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Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish in Philly This Week

Radio hosts Marianne MacDonald and Vince Gallagher

There are two Irish plays running this week—The Lantern Theatre Company’s “A Skull in Connemara” by Martin McDonagh and Inis Nua Theatre Company’s “Pump Girl” by Abbie Spallen—starting the 2011 theater season off to a Celtic start. As we told you last week, there’s an Irish Theater Festival going on in Philly and this is your chance to experience the works some of Ireland’s finest playwrights.

This Saturday, you can show your support for the WTMR 800AM Sunday Irish Radio Shows at J.D. McGillicuddy’s in Kirklyn while enjoying an evening of music and dancing (and singing if you feel like it). Hosts Marianne MacDonald and Vince Gallagher need to raise more than $30,000 a year to keep the shows on the air.

Also on Saturday, all-Ireland piper Michael Cooney and guitarist and singer Pat Egan will be perfoming in one cozy venue—a livingroom in Lansdale. The two “boys from Tipperary” will be performing at a house concert in the Spring Hill House Concert Series. To get directions, you’ll have to email Bette Conway at because it’s her livingroom.

On Sunday, AOH Div. 87 is having its beef and beer at Finnigan’s Wake at 3rd and Spring Garden Streets starting at 3 PM.

At 6 PM Sunday, poet-priest Father John McNamee will celebrate a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul  in Philadelphia to remember Michaela Harte, daughter of Tyrone football coach Mickey Harte, who was murdered while on her honeymoon just two weeks after marrying football star John McAreavey. The 28-year-old teacher has family and friends in the Philadelphia area who are organizing the memorial.

Next weekend alert: On Saturday, January 22, AOH Notre Dame Div. 1 is holding a ceili at the AOH Hall in Swedesburg and Blackthorn is playing its annual benefit for AOH Black Jack Kehoe Div. 4 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Springfield. That’s also the evening you can hear popular local performers, Gabriel Donohue (late of County Galway) and Marian Makins at The Shanachie Pub and Restaurants in Ambler.

And big news: Coming to the Shanachie on January 27 are Robbie O’Connell and Aoife Clancy with their Clancy Legacy Show (his mother was a Clancy and her father was Bobby Clancy of the famed Clancy Brothers). They’re two remarkable performers in their own right.

As usual, you’ll find all the details on our interactive calendar.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Martin McDonagh, whose play is starting up next week at Lantern.

Martin McDonagh, whose play is starting up next week at Lantern.

Some great events coming up this month, including the exciting Philly debut of “Pumpgirl” a play that comes from Northern Ireland, and a Martin McDonagh classic, “A Skull in Connemara,” all part of a particularly rich season for Irish plays in Philadelphia. You can even save money on tickets if you see two or more of these topnotch productions

The play, “Pumpgirl,” which opens on Tuesday, January 11, at the Adrienne Theatre in Philadelphia, takes place in a post-Troubles world, specifically in a border town rural Northern Ireland. It’s the story of a homely, tomboyish “pump girl” at a gas station who develops an obsession with a handsome, married race car driver. It’s being produced by the Inis Nua Theatre Company, which presents modern plays from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

“The play really presents a different side of Northern Ireland,” says Inis Nua Artistic Director Tom Reing. “Most works about the north are very Troubles-focused. It’s definitely there in ‘Pumpgirl,’ but the references are all in the past, like ‘it’s that hotel that was bombed in 1994.’ It’s also filled with weird things about Irish country music and stock car racing, which is huge over there and
which most people aren’t going to really be familiar.”

The January 13 performance is a fundraiser for the Irish Immigration and will feature a post-performance discussion with Irish playwright Abbie Spallen, who has been working with Reing during the play’s rehearsals.

“A Skull in Connemara,” one the McDonagh Leenane trilogy, goes on stage in preview at St. Stephen’s Theater at 10th and Ludlow Streets on January 13. The production by the Lantern Theatre Company is directed by M. Craig Getting and Kathryn McMillan, whose most recent show was the critically acclaimed production of “Uncle Vanya.” Official opening night is January 19.

Bonus for Irish theater lovers: These plays are part of the Philadelphia Irish Theatre Festival and Irish Mix Tix. Six local theater companies are presenting works by Irish playwrights now through May and you can save 20 percent off ticket prices if you order tickets to two or more productions at

Other plays upcoming: Terminus by Mark O’Rowe with the Abbey Theatre of Dublin at the Harold Prince Theater, February 16-20; “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” another of McDonagh’s Leenane plays, at Plays and Players February 17-March 13; Sebastian Barry’s “The Pride of Parnall Street,” at Act II Playhouse in Ambler March 22-April 17; “Dublin by Lamplight,” by Michael West,
at Broad Street Ministries in Philadelphia, another Inis Nua Production; and The Druid Theatre of Galway’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” the third Mc Donagh play this season, at the Zellerbach, May 19-May 22.

Now, let’s take a peek into next week:

On Saturday, January 15, three bands will be playing at J.D. McGillicuddy’s in Kirklyn at the first of two fundraisers to bring in bucks to support the Sunday WTMR 800-AM Irish Radio Shows, hosted by Vince Gallagher and Marianne MacDonald, aired every Sunday from 11 AM to 1 PM.

That evening, guitarist and balladeer Pat Egan and all-Ireland piper Michael Cooney will be performing in the cozy living room at Spring Hill House in Lansdale for a house concert. They’re calling their duo “The Boys from Tipperary” because they are both boys from Tipperary. Now that’s clever.

And on Sunday, join AOH/LAOH Div. 87 for their annual beef and beer at Finnigan’s Wake. We’ve partied with this crew and they are fun, fun, fun. And you can hear the new Paul Moore and Friends band, featuring a few folks from the late great Paddy’s Well. Of course, everything the AOH/LAOH does is for charity so you can have fun while patting yourself on the back for doing a good deed.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

The Irish know how to party: Jim Larson of Ardmore at last year's New Year's Eve party at the Irish Center.

The Irish know how to party: Jim Larson of Ardmore at last year's New Year's Eve party at the Irish Center.

The best way to be Irish this week is to spend Christmas with your family and friends. But you knew that.

But after Christmas. . . Stop in at the Knights of Columbus hall in Glenside on December 26 for the annual Wren party, an Irish tradition with silly hats, frivolity, food, drink, music and dancing. There will be prizes for best Wren boy.

On Tuesday, December 28, the John Byrne Band along with faithful companions, Citizen Band Radio, will be performing their holiday show at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia.

Get ready to ring in the New Year at the Irish Center on December 3. The Vince Gallagher Band will be playing, there will be a midnight champagne toast, and some delicious food.

Speaking of 2011, there’s some great stuff coming up in January that we’ll be posting shortly.

We’re going to Craggy Island for about a week, coming back with a brand new look and the same old sass. So if we don’t see you, have a very happy Christmas and a wonderful and prosperous New Year!

Le gach dea-ghui i gcomhair na nollag agus na hath bhliana!

Don’t try to pronounce it. You’ll just hurt yourself.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Get set for a Blackthorn Christmas.

Get set for a Blackthorn Christmas.

Not invited to any Christmas parties? I’m sure you’ll be welcome at the Derry Society Christmas party at the Irish Center on Friday night at 7 PM. They know how to throw a great bash.

You can party with Coyote Run at the Sellersville Theatre on Friday night too. They’re presenting their annual “A Kilted Christmas.” And “Dublin Carol” is still on at the Amaryllis Theatre in Philadelphia.

Just want to kick back and relax? Or jig? The Broken Shillelaghs are at Dublin Square Pub in Bordentown on Friday night too. Brew, burger, Irish music. . .it’s all good.

Saturday is jam-packed:

The O’Grady Quinlan dance school is holding two Christmas celebrations, featuring performances by their championship dancers and comic performer Seamus Kennedy at the Allentown Symphony Hall in Allentown.

Robert Mouland will again be portraying Irish harper Michael Keane, who came to America in 1754, presenting songs of the season on ancient instruments including the wirestrung harp, clavicord, baroque violin and others at the Old Dutch Parsonage in Somerville, NJ.

Fiddler Patrick Mangan and guitarist-singer Ryan McGiver will be in town on Saturday too, thanks to the Philadelphia Ceili Group. Mangan, from Brooklyn, is a two-time All-Ireland champion who appeared in Riverdance on Broadway at the age of 16 and was a featured soloist from 2006 to the present. McGiver is a critically acclaimed guitarist and singer who has appeared on stage with many performers familiar to Philly’s Irish audiences, including singer Susan McKeown, Kevin Crawford of Lunasa, piper Ivan Goff, The Kane Sisters and Edel Fox. They’ll be performing both Irish and American tunes at this evening concert at the Irish Center.

And Blackthorn will be singing Christmas carols at the Blarney Stone in West Chester on Saturday night too–their annual Christmas show!

As we inch closer to Christmas, there’s a lovely evening of Christmas music planned at St. Vincent DePaul Church in Richboro featuring local musician Bill Monaghan and others. Admission is free, though donations are appreciated—they’ll go to Philabundance, which provides food for the needy, and Bridge to Uganda, a nonprofit that is building a high school in Uganda, Africa. Bring canned goods—specifically cans of string beans, sweet peas, corn, gravy, whole cranberries and cranberries for food baskets being assembled by a local charity.

If you’re doing your last minute shop in downtown Philadelphia on December 23, stop in to hear Bob Hurst and Tim Murphy of the Bogside Rogues performing at Con Murphy’s Irish Pub, right on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It’s mighty pretty downtown right now.

That brings us right up to. . .Merry Christmas, from me, Jeff, and Lori. And I’m sure our friends, including the ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future, our paranormal reporter, SE Burns as well as our stable of volunteer photographers Gwyneth MacArthur, Brian Mengini, Eileen McElroy, and Lisa Marie Hunt join us in saying, “Nollaig Shona Daoibh!” and “Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Daoibh!” Though it’s quite likely, only a few of us will say it correctly.


Aon Sceal?

Winners of the best Irish band contest: Jamison.

Winners of the best Irish band contest: Jamison.

Everyone should send a big “woo-hoo!” out to local Celtic rock band, Jamison, which was voted best Irish band in the annual Strangford Lough Brewing Company’s annual Battle of the Bands.

So, now that you’ve won the big prize, Jamison, what are you going to do? What? No Disneyworld? No, the winner of the competition is going to Vegas! That’s where this County Down brewer is sending its winner and Jamison couldn’t be happier.

Lead vocalist Frank Daly, who also plays a slew of instruments, told us they entered the contest because “we just through it would be fun if we played Vegas.”

The band credits family, friends, their bar venues and local organizations (like the AOH/LAOH and the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association) for supporting them. And social media played a big role. “As soon as we made it to the finals it was like Facebook exploded,” Daly told us. “The night before the contest closed I counted 31 Facebook statuses that were asking people to vote for us. It felt pretty awesome.”

The brewery folks say it was the closest in their three-year history (Jamison won by only 70 votes!). Jamison won’t just be gambling and seeing shows in Vegas—they’ll be playing at McFadden’s at the Rio Casino.

The band, which also includes John O’Callaghan on guitar and lead vocals; Sean Callaghan on drums; Dave Lynd on bass guitar and backup vocals, and C.J. Mills, on fiddle, mandolin, and backup vocals, has been around the Delaware Valley for six years.

You may have seen them at Kildare’s (where Daly works), Con Murphy’s Pub, the Penns Landing Irish Festival, in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, headlining at the Phoenixville Concert Series, or the Mount Holly St. Patrick’s Day Parade where they won the “best band” prize in 2009. In 2006, the band recorded its first live CD, “Live at the Arsenal Theater,” and the following year released two original songs, “Rebel Heart,” and “Mayo Rain,” which debuted on Midwest Radio in Ireland.

You can see them perform on Saturday, December 18, at the Running of the Santas, a charity race featuring more than 5,000 jogging Santas. Starting line is Finnigan’s Wake at 3rd and Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia, ending at the Electric Factory where there will be a huge indoor-outdoor party (and a heated tent!).

Happy Birthday, Fergie’s!

Fergie’s Pub at 1214 Sansom Street in Philadelphia celebrated its 16th birthday last week and they have a present for you!

Fergie’s (named for Dublin-born owner Fergus Carey) just hired new a head chef, Mark Coates, late of Bebe’s BBQ, and there’s a new menu that will turn this great Irish pub housed in a former Bavarian brauhaus into the new mecca for Carolina barbeque in Philadelphia.

Just listen to this menu item: “Bebe’s Brisket. A Philadelphia Favorite. Angus beef brisket, hickory smoked for 16 hours, encrusted in our delicious rub, served sliced or chopped, with a roll or Texas toast, and marinated cucumbers.”

You can even build your own “Lava Burger”—not sure what that is but we’re guessing there’s molten cheese inside–or have that brisket in a chili.

Whew, our LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad one) is going up just thinking about it.

You can still get shepherd’s pie and Fergie’s fish and chips, but you may want to switch off occasionally for a country fried steak and gravy or deep fried mac and cheese. EMTs will be standing by with the defibrillator. But it sure sounds like a good way to die to us. Mmmmm.

And if you run out of things to do Christmas day, bring the bodhran or fiddle Santa brought you down to Fergie’s—they have an Irish music session on the schedule, starting at 4. Have some barbecue for us.

Give the Sunday Irish Radio Shows a Happy Holiday

The current radiothon to raise money for the Sunday Irish Radio Shows at WTMR 800AM is about halfway there, but more help is needed, says “Come West Along the Road” host, Marianne MacDonald.

“We still need to raise a good bit of money,” Marianne told us. With ads in a slump along with the economy, Marianne and her fellow host, Vince Gallagher, have been pulling money out of their own pockets to pay for radio time, which totals more than $30,000 a year. Two fundraisers are planned for this winter—one at McGillicudy’s in Drexel Hill on Saturday, January 15, and another on February 27 at the Shanachie Pub and Restaurant in Ambler.

Marianne is looking for musicians willing to donate their mad skills and time. She’s also in the market for prizes for raffles. You can contact Marianne at to volunteer and donate. It you’d like to contribute to the general fund, make checks out to WTMR Radio and send them to 2775 Mt. Ephraim Avenue, Camden, NJ 08104.

And a big shout out from Marianne and Vince to the volunteer pledge takers and co-hosts: St. Paddy’s Day parade director Michael Bradley; singer Karen Boyce McCollum; Jane Kane and Kathleen Murtagh from the Mayo Association, Larry Prelle and his wife from AOH #1, National Park, NJ, dance instructor John Shields, historian and writer Frank Hollingsworth and John Kildea. Oh, and me.

Aon Sceal is Irish for “what’s the story.” Got a story? Let us know! We’ll tell everyone. Email

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Harper Ellen Tepper will be playing a Christmas show in Bethlehem.

Harper Ellen Tepper will be playing a Christmas show in Bethlehem.

Hoping to get my Christmas spirit on this weekend at the Irish Center. Maybe you’ll find yours there. On Sunday, the Mayo and Donegal Associations are holding their Christmas Mass with dinner afterwards, and that rolls right into “Irish Christmas in America,” the gorgeous musical production from one of Ireland’s top traditional groups, Teada, with singer-musician-comic Seamus Begley guest starring along with harper Grainne Hambley and sean nos dancer, the devilishly handsome Brian Cunningham from Connemara.

Before that, on Friday night, there’s a Christmas Ceili in the Fireside Room with music and dancing and a roaring fire. And all within a few feet of one of the greatest bars ever. And if you’re downtown, stop in at Tir na Nog for the Irish Network-Philly first-ever Christmas party.

In Bethlehem on Saturday, local harper and singer Ellen Tepper will be playing at McCarthy’s Tea Room for two seatings of McCarthy’s traditional Irish Christmas dinner. If you’ve never been to Bethlehem at Christmas—it’s known as the Christmas City, after all—you’re missing a lot. Do a little shopping (at Donegal Square or the Moravian Book Store, two of my favorite spots), stop in at the Hotel Bethlehem to see if there are any vacancies, or wander in to the Bethlehem Brew Pub for a burger and brew before sitting down to a great meal and wonderful music.

Of course, there’s so much going on this Saturday that you’re going to be missing something: Slide is at the Zellerbach Theatre, Burning Bridget Cleary is at Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville, “Dublin Carol” is continuing its two-week run at the Amaryllis Theatre in Philly, Shane O’Donnell’s documentary “Wizards of the PCT” is playing at the MacSwiney Club in Jenkintown (with live music!), and St. Malachi’s Church in Doe Run is holding its annual candlelight Celtic Christmas event.

On Sunday, along with all the festive goings-on at the Irish Center, Father John McNamee, pastor emeritus of St. Malachi’s Parish and celebrated poet, will be reading from his latest book, “Derrybeg and Back,” at the Society Hill Playhouse at 3 PM. He’ll also sign copies of the book—Christmas present alert!

Fiddler Paraic Keane and Mad Mission will be playing at Con Murphy’s Pub on the Parkway Sunday night too—go there after you hear Father McNamee. It’s a hop, skip, and a jump away.

On Monday, a real treat—a preview reading from the play, “Pumpgirl,” which the Inis Nua Theatre Company is bringing to Philadelphia’s Adrienne Theatre January 11-23. Meet the cast at Fergie’s Pub on Sansom Street at 6 PM. Check out Fergie’s new menu—BBQ!

On Friday, December 17, Coyote Run is presenting its annual “A Kilted Christmas” at the Sellersville Theatre. That’s the lead-in to another killer Irish weekend, with trad musicians Patrick Mangan and Ryan McGiver concerting at the Irish Center and lots of fun elsewhere leading up to the big day.

Don’t forget—Sunday, the WTMR 800AM Irish radio shows are conducting a fund drive. Listen in starting at 11 AM and call in your pledges to one of the many hard-working volunteers who sometimes spend two hours tucked into a dark, back studio with nothing but their Android phone for company, text messaging with crazy people. And you know who you are.

Columns, How to Be Irish in Philly

How to Be Irish in Philly This Week

Blazing fire, Christmas tree, dancing. . .there's a Christmas Ceili at the Irish Center this week.

Blazing fire, Christmas tree, dancing ... there's a Christmas Ceili at the Irish Center this week.

Christmas moves into high gear this week in the Irish community. Here’s how we roll:

The Peter J. Hanlon Jingle Bell Run gets started at 7:30 AM at St. George’s at Venango and Edgemont. The annual event honors a former officer of AOH Div. 87 and raises money for charity.

Bring the kids to meet Santa, play games, and do arts and crafts at the Rose of Tralee’s Santa’s Workshop and Christmas celebration in the Irish Center’s cozy Fireside Room. Meet the reigning Mid-Atlantic Rose of Tralee Mairead Conley.

The Celtic Tenors will be performing that evening at the War Memorial in Trenton.

If you’re in the gift-giving mood already, consider phoning in your pledge to help keep the WTMR 800-AM Sunday radio shows on the air. I’ll be there taking calls and I’ll toss in an extra $5 for every call I get! So, call me! (Imagine me making that little call-me thing with my hand.)

Then head on over to Finnigan’s Wake on Spring Garden Street in Philly for a day of Irish music, dancing, food, and vendors (think Christmas shopping). You might see me there too, but don’t expect me to give you $5. BYOMoney.

Also on Sunday, in Cochranville, PA, St. Malachi’s Church is giving the first of two performances of its candlelight Celtic music event, with Celtic gifts and free appetizers. The second performance is December 11.

Catch the preview performance of “Dublin Carol,” by Conor McPherson, at the Amaryllis Theatre on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. On Broadway, everyone’s favorite CSI actor, William Peterson (Grissom), played the lead role. This is just one of a half dozen or so Irish plays coming to Philadelphia this year, creating an unofficial Irish Theatre Festival. The play, a decidedly Irish take on the Dickens’ classic, runs for two weeks and tickets cost only $10!

Philly’s newest Irish organization, IN-Philly, will hold its Christmas party at Tir na Nog at 16th and Arch in Philadelphia starting at 6 PM. Guests of IN-Philly members get a discounted rate. Not a member? Here’s your chance to join up while everyone is feeling very jolly (not that they’re not always jolly), meet some new people, and network in a Christmassy way.

The Philadelphia Ceili Group’s Christmas Ceili is also this night. Bring your instrument, your dancing shoes and a batch of Christmas cookies and have a blast. Actually, you don’t have to bring any of those things—just yourself. But if you want to bring Christmas cookies, no one will stop you.

Looking ahead:
Saturday, December 11, you can catch a movie (“Wizards of the PCT,” a documentary about a group of wild hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail, along with music from the performers who did the soundtrack, including Damion Wolfe, Camp Arawak, and The Helots) at Jenkintown’s McSwiney Club.

Up in Bethlehem, enjoy a delicious dinner and some delicious harp music from local harper Ellen Tepper at McCarthy’s Tea Room.

Slide, an Irish group who do traditional music “with attitude,” will be at the Zellerbach Theatre on Saturday night.

Burning Bridget Cleary is on tap at the Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville, one of the region’s most Irish towns.

Then, on Sunday, Irish Christmas in America comes back to the Irish Center featuring one of Ireland’s best traditional bands, Teada, with singer Seamus Begley. Not to be missed.

See our calendar for all the details!


Behind the Scenes for 25 Years, This Year She Leads the Parade

Sister James Anne and friends.

Sister James Anne and friends.

There was never any question that Sister James Anne Feerick would grow up with pride in her Irish heritage. The 2011 Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal recalls her childhood in Cobbs Creek:

“My father was from Ballinrobe, County Mayo, and my mother was born here, but her parents were from Foxford, in County Mayo. When we were kids (there were six), my father would tell us stories about Ireland, and on Sundays we would go over to my grandparents’ house, and they would tell us about Ireland. As kids, we were fascinated by the history that our parents had. We grew in love with the music and everything about Ireland.”

As if growing up in the household of James J. and Anna (Caulfield) Feerick were not enough in itself to inspire that love of Ireland, the broader Irish community also was a profound influence. Sister James Anne recalls house parties, sometimes at her own house and sometimes at a neighbor’s, in which Irish emigres would congregate. “They would get together and talk about their homeland. Musicians would come and bring their violins and accordions, and some would sing songs. Our parents would dance. It was just something we were accustomed to. We saw our parents having fun and enjoying each other, and it just grew on us.”

Born Anne Marie Feerick, this lifelong Catholic school educator and member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (I.H.M.) recalls a childhood surrounded by the warmth of family and friends. Her family belonged to Transfiguration of Our Lord parish at 56th and Cedar in Cobbs Creek, and she attended the parish school. Transfiguration was a close-knit parish, mostly Irish and Italian. It was, she says, the center of community life in those days.

“I loved my schooling there,” she says. “I remember it being a happy time. I remember the sisters being very interested in what we were doing. We had the support of a lot of people, neighborhood people, your classmates and everything.

“After school, you’d go to your friends’ houses and ask if they wanted to play ball. There was no planning of activities. You just did it. That was our happiness—just being able to be with each other and share and learn. It was wonderful.”

That’s not to say there were no planned activities and, indeed, Sister James Anne had plenty to keep her occupied. Early on, she began to learn violin and later piano. Her parents loved all kinds of music, and this passion they successfully imparted to Sister James Anne.

Those who know Sister today can attest to her love of Irish dancing. That too is a passion acquired in childhood. She began taking Irish dance lessons when she was 7 at the nearby home of Sean Lavery, from Donegal. Every Friday night, she recalls, kids from throughout the city would converge upon his house to learn dance. Classes were from 5 to 9 p.m. Lessons were 50 cents. Those Friday nights at Sean Lavery’s house further reinforced her sense of Irishness.

“His home was packed on a Friday night,” she says. “For us, it was another connection. We would go to various competitions together and we would rent a bus. Our parents would go with us. And on the bus, you’d hear more stories of Ireland, and the music. It was just another way of keeping alive the Irish culture.”

As important as Irish cultural identity was, her parents also instilled in her the importance and significance of being an American. Immigrants to America don’t take citizenship for granted, and her father was no exception. Sister James Anne’s father studied for three years to become a citizenship, and it meant the world to him when he took the oath of allegiance. “He never wanted to forget where he came from, but he was proud to be an American.”

Catholic faith also mattered deeply. Like many of the Irish Catholic households in the neighborhood, hers proudly displayed pictures of the Holy Father and the Sacred Heart and a statue of the Blessed Mother. On Sundays, the Feericks attended Mass as a family. It was not simply an obligation to be fulfilled. In the Feerick family, faith was essential and deeply nourishing. Though they couldn’t have known it, they—together with the good example of her teachers at school—were laying the foundation for a life wholly devoted to God and service.

In her senior year in high school—she attended West Catholic Girls High School, class of ‘62—Anne Marie Feerick decided to enter religious life.

“I just think my parents were an inspiration to me,” Sister James Anne says. “Through good times and bad, they held on to their faith. And through some of the sisters that taught me, I just saw something special in them that hit me. I was already accepted to college but it was just something I wanted. There was just something special about what the sisters showed me—their kindness, their caring, their patience and their wanting to make us the best we could be. But still, I would say that the first example was my parents.”

As a member of the I.H.M. order, Sister James Anne became a teacher, serving in many capacities, including principal. With her own teachers as an example, she says, there really wasn’t any question that education was her calling.

“I liked teaching,” she says. “When I was in high school, I helped the dance teacher teach the younger kids. I also taught C.C.D. as a junior and senior in high school. I just always enjoyed the idea of being able to teach someone. It’s just the grace of God that speaks to you when you least expect it. I knew that if it didn’t work out, I would be able to pursue something else, but I really had to see if it was for me. And here I am 50 years later.”

Teaching has never been easy, and as a field it undergoes constant change. Teachers need to be up to the challenge; Sister James Anne was.

“When I first started teaching, I had 105 first graders. I remember teaching back then was very simple. Every school was doing the same thing; you did a lot of phonics and reading. Each grade covered a certain area, and you never skipped ahead. And then, later on, as they came in with the new math and the new reading I kind of got into it. It’s always good to learn something new. It was a big change, and it’s been changing ever since.”

Sister James Anne is still solidly involved in education, as director and teacher at the I.H.M. Educational Center in Bryn Mawr.

Of course, total immersion in he world of the I.H.M.s did not mean she left her heritage behind. For one thing, Sister has often taught Irish dance to students. It’s a way of developing coordination—and the kids like it. And she has continued to dance. At the recent Mayo Association Ball, were she was honored with the President’s Award, she was on her feet all night. (She is also chaplain of the Mayo Association.)

Also near and dear to her heart is the Philly St. Patrick’s Day parade, where she has been judge for 25 years.

According to parade director Michael Bradley, Sister James Anne has always been one of the parade’s unsung heroes.

“In my mind, she always does something to the best of her ability and she never looks for any credit,” Bradley says. There are a lot of people who want to stand in front and get recognition. But Sister’s been behind the scene for all these years and no one knows it. Well, I know it.”

Bradley also notes that Sister was the unanimous choice for 2011 grand marshal—the first unanimous choice in years.

Kathy McGee Burns, president of the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association, echoes Bradley’s sentiments: “In my first year of presidency of this great parade, having Sister James Anne as grand marshal is like icing on the cake. Spiritually, she has been the chaplain of the Mayo Association for many years and as an Immaculate Heart of Mary nun, has been a positive influence on many a student. Emotionally she is a sincere, loving being who is kind and unselfish to all. Her Irishness she wears proudly on her beautiful face and in her involvement with dance, family and organizations. I am thrilled to count her as my friend.”

For Sister’s part, being named as grand marshal was a bolt out of the blue, and an honor for which she is very grateful. “I never considered myself as being a grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade at all,” she says. “My cousins and family, they’re all excited. And I know my mother and father will be very happy up in heaven.”