The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Hampton Bays has become a celebrated East End tradition for the past nine years, but this year it will start off with something very untraditional. For the first time, the Grand Marshal will be a woman—Sister Kathryn Schlueter, principal of Our Lady of the Hamptons Regional Catholic School.
What’s more, Sister Kathy—as she is known throughout the community—isn’t Irish. “I went to Ireland once—maybe that counts!” she said.
But what really counted to the Hampton Bays Ancient Order of the Hibernians Michael Collins Division, the parade sponsors, was Sister Kathy’s commitment to Catholic education, her unwavering determination and her enormous popularity. “We chose her because she is very, very active in the Catholic community, she’s been an excellent principal of OLH, and she has friends all over the East End,” said George Brogan, chairman of the Parade Journal committee.
OLH, the Roman Catholic school on North Main Street in Southampton, was on the brink of closing in the late 1980s, before Sister Kathy became principal in 1987. Not only has the school made a comeback, but they’ve just built a new addition for the 345 students, whom Sister Kathy refers to as “my kids.”
Sister Kathy may be breaking new ground by being female and lacking ancestors from the old sod back in Ireland. But isn’t there a saying that everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day?
Plus, like any true-blooded Long Islander, Sister Kathy is a veteran of many a St. Patrick’s Day parade. She grew up in Merrick, attending Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead. While her family didn’t go all out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, she does have some unforgettable memories of the “wearing o’ the green.” “As a student at Marywood College (in Scranton, Penn.), we were to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in our caps and gowns. That was the year I had decided to bleach my hair,” she said. The weather was a messy wintery mix, and “The green tassel somehow rubbed off, and I had green hair in the parade.
“There will be no bleached hair or green tassel this year, but I will probably wear an Irish sweater.”
The parade begins at 11 a.m. this Saturday, March 23 at the Hampton Bays Elementary School on Ponquogue Avenue. It then heads west down Main Street, toward the reviewing stand at the Shell gas station on Montauk Highway. Final destination is the Hampton Atrium parking lot.
While any St. Patrick’s Day parade will make an Irish community’s pride show, Sister Kathy believes that her parade is something special. “Hampton Bays is a little different from the rest of the world when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. And it is a really big deal.”
True—while that stretch may encompass less than three miles, this is no “wee” celebration when it comes to numbers. Organizers have set aside four hours for the floats, marching bands and other participants to make their way past revelers. “The parade has definitely gotten bigger in the last three years,” said Sgt. Tod Bennett of the Southampton Town Police. Police are expecting around 10,000 Irish to show up and turn the seaside community into a sea of green.
“We have marchers from all over, including Queens,” Brogan said. “We expect as many as 10 pipe bands.” There will also be several prizes for various categories.
As it has been tradition for the past five years, the theme of the 2013 parade is “St. Patrick’s Pantry Promotion.” Volunteers will collect donated non-perishables in the days leading up to the parade at local supermarkets and drop off bins, which St. Rosalie’s Pantry will then distribute to the needy. Donations are also accepted day-of.
Sister Kathy urges parade-goers to “go out and enjoy the parade, but be responsible. Let’s have everyone set a good example.”