Biking For Charity

By Larry Squires

Beginning on May 20th, 2011, my good friend, Paul Lockard, and I, both members of Allegheny County, Ancient Order of the Hibernians, Div. 17 in Monroeville, PA, embarked upon a great 10 day adventure beginning with a short bicycle ride of ten miles to the Megabus stop in downtown Pittsburgh.  Just before the 11:00 p.m. departure, we met another brother from Division 17, Bill O’Neill, as well as LAOH State President, Colleen Bower, and past President, Sarah Mains, for an eight hour bus trip to New York City.  For the record, the Megabus staff in Pittsburgh was very accommodating with respect to loading our bicycles into the bus’s cargo bay.  Take note that this isn’t always the case.

On Saturday morning, we left the bus and made way to the AOH 175th Anniversary Mass at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in the heart of New York City, situated between Mulberry and Mott Streets at the intersection of Prince Street.  The Mass began at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning May, 21st, and was incredibly beautiful with Hibernians from across the United States in attendance, with heavenly music ministry provided by the New York State Hibernian Festival Singers.  A stirring homily was delivered by co-celebrant, our National AOH Chaplain, Fr. Thomas O’Donnell.  After Mass, we were treated to a fabulous reception in the Basilica’s beautiful enclosed courtyard, complete with food, refreshments, a live band, and vendor kiosks offering beautiful memorabilia of the event.

On Saturday evening, Paul and I, along with Pennsylvania State AOH President, Denny Donnelly, took the subway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 5th Avenue and 51st Street.  We toured this magnificent church for ninety minutes and barely scratched the surface of this magnificent church structure.

On Sunday morning, Fr. O’Donnell celebrated Mass at our hotel, for a small group of Hibernians with early travel plans.  While the remaining Hibernians traveled to ground zero for a Mass commemorating the Great Hunger, Paul and I got on our bicycles and made way for Pier 11, at the foot of Wall Street on the East River.  There we boarded the Seastreak Ferry to Atlantic Highlands, NJ, where we began our three day shoreline ride to Ocean City, MD.  Sunday’s weather was a little chilly, being dark overcast, fifty-seven degrees and drizzly in a few spots, along with a strong headwind from the South that made pedaling a little difficult, but not enough to keep us from our sixty-nine mile destination of Manahawkin, NJ.  However, after leaving the shoreline at Toms River, NJ, we were traveling New Jersey Route 9, a marked bicycle route, but were unaware that Route 9 ran along the same bridge as the Garden State parkway, as it actually crossed Toms River.

Consequently, we found ourselves merging into the right lane of the New Jersey Garden State Parkway, with absolutely no shoulder to ride, as it had obviously been sacrificed for the third lane.  For two miles, Paul and I pedaled as fast as we could, hoping the next exit was near, before we were discovered by the New Jersey State Police, or succumbed to an encounter with traffic whizzing by, which was only inches away from our left side.  Thanks to our veteran riding skills, but mostly the prayers of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, who were praying for us, we safely made it across the bridge and back onto the safety of the Route 9 bicycle route into Manahawkin, NJ.  Paul and I were also impressed with the courteous fashion the New Jersey drivers handled the situation.  At one point, a driver in a white Subaru actually blocked the exit ramp for us, so we could safely exit the interstate.  Combined with the nine miles from Friday, and a few on Saturday, we recorded a total of 81.64 miles at our terminus in Manahawkin on Sunday night, just before 8:00 p.m.

On Monday, we decided to re-check Route 9 to Atlantic City, NJ, and did indeed find another segment shared with the Garden State Parkway and decided to exercise the option of taking a New Jersey Transit bus from Manahawkin to Atlantic City.  The $6.00 bus trip cut about 30 miles out of the ride; however, we would have been riding through harsh thunderstorms, and the next bridge we were avoiding turned out to be under construction, with only one narrow lane in each direction, sandwiched between New Jersey barriers, making it virtually impossible, as well as illegal, to travel by bicycle.  For the record, the New Jersey Transit buses are very bicycle friendly, with many being fitted with bike racks on the front bumper, and plenty of cargo bay if not.  Once underway by bicycle in Atlantic City, we had a beautiful change in weather, as the skies cleared and temperatures made it to the low eighties.  At our terminus on Monday, the Aloha Motel in North Wildwood, NJ, we recorded 38.34 miles, at about 7:00 p.m.  We then took in some legendary hospitality at the Angelsea Tavern, Flip Flopz, and Westy’s Irish Pub.

Tuesday morning, we saddled up and took off for the Cape May Lewes Delaware Ferry and loaded our bikes into the vehicle bay, before embarking on the ninety minute trip across the Delaware Bay.  With sunny skies and temperatures in the low nineties in Lewes, Delaware, this was really starting to feel like a vacation.  As we arrived in Ocean City, MD, around 7:00 p.m., we recorded 45.35 miles.

We took Wednesday off, as a buffer day, just in case we needed to shuffle our schedule, due to inclement weather, or other unforeseen circumstances.  However, we were right on schedule, so we just enjoyed a day off at the beach.

Seaford, Delaware was the terminus for Thursday’s ride inland, as we began our three day ride to Washington, DC.  This was a relatively uneventful ride, but we were treated to beautiful landscapes, as we rode through the Delmarva Peninsula’s farm country.  At the end of the day, we recorded 43.60 miles, at about 3:00 p.m..

Friday morning, we rode 50.63 miles to Kent Narrows, MD, which is just on the East end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  Kent Narrows is a favorite spot for boaters and fishermen and boasts several great waterside pubs and restaurants offering fresh caught seafood.

We began Saturday morning with a call to Kent Narrows Taxi Company, as bicycles are not permitted on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  The driver, an avid Raven’s fan, was very informative and transported many cyclists across the bridge, and after chiding us for being Steeler’s fans, he dropped us right on the marked bicycle route that goes to Annapolis, MD and on to Washington, DC.  Before parting ways, we rhetorically asked the driver how many Super Bowls the Ravens had won, and he drove away grumbling something under his breath.  With respect to bicycle riding, this was easily the most scenic and challenging part of the trip.  However, even with 30+ pounds of cargo, we easily navigated the rolling hills of the Eastern Maryland countryside for the brief 37.46 miles, before connecting with the DC Metro in New Carrolton, MD.  As it turned out, the DC Metro was out of service for track maintenance, one stop past New Carrolton, so we were transferred to a bike rack equipped DC Metro shuttle bus that took us within blocks of the U.S. Capital Building, which was very close to our hotel.  As we checked into the hotel, around 3:30 p.m., we drew a few double takes, as the Washington Court Hotel clientele were obviously not used to guests checking in with their bikes.  As always, the hospitality and food at Dubliners, conveniently around the corner, was excellent on Saturday night.

On Sunday, we took the DC Metro to Catholic University of America, for 9:00 a.m. Mass at the Nation Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, before returning to the Washington Court Hotel and checking out.  Upon checkout, we rode our bikes to the nearby pickup spot for Megabus, as it had been relocated, since our last Megabus trip to DC in December, when we spent the weekend before Christmas touring DC with our wives.  Having almost three hours to kill, before departure time, we decided to ride back to the mall in DC and see what was going on.  As we arrived at Constitution Avenue and Fourth Street, we were stopped by a police blockade, as the “Thunder in DC” motorcycle ride had just gotten underway at 12:00 Noon.  We soon found out that there were about 250,000 motorcycle riding participants who would circle the Mall until 4:00 p.m. raising awareness for POW’s, mainly from the Vietnam War.  After watching the spectacle till about 1:30 p.m., we made our way back to the Megabus stop, to get a place in line.  This is where we found out not all Megabus staff are the same.  The supervisor came over and snapped off Megabus regulations prohibiting bicycles on Megabus, unless disassembled and packaged for shipping.  We asked if he had packing materials, and replied no.  So we related our positive experience in Pittsburgh, and that we were raising money for the Veterans Wheelchair Games and the Sisters of Charity, and he started rubbing his chin.  Here’s where all your prayers come in.  After a brief reconsideration, he said ok, and told us we could have the whole center cargo bay for our bikes, and we didn’t even have to remove the wheels.  So once on our way back to Pittsburgh, we made arrangements with my wife Kathy to pick us up in downtown Pittsburgh, so that we could save time to prepare for work on Monday.

Paul and I thank you for your prayers and support, and especially for your very generous donations to the VA Wheelchair Games and the retired Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.  May God richly bless you and your families.



175th Anniversary Mass Homily

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These words from the sonnet “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus are uniquely identified with the Statue of Liberty and are inscribed on a plaque at the base of the statue.  Since 1886 the lamp of Lady Liberty has been greeting thousands of immigrants who have come to the United States to seek freedom as part of their American Dream.

However, here in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Basilica, the Sanctuary Lamp representing  the Eucharistic presence of Christ among us, has been welcoming pilgrims and immigrants yearning to be free for some two hundred years and this magnificent church has been the refuge for the tired and the poor of every language, nation  and culture. St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is a church of the people. This church nurtured the Irish, Germans, French, and Italian communities as they arrived in this new world.  This magnificent church was the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of New York until 1879 when the new Cathedral on 50th St. and Fifth Avenue was dedicated.  This Basilica was the first church in America named for our patron, St. Patrick.

On December 5th 2010 Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral officially became a basilica of the Catholic Church by order of Pope Benedict. The basilica designation means that the Pope recognize it as a church of special spiritual, historical and architectural significance, and as his own parish church in New York.

Churches are built to remind us who we truly are. They stand across our landscape as pointers to the truth that life is best lived in the conscious presence of a loving God. They help us, in the business of our lives, to retain our focus on God and to learn that God never takes his loving focus away from us. We gather in church to be reminded and strengthened in our most profound identity. As St Paul tells us in 1 Cor. ‘You belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God’.   This is the saving truth of who we really are and where our well-being is to be found. But we come to church not simply to pray, and to be heard, but also to be built into something new. Here we are in the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians ‘being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit’.   We are never visitors in a church. We are not even its owners. But we are part of what it is, what it stands for: its bricks and mortar in our flesh, its beauty and form in our virtue, its praise and liturgy in our lives.

We gather here today, after two hundred years of worship on this site to celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and we are here not just to give thanks for what we know God has done for us in the past, but also and especially to give thanks for the new life God gives us now in the present, and which we know God offers us from this moment, throughout our lives and in generations to come. The God we worship through Jesus Christ is the timeless and eternal God whose one unchanging gift is the gift of constantly changing and growing new life as we move ever closer to God in lives of love and service to God and one another.

In his First Letter St. Peter tells us: “Come and let yourselves be built, as living stones, into a spiritual temple; become a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  All of us gathered here today are that new temple, the community of believers, and the house of prayer for all people. We are built up by faith, as living stones, into the new temple. We are the temple in which God dwells, and where God and humankind are to be reconciled. We are the living stones of the new temple and in the Eucharist we share in Christ’s offering of himself to God on our behalf and through our lives in the world we are to share what we have received from him by living sacrificially among our neighbors.

The 175 year history of the Ancient Order of Hibernians is intimately connected to the history of Old St. Patrick’s Basilica. If it were not for the Irish and the Ancient Order of Hibernians the other historical events of this church may not have been possible. In the 1830’s there was a great deal of anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment. The need to defend the Cathedral against mob violence was not uncommon. The “Know Nothing Party” organized Protestants to march against the Cathedral. Mobs and vigilante groups shouting anti-Catholic epitaphs threatened the Cathedral and vowed to burn the Cathedral to the ground. At this point Archbishop Hughes enlisted the Irish and in particular the Ancient Order of Hibernians to surround the walls of the Cathedral and safeguard the church. At this time Archbishop Hughes wrote to the New York Mayor and told him: “Should one Catholic come to harm, or should one business be molested, we shall turn this city into a second Moscow.”   Although the AOH was able to save the Cathedral, they were not able to prevent the anti-papist mob who stoned the beautiful stained glass windows of both the church and the Bishop’s residence.  For 175 years the Ancient Order of Hibernians has continued to defend the church and its priests during times of both turbulence and peace.

Just as all of us who make up the Body of Christ give life to the bricks, stone, wood and steel of a church, likewise, the Order of Hibernians is more than just the AOH logo on a division building or the AOH emblem on the top of stationery. Just as we are the living and breathing members of the Church so we must give life to our Hibernian virtues of Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity. As members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians when we perform the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in our everyday lives, we are Christ to others.

We are Christ when we protect the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception until the time when our heavenly Father summons us to the Eternal Kingdom. We are Christ to the world when we provide clothing for the homeless, provide meals for the hungry, and work at food banks so that poor families may have some nourishing meals. We are Christ when we support the various Hibernian Charities not only by our material donations but the gift of ourselves.  We are Christ when we fight for fair immigration laws not only for the Irish immigrants but for every immigrant who legally wishes to pursue freedom and the American dream. We are Christ when we support seminarians and novices through project St. Patrick and enable these men and women to pursue their vocations. We are Christ when we provide scholarship funds for deserving students who wish to pursue their academic dreams. We are Christ when we continue to fight for a free and independent Ireland so that perhaps by the centennial of the Easter Rising in 2016 we will have a united free and independent Ireland.

So let us remember that what we come here today to celebrate is not some nostalgic snap shot of the past “good old days,” but to give thanks to God for the new life that Christ gives to us now here in the present.

As Hibernians we are alive, we are grateful for the glorious years of our past, but we must continue to be active in the present and be dynamically committed to the future because years from now we need future Hibernians to look back on us with the same awe with which we have looked back at 175 years of faithful and committed people. Thanks be to God for our parents, grandparents and great grandparents for preserving and bringing our Catholic faith from the Emerald Isle. Thanks be to God for the United States for making possible to practice our Catholic faith in freedom, and thanks be to all of you my Hibernian Brothers and Sisters for being part of this history.

During the next five years may all of us work and pray especially for the unification of Ireland by 2016. In the year 2036 the Ancient Order of Hibernians will gather once again to celebrate the 200 years of its founding, with God’s help may that bicentennial celebration also include the 20th Anniversary of a United Ireland where there is One Island, One Nation with Freedom and Justice for all.