Faith & Family: Natchez’s St. Patrick walks in father’s footsteps
NATCHEZ — When Patrick Burns Jr. walks down Main Street with his shillelagh Monday, he’ll still be the same person he always was.
But he will also carry a new title with his name — Saint Patrick XXIV.
Burns, a Methodist, hasn’t been canonized as a living saint, but he has been chosen as the leader of the Krewe of Killarney’s annual St. Patrick’s Day walking parade.
For Burns, the great-grandson of Irish immigrants who owned a shoe shop on Main Street, serving as St. Patrick is a family tradition. His father and two first cousins have previously served the role of representing Ireland’s most famous bishop.
“I really take it as an honor to be asked to serve, especially as the first legacy St. Patrick,” Burns said. “My family has been involved with the Krewe of Killarney since day one. My father was St. Patrick II.”
The Burns family patriarch who brought the family from Ireland was also named Patrick, and died on St. Patrick’s Day. Though Burns never knew him and hasn’t had a chance to visit the ancestral homeland — a work obligation once scuttled a planned trip — he can still find evidence of the family heritage around town.
“If you go by the old Burns Shoe Store, there’s a shamrock in the sidewalk and one still painted on the wall,” he said.
The man Burns will represent in the parade was the fifth-century Christian missionary who has been sometimes called the Apostle of Ireland.
When he was a teenager, St. Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Briton and taken as a slave to Ireland. After working there for several years as a shepherd, he escaped and traveled to the European continent, where he was ordained a priest.
Later, feeling a call to return to the land where he had been a slave, St. Patrick spent the rest of his life laying the groundwork for the conversion of Ireland to Christianity.
Shortly after his death, popular piety proclaimed him the patron saint of the island and legends associated with his life began to grow, including a legend that he banished all of the snakes from Ireland.
“All people of Irish descent feel a close relationship with St. Patrick,” Burns said. “He is known as sort of a symbol of Ireland, so I think there is always that connection there.”
The Krewe of Killarney celebrates Irish culture but does not require its members to be Irish. Likewise, those who want to participate in the parade don’t have to be members.
The Krewe exists to raise money for Pleasant Acre Day School and Holy Family Learning Center. It also awards five scholarships to local high school seniors annually.
“We only have one meeting a year, a party auction where we raise money, and the St. Patrick’s Day parade,” Krewe Captain Ricky Warren said. “We choose our St. Patrick from a list of members we have who we think would make a good example of what St. Patrick stood for, somebody who is a good Christian person with family values.”
The St. Patrick’s Day events will include a mass at 12:05 p.m. Monday at St. Mary Basilica, and the Natchez Eola Hotel will offer a traditional Irish buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. from which $5 of every meal purchased will be donated to the Krewe of Killarney.
The parade will line up at 5:30 p.m. on Main Street in front of St. Mary Basilica’s Family Life Center, and will march to the gazebo along the bluff.
From there, St. Patrick will re-enact the banishment of snakes from Ireland.
“He has some rubber snakes, and he will throw them off the bluff as far as he can,” Warren said.
The parade will include two bagpipers and a drummer.
“It is a lot of fun,” Warren said. “It’s just a lot of people walking down the street, throwing beads and candy to the people watching the parade.”