By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
CLINTON – The Irish heritage of St. John, Guardian of Lady Parish attracted some special visitors to the church last week, and could make it “famous” as part of a documentary on Knock, Ireland, and its Marian shrine.
The visitors were Laura McGann, a camera operator for Motive Television in Dublin, and Tempest Walker, a freelance producer from New York. They were working on a six-part documentary for UTV Ireland. It focuses on Knock and is to include footage from its visit to St. John the Evangelist Church. The church has an outdoor Marian shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Knock.
Knock, in County Mayo, is where 15 villagers reported seeing an apparition on Aug. 21, 1879, on an outside wall of the parish church. The apparition was said to include the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a lamb, a cross and an altar.
More recently, under the direction of Knock parish priest Msgr. James Horan, (1967-1986), the Knock shrine was expanded to welcome pilgrims. He is credited with building Our Lady Queen of Ireland Basilica which was dedicated there on July 18, 1976, according to the shrine’s website, knockshrine.ie. The basilica was rededicated last Saturday for its 40th anniversary.
The website says Msgr. Horan’s most challenging project was the building of Knock Airport – now known as Ireland West Airport Knock. The airport was completed in October 1985 and last week received a flight of pilgrims directly from Boston that included Cardinal Seán O’Malley, former Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn and Mayor Martin Walsh.
Motive Television spokesman Darragh McCauley said in an email that the documentary’s working title is “Knock: On a Wing and a Prayer.” It connects the airport’s 30th anniversary and the basilica’s rededication and is to include information about the Knock shrine gracing an outside wall of St. John’s Church in Clinton, McCauley said.
McCauley said that the series is expected to be ready for broadcast by November and “should be available to watch online at the UTV Ireland player,” which can be found at utv.ie.
How did St. John’s get included in this project?
Some of those involved think it all stared when a priest from Knock gave a presentation last year as part of the 100th anniversary celebration at Immaculate Conception Parish in Lancaster.
Interested St. John’s parishioners attended, said Elaine Patterson, president of the Hibernians of Our Lady of Knock, formerly Division 8 of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. She said she told the priest about the local shrine to Our Lady of Knock.
“He must have talked about it, and this television company called me six or seven times from Dublin,” she said. She said they figured while they were in Boston to film the Cardinal’s pilgrimage, they could come to Clinton.
Another connection to the Worcester Diocese came through Joseph and Kate Farragher, parishioners of Immaculate Conception, who were key players in planning the trip to Knock with Cardinal O’Malley, according to Deacon Robert S. Connor who was serving at parish.
Cardinal O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, and others went to Knock last week for the basilica’s rededication.
The website www.irelandwestairport.com says July 15 was a historic day, as Knock’s airport and shrine welcomed the first transatlantic pilgrimage flight from Boston with Aer Lingus.
The connection with St. John’s continued when Miss Patterson found a message on her answering machine several weeks ago.
“This very heavy Irish accent came on,” she said. “I played it back 18 times. I couldn’t get all the words.” So she called Ellen Gilchrest, a Hibernian with “a matching accent,” to come listen.
Janice Donahue, Hibernian vice president, said at first they feared it might be a scam.
Once they got a sense of what Motive Television wanted, the Hibernians prepared to welcome their visitors. Miss Patterson said they invited the Ancient Order of Hibernians, men’s division, but members couldn’t make it.
“The parish and the pastor got so behind us,” Ms. Donahue said. “It was lovely that they opened the church entirely for us – all the doors, all the lights. Father Juan gave the lovely prayer from his heart. Deacon Joe, he put out the banner for us. He stayed the whole day.”
Father Joseph M. Nally, pastor, was not there that day, but Father Juan S. Ramirez, associate pastor, began the visit with a prayer in front of St. John’s Knock Shrine. (Miss Patterson said they’d dub him “McJuan.”) Deacon Joseph D. Rice, a seminarian assigned there this summer, helped with the Hibernians’ banner.
Those gathered were excited, talking about the parish and town and distributing printed information. They showed the visitors the church, pointing out the stained glass window from the Hibernians. Organist Patsy Mollica played the hymn “Lady of Knock.”
“I’ve never been this close to the Catholic religion before,” Ms. Walker told The Catholic Free Press. She said she was brought up in a non-denominational church. She’s from Atlanta, but now lives in New York.
“It’s kind of amazing to see the devotion,” she said. “When I saw the windows and just how every single inch of the church was covered,” it showed Catholics’ dedication to their faith. “I thought it was pretty cool seeing the things that I was taught, depicted in picture form.”
That day, she and Ms. McGann were welcomed to tea with homemade Irish bread, and a Hibernian meeting.
Before the big day, Miss Patterson had told The Catholic Free Press, “Oh, we’ll have our teacups, and make a pretty thing out of it. … It’s kind of a thrill; I’m very excited about it.”
The July 13 meeting included prayers and a request for volunteers to participate in a living rosary scheduled for Aug. 19, which is part of the weekend celebration of the 50th anniversary of the local Knock Shrine on Aug. 21.
Members also talked about replacing the Cararra marble Lamb of God statue that has been missing, apparently stolen, from the shrine for several months.
“Operation Agnus Dei,” someone dubbed it.
“Return the lamb, no questions asked,” one quipped.
“Unless you’re on the lam,” someone joked.
Miss Patterson closed the meeting with a traditional ritual: “Please do not discuss this with anyone outside our order.” Others laughed. This time, the meeting had been called so Ms. McGann could film it for a wide television audience.