SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT: BC marches in St. Patrick’s Day Parade after a two-year shutdown because of pandemic

By Noell Barnidge
Hours before the 198th Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade began this year, Benedictine Military School junior James Thompson stood on one of Forsyth Park’s four tennis courts that BC uses each year as a staging area before marching in the parade.

Thompson looked around at the activity surrounding him as more than 360 of his 405 BC brothers buzzed about. Some Cadets were eating donuts. Others were helping each other make final adjustments to their uniforms as they prepared to march in Savannah’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade since 2019.

City Hall cancelled the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2020, for the first time since World War II, as COVID-19 infections began to spread throughout Georgia. In 2021, City Hall again cancelled the parade as the pandemic persisted and vaccines were not available to people of all ages.

“There’s only one class marching today that’s ever marched before (in the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade) and that’s the senior class,” said Thompson, who was wearing his new BC Class of 2023 ring, which he received fewer than 24 hours earlier during BC’s annual Ring Day ceremony in BC Gym. “LTC (Stephen) Suhr told us the parade has gone on every single year except for the World Wars and the pandemic … I’m not nervous. I think it’s going to be fun. I’ve done other parades (Veterans Day and MLK Day). I don’t know how it’s going to compare.”

This year, finally, the parade was back. And BC was back in it. The coronavirus pandemic is still around but March 17, 2022, felt like a renewal or sorts, a return to life as we once knew it.

“It feels like we’re finally getting back to a sense of normalcy, and I think everybody is ready for that change,” Thompson said. “The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is just an example of how Savannah comes together and we’re one big community. We’re ready to see each other again.”

In the official 2022 parade magazine, John P. Fogarty ’93, General Chairman of the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, conveyed how people have felt throughout the pandemic.

“Let’s not pretend that the last two years have been easy for anyone,” Fogarty wrote. “We have seen people become sick and some have even left this earth because of a horrible virus. It has left us scared and frustrated, as we constantly watch the ‘numbers’ go up and down like a rollercoaster. We have walked downtown for two years in a row to hear silence on March 17. We continuously ask ourselves, when will we be normal again? When will we control this virus instead of letting it control us? I am happy to say that barring any unforeseen catastrophes, we will take a giant step towards normalcy this year. We feel confident that we will be stepping off at 10:15 a.m. on March 17, 2022, this year and no one is more excited than I am.”

Shayne Strickland, a Benedictine Military School senior, certainly was excited. He marched for the first time in the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“I didn’t march my freshman year. I was (a student) at Effingham,” he said. “Going into sophomore year, I was really excited about St. Patrick’s Day. I watched it my freshman year. I was really upset when the parade was cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021. I was scared that I might not ever be able to march in a parade.”

Like Thompson, Strickland stood on one of the Forsyth Park tennis courts and watched as his BC brothers prepared to march.

“I have goosebumps right now,” Strickland said. “I’ve been here since 5 a.m. just walking around, seeing everybody downtown. There are so many people here. It’s incredible. I’ve heard it’s a very fun time. There’s a lot of people, of course. People look forward to it all year. It’s something that really promotes BC and it’s good for BC.”

The Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade began in 1824 by Irish immigrants and has grown into one of the South’s largest – and Savannah’s most profitable – events. Visitors and families travel near and far to the Hostess City to participate in the festivities before and after the parade. It is a day to honor St. Patrick, who brought Christianity to Ireland.

When it was BC’s turn to join the procession this year, Cadets marched throughout Savannah’s historic district in front of hundreds of thousands of revelers who lined up along sidewalks and in the squares of Georgia’s oldest city. Crowds cheered for BC while mothers, sisters, and girlfriends left lipstick on the cheeks of Cadets.

After the parade, BC Athletic Director Jack Holland ’03 said it was a relief to be able to march again.

“The history and significance of the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade as it relates to Benedictine is pretty special,” Holland said. “The Irish families who have helped make Savannah what it is today have always believed in the Benedictine monks and a strong Catholic education. Almost every Cadet has marched in the parade at some point and so many alumni have gone on to unselfishly work for the Parade Committee. To see our guys back on the street this year, proudly representing our school and all those who have come before them, it was definitely a sight for sore eyes.”

BC Senior Army Instructor LTC Stephen Suhr said this year’s Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade presented a challenge because only one class, the BC Class of 2022, had experience marching in it prior to March 17.

“For this year’s St. Patrick’s Day, the JROTC department placed special emphasis on the importance of this event in terms of the pride and legacy of our school, its alumni, and the greater Savannah community,” Suhr said. “The parade serves as the single-largest opportunity for the Corps of Cadets to showcase what Benedictine Military School is all about – putting our principles of character, spirituality, purpose, and brotherhood on full display.

“After not marching in the parade for two years, we had a very focused plan for preparing the Cadets this year,” Suhr continued. “The plan required ‘buy in’ from our senior Cadets – the only class with prior experience marching in the parade. Our Athletic Director, Mr. Jack Holland ’03, spoke to all five battalions of senior Cadets to underscore the significance of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and his words were definitely taken to heart. The Corps of Cadets truly ‘fell in line’ and marched in the parade with a sense of duty and respect that should make any alumnus proud.”