St. Patrick’s Day festivities give Irish a chance to celebrate heritage

FLINT — When the Ancient Order of Hibernians, their friends and relatives assemble in St. Michael Church in downtown Flint on Tuesday, March 17, for their annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, it will be time for joy, laughter, good spiritual and Irish food and a chance to celebrate their distinguished heritage.

Activities begin at noon for a 12:02 p.m. Mass purposely starting a couple minutes late because the Irish are known for being habitually late. Area clergy will be on hand to preside over the liturgy in the church, once the religious haven for the Irish, at the corner of W. Fifth Avenue and N. Saginaw Street. There will be Irish music during the Mass that will be followed by a three-block Irish Family Walk to McFarlan Park where a wreath will be laid honoring deceased Irish persons who served in the military.

After the wreath-laying ceremony, the party begins in the field house of St. Matthew Church at Beach and Third Streets in the downtown area. It will run from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. highlighted by Irish dancing, food and fun. A buffet will be served for $10 including chicken, corned beef and cabbage, salad, vegetable and dessert. Entertainment runs 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. with entrance to the festivities a freewill donation.

The day will be capped by the 40th annual Pot O’ Gold four-mile run and walk in downtown Flint beginning at 6 p.m. A one-quarter mile little blarney kids’ run also is planned. Details are at with entry forms also available at various area businesses and organizations.

A grand marshal has been named since 1982 to lead the celebration. This year’s grand marshal in Anthony (Tony) Vance, a federal prosecutor who became chief of the U.S. attorney’s branch offices in Flint and Bay City in 2017. His father, Michael (Mike) Vance, retired teacher and athletic director at the former Flint Central High School, has been named Irish Father of the Year who will be honored at the celebration with the Irish Mother of the Year, who is yet to be announced.

In addition, Miss Hibernia and her court will receive their scholarships and be feted at the festivities. Miss Hibernia of 2020 is Brigid Cassady, 19, a 2019 graduate of St. Thomas More Academy, Burton, who is now a freshman at Oakland University.

Brigid is daughter of Timothy and Teresa Cassady of Flushing and second runner-up in 2019 of the contest. She will receive a $1,500 cash scholarship.

First runner-up is Kelly Canning, 20, of Fenton. She is the daughter of Daniel Canning and Christen Knickerbocker. Kelly received a $1,000 scholarship which she is applying to her education at Michigan State University where she is a sophomore majoring in education.

Kelly is a 2018 graduate of Fenton High School.

Second runner-up for Miss Hibernia is Ava Butler, 16, of Grand Blanc who still has not decided how she wants to use her $500 scholarship. Ava is a junior at Powers Catholic High School and daughter of Sean and Joanie Butler.

The Miss Hibernia contest is open to young women of Irish descent, who are single and never married, and between the ages of 16 and 22.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians is America’s oldest Irish Catholic fraternal organizations founded concurrently in May 1836 in the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania and New York City. The Order can trace its roots to a series of similar societies in Ireland for more than 300 years.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians Sullivan & O’Sullivan Division of Genesee County is the local Hibernian chapter. It conducts a series of local programs including a St. Patrick’s coloring contest in two area Catholic elementary schools started this year.

2020 Grand Marshal Tony Vance said he is proud of his Irish heritage and all that it embraces: Love of God, love of family, love of country and love of friends.

“I feel so fortunate to live in a country that celebrates its diversity and the cultural contributions of the many diverse and different people who helped build it, the Irish included,” he said.

Mike Vance said his favorite Irish quote is “May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”