Stealing St. Patrick: Another Moment in Archives Month and the Cincinnati Irish

 By Kevin Grace

St. Patrick's Day ParadeIt has its roots in the fact that, historically, German and Irish Catholic congregants were often at odds in Cincinnati.  On Mt. Adams, where both Irish and German working-class families lived, there were two Catholic churches, Church of the Holy Cross for the Irish, Immaculata Church for the Germans.  Holy Cross parish was established in 1873 to serve the Irish immigrants on the hill and Immaculata was dedicated in 1860, fulfilling a promise made to God by a fearful and distraught Archbishop John Baptist Purcell when he crossed the Atlantic on stormy, tossing seas.  With a German congregation, Immaculata was part of Purcell’s adroit handling of the ethnic differences in the 19th century  Cincinnati archdiocese.

Statue of St. PatrickAll was well for a hundred years.  But as the neighborhood of Mt. Adams changed and religious demographics shifted, the Irish congregants of Holy Cross were notified in 1970 that their church would close and they would merge with the German parish of Immaculata Church.  Jim Crowley, of the venerable Crowley’s Pub in Mt. Adams, asked Father Wilfrid Flanery if the St. Patrick statue housed in Holy Cross Church could be moved to Immaculata so the Irish parishioners could feel more at home.  The statue was originally donated to the church in the 1920s by one James Healy.  Father Flanery did not make the move official, but the church door was conveniently left unlocked one night.  So on March 15, 1970, a cadre of Irishmen took the statue and moved it to their “new” church.

Every March since then, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, accompanied by a lively procession with bagpipe music splitting the air, “steal” the statue and load it on a truck for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade through downtown Cincinnati.  In actuality, the original statue is no longer used in the parade.  Instead, the Hibernians use one that once stood in St. Patrick’s Church.  In 2012, this St. Patrick’s statue was refurbished by artists Mike Hendley and Linda Mitchell.

Of course, with the patrons of Crowley’s always involved in the shenanigans, there is a tale that one year when the Irish rascals absconded with the statue, a miniature was substituted in its place, safely kept for the Hibernians in a back room of the pub.  And, as far as we know about these matters, St. Patrick has kept a fair number of snakes out of Mt. Adams.

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