When I was a little girl, I attended a Catholic elementary school. Our parish priest was Father Joseph Sullivan, and he was from Ireland. So every year for St. Patrick’s Day the teachers would put together a special performance where each class would sing an Irish song, recite an Ireland-themed poem, or act out the life of St. Patrick. I think maybe one year someone in eighth grade dressed up as Father Sullivan. “My Wild Irish Rose” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” were always on the program:
Father would sit in the place of honor, front and center in the auditorium, in a wooden arm chair carried from the school office, in contrast to the metal folding chairs that the audience (we students and our teachers) sat on. He would smile and applaud and maybe wipe away a tear or two as our efforts moved him. And it became a tradition that at the end of the program, he would complement us on our performance and reward us by giving us a school holiday the next day.
In the weeks before St. Patrick’s Day, our teachers would remind us that we were practicing our performance to honor Father Sullivan, and not to get a day off school. In fact, Father was under no obligation to give us a day off. “But he always does,” we would answer.
Except, one year, he didn’t. I don’t know what his reason was. Maybe we’d used up all our snow days. Maybe the teachers wanted to teach us a lesson in doing good without expecting a reward. But after he told us how much he treasured the experience of watching our program, he said, “See you tomorrow.” And the entire auditorium answered with a discouraged, disappointed, “Oh!” Immediately, every teacher admonished her students.
The following year, the tradition of granting a day off was reinstated, and I think it continued every year until Father Sullivan passed away of old age.
Stained glass window depicting St. Patrick was photographed by Nheybob.