Some St. Patrick’s Day thoughts from Morris County’s Grand Marshal-in-Waiting

Mary O'Connell Waller, Grand Marshal of the Morris County St. Patrick's Parade.
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Mary O’Connell Waller is an eternal optimist.  A once-in-a-century pandemic has shut down the Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade twice — making her wait yet again to lead the line of march as Grand Marshal.

But she’s sure the third time will be the charm, in 2022.

“They’re going to get me a new sash!” Waller said this week.

The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Irish American Association of North West Jersey, organizers of the parade, had no choice but to cancel the Morristown extravaganza, which would have rolled down South Street last Saturday if times were healthier.

St. Patrick at the 2019 Morris County St. Patrick's Parade. Photo by Katharine Boyle
St. Patrick at the 2019 Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade. Photo by Katharine Boyle

Since its inception in Wharton in 1979, the parade has raised more than $350,000 for charity. It was among Morris County’s first major cancellations when COVID-19 struck last March.  As the virus surged in the spring, the parade committee sent caravans of food to healthcare heroes at Morristown Medical Center.

Gov. Phil Murphy recently eased capacity restrictions at houses of worship, enabling at least one local Irish tradition to proceed: The parade day Mass at Assumption Church.

The new Bishop of Paterson, Kevin Sweeney, presided at Saturday’s socially distanced service and led prayers for COVID victims with Monsignor John Hart.

Waller said the Mass buoyed her spirits.

“It felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re getting back to normal.’ There was no gloom and doom,” said the Long Valley woman, who retired as the state’s chief legislative aide in 2001.

It would take more than a couple of postponed parades to discourage Waller; she raised five kids after her first husband died. And it’s doubtful her 12 grandchildrens would let her dwell on any present misfortunes for long.

“We were unable to have a Morris County Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in 2020 and 2021. But what is more important, we had an especially uplifting and spiritual Saint Patrick’s Mass,” reflected the Grand Marshal-in-Waiting.

“It was wonderful to witness the happiness, enthusiasm and hope for the future, and to continue Irish celebrations,” Waller said.

“Even though we didn’t have a parade, this was what it’s all about: Celebrating our heritage.”

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