began to advertise the parade around town, something Staten Island native Joe Gerrito called a first.
Gerrito, who owns a restaurant/bar along the parade strip, said Msgr. Finn is “very well-known and respected for everything he's done,” for Staten Island Catholics. He questioned Msgr. Finn's consistency, however, saying that two pro-abortion grand marshals have led Staten Island's St. Patrick's Day parade in the past with no one raising the issue.
Msgr. Finn countered that when it has come to light that a candidate for grand marshal was an abortion supporter, he has always voiced opposition. “There has been a great deal of consistency on this issue,” Msgr. Finn said, noting that Councilman O'Donovan was up for nomination five years ago, but that his election was blocked “because of this very stance.”
Staten Island resident Virginia Hogan also brushed off the allegation of inconsistency, saying, “This is the first time that we have been aware of a grand marshal being pro-choice.”
Hogan, the president of Staten Island's first division of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, told the Register that by a unanimous vote, the 150 members of her division decided not to participate in this year's parade because of Councilman O'Donovan's election as grand marshal. Instead, she said, they will attend a Mass for the unborn and for peace in Ireland that Msgr. Finn will be offering at parade time.
“Any time you have a celebration celebrating a saint, the patron of New York City and of Ireland, it should be celebrated with dignity and should be religious,” Hogan said, adding, “We just feel that a person who is pro-choice — how can they be our grand marshal?”
A Divided Island
Staten Island has hosted an annual St. Patrick's Day in its present form for 37 years. A smaller, more devotional procession goes back to 1876. It's an event that, as far as the locals are concerned, lacks none of the punch of neighboring Manhattan's own high-profile street celebration of the fifth century saint. So it's no wonder that this year's boycotts have put the island in an uproar.
The local newspaper has been a lively forum for debate and, according to Gerrito and Hogan, everyone is talking about it.
Gerrito said he thinks Msgr. Finn is dividing Staten Island by offering a Mass during the parade. But Hogan said Councilman O'Donovan is the one dividing the borough. “I think he should do the gentlemanly thing and step down,” she said.
“Right now, Staten Island is divided,” said Gerrito.
Said Msgr. Finn, “The issue has surfaced for discussion, and maybe that's a good side effect.”
Added Hogan: “I'll tell you one thing: This is really waking a lot of people up on the issue [of life].”
- February 18-24,2001