Future uncertain for Missouri town of St. Patrick's annual celebration

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 | 4:43 p.m. CDT; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ST. PATRICK — You can forgive Ellen Krueger if she's a little worried.

After all, the 81-year-old is a descendant of Emerald Isle immigrants.

But there might be some truth to her concern, and it will take more than a pot of gold or a field of shamrocks to ease her mind.

Krueger has been touting the tiny northeastern Missouri town of St. Patrick for more than three decades.

As residents prepare to welcome Wednesday's inundation of about 500 times the number of people they're used to seeing on an average day, Krueger wonders if the next generation will someday fill her shoes.

"When I'm gone or unable to do it, I don't know if anyone will keep it up," Krueger said. "I'm a little leery that nobody will. I'm hoping someone will pick it up, but you never know."

Krueger got the title of public relations matriarch and unofficial tour guide by making a promise to Father Francis O'Duignan, an Irish immigrant and former pastor at the Shrine of St. Patrick who was instrumental in construction of the church.

The Celtic structure with the round bell tower and marble interior is modeled after a church in Donegal, Ireland, and is the centerpiece of the community.

O'Duignan called Krueger one day in 1980 and said that without more fundraising, the church might close.

"I said I don't know what to do, but I'll do everything I can to keep it from closing," Krueger said.

Krueger and others put out the word and the parish organized a March 17 celebration honoring Ireland's patron saint.

This year's festivities will feature:

  • A breakfast and lunch from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • A free concert by Colleen McNally-Harris and Kirk Kypensky at 10 a.m.
  • A gift bag distribution with crystal and china prizes at 1 p.m.
  • A program by Gabrielle Ni Mheachair of County Tipperary, Ireland, at 2 p.m.
  • Irish music from 3 to 5 p.m.
  • A celebration of Mass by Father Paul Hartley at 4 p.m.

"We've had a tremendous amount of calls, so we're hoping for a good crowd," Krueger said. "A lot of people want to spend it as a religious holiday. We try to celebrate it much as it was celebrated in old time Ireland."

A dinner will be served in the Shrine basement from 5 to 7:30 p.m., but don't expect corned beef and cabbage.

Krueger said the traditional favorites aren't as Irish as advertised. She said immigrants that included her great-grandparents were forced to use corned beef because it was as close to Irish bacon as was available on the American frontier.

The lunch menu features soup and sandwiches, with roast beef and ham plus the fixings for dinner. The parish has about 40 families that help. St. Patrick Day and a celebration of Independence Day are the church's two biggest fundraisers.

"It takes the whole parish to put everything together," Krueger said. "It's a lot of work, but it's worth it in the long run."

Krueger and others will offer tours of the church, which was dedicated March 17, 1957. It features 37 stained-glass windows, including one in a restroom that used to be a baptismal area.

Another attraction is the March 17 postal cancellation, which changes annually. People from around the world send self-addressed, stamped envelopes that are returned with the logo. The tiny post office expects to handle more than 8,500 letters.

A free cancellation featuring this year's design is available by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope before March 30 to Postmaster, St. Patrick, MO 63466.

Krueger, meanwhile, is getting out her green. She's as Irish as can be, even if her last name doesn't ring like a limerick.

"I just happened to marry someone with a German name," she said. "My maiden name is Moore."

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Ray Shapiro March 16, 2010 | 4:55 p.m.

Just wanted to share an open invitation to all for a family-friendly St. Pat's evening w/mayoral candidate Sid Sullivan, tomorrow evening, (Wednesday, March 17th), from 5pm-7pm at Parkade Plaza, 601 Business Loop70W.
(They're always after me lucky charms!)

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