Proud to be Irish and Catholic at St. Patrick’s Mass and parade in Peoria

The float designed by the Diocese of Peoria invited people to "Live Like an Irish Saint" during the 41st St. Patrick's Day parade in Peoria March 17. Bishop Louis Tylka walked in front, while St. Patrick (Stephen Berlinger) walked behind. The back of the float had Bishop Tylka's coat of arms and episcopal motto, "Go Make Disciples." (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Everyone should be proud of their heritage, but we have better music and better food,” said Rita O’Neil Loyd, who was selected as Irish Mother of the Year for 2023 by the St. Patrick’s Society in Peoria. Few would have disagreed with her as the city’s 41st St. Patrick’s Day parade stepped off.

Bishop Louis Tylka waves to the those who lined the streets of downtown Peoria for the 41st St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17. It was his second outing and people were excited to see him, with some calling out, “You’re doing a great job!” (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Taking part in the revelry was Bishop Louis Tylka, who walked in front of the Diocese of Peoria’s float, which invited everyone to “Live Like an Irish Saint” and presented portraits of five examples: St. Brendan, St. Dymphna, St. Brigid and St. Columba, along with St. Patrick.

Walking behind the float was St. Patrick personified — at least for the day — by Stephen Berlinger, a pontifical server at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Also taking part were groups from OSF HealthCare, walking alongside the Care-a-Van; St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and School from Peoria Heights; and the Peoria Notre Dame Marching Band. The PND bus also was used to display the banner for the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians.


A true celebration of St. Patrick wouldn’t be complete without a Mass in his honor and remembering his role as a missionary to the people of Ireland in the fifth century.

Bishop Tylka presided at the liturgy at St. Mary’s Cathedral prior to the parade, while Father David Heinz, chaplain of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, gave the homily.

Father David Heinz, chaplain to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, said St. Patrick was a man ahead of his time, serving as a mssionary to the people of Ireland during the early church. Father Heinz was the homilist during the St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral that preceded the parade through downtown Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Noting that St. Patrick was from Roman Britain, Father Heinz reminded his listeners that a young Patrick was kidnapped and held captive in Ireland for five or six years before escaping. He would eventually enter a seminary and be ordained before returning to Ireland.

“It was a primitive time. A lot of what went on in Ireland at the time revolved around pagan kinds of worship, naturalist kinds of worship, Father Heinz said. “As a missionary, St. Patrick apparently was interested in trying to motivate as many people as he could and tell them the story of Jesus, the redemption that had been won by Jesus on the cross, and the hope of eternal life.”

He started to take the things of everyday life, things that people were used to, and bring them into the way he taught. So the three-leaf clover became an explanation of the Trinity, and the sun was imposed on the cross to form a Celtic cross, which remains a symbol of Christianity in Ireland to this day, Father Heinz explained.

“All the time engaging them in this missionary activity — today we might call it evangelization — and winning them over, little by little,” he said.


Father Heinz said the legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland would not have been possible, however, because there weren’t any. This was due to geological changes in the country at that time.

“Symbolically perhaps, metaphorically, he drove out the snakes that were paganism and he went on to teach and have great results in his evangelization process,” he said, noting that as the faith spread, more priests were ordained and available to carry on his work.

Irish Mothers of the Year from previous years surround the 2023 honoree, Rita O’Neil Loyd (second from left) before the St. Patrick’s Day parade steps off in Peoria. They are (from left) Cheri Ruskusky (2012), JoAnn Martin (1999), Kathy Pabon (2017), and Sandy Whalen (2016). “It’s all about family — it’s not just about us, it’s about our family,” Loyd said. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

St. Patrick would call us to be aware of what God wants of us in this Lenten time, Father Heinz said.

“Let us, then, ask God to be with us. Let us together pray shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, soul to soul, that God be with us,” he said. “And that through the Eucharist today, we be nourished to celebrate the culture of a country that gave us the ideals of St. Patrick as a missionary and bishop.”

Bishop Tylka thanked Father Heinz for his words.

“We need to recapture that missionary spirit of St. Patrick to make sure that we build up our church and build up our faith, and help others to know that Jesus is their Lord and Savior,” Bishop Tylka said at the end of Mass. “May we all adopt St. Patrick’s wonderful example of being willing to go out and take the risk of sharing our belief in Jesus Christ.”

The first reading at Mass was proclaimed by Richard Christian, recording secretary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The offertory gifts were presented by Pat O’Connell, former national president of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, and Greg Jetton, Ancient Order of Hibernians Division president.

The music was provided by Jon Kroepel, cathedral organist, and Molly Wilson Nogaj, playing the violin. The cantor was Carmen McCarthy.

Bishop Emeritus Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, loaned his personal relic of St. Patrick to St. Mary’s Cathedral for the Mass.

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