Cardinal Cupich made Catholics across the archdiocese happy on March 6 when he issued a “general dispensation” from abstaining from meat on St. Patrick’s Day, which this year falls on a Friday during Lent. “Instead, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago who choose to make use of this general dispensation are asked to substitute another form of penance for the Lenten Friday abstinence,” a note to priests said. In offering the dispensation, Cardinal Cupich joined several bishops from around the country offering the same. The Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day many of those grateful Catholics in Chicago will be attending or taking part in the annual South Side Irish Parade on March 12. Its roots are firmly planted in St. Cajetan Parish, and numerous Catholic parishes, schools and organizations walk in the parade and have floats. The official parade route follows Western Avenue from 103rd Street to 115th Street. Bob Keeley from St. Barnabas Parish, 10134 S. Longwood Drive, has been walking in the parade with the men’s group for so long he can’t remember when he started. “I’ve walked in the parade during years where there were two, three or 600 hundred at the most on every block. And then I’ve walked in the parade when I’m sure there was 100,000 people on the blocks,” Keeley said. He has fond memories of the men’s group doing playful things like featuring cars that made funny noises and carrying signs that teased the other parishes in the parade. How many people walk with St. Barnabas’ group depends upon the weather. They have a banner they carry each year that’s about 18 feet long and 3 feet tall. “We carry it along with us and do the famous St. Barnabas spin move, which is one of the persons in the middle stands still and turns around and then the right end of the banner spins backwards in a full 360. The left end moves forward and then we do a very, very accentuated bow and pretend like we’ve just discovered uranium.” Keeley has a large green hat that he wears in the parade that sticks up high off his head. Underneath it is a tiny green hat. “After we do our exaggerated bow I will bow and take my hat off and what happens is the audience sees the little tiny hat and they laugh,” he said. “It’s the dumbest joke in the book but, hey, it’s St. Patrick’s Day.” St. Germaine Parish in Oak Lawn has a float every year and makes it a time to bring all of the parish together for some fun. A float company provides the float Patrick Fox is a native of Ireland and his children all went to St. Germaine School. He is a longtime parish volunteer and at one point he suggested the parish have a float in the parade. That was 10 years ago and they’ve participated ever since, except for the two years when the parade was canceled. They ask all of the parish organizations to help support the expenses of being in the parade — from renting the float to renting the buses that take people to and from the parade. “We get everybody involved. My goal was to get the young kids involved, get them participating,” Fox said. The kids from the school and religious education programs all participate. “It’s not just a school float it’s a church float,” he said. “We’re not just a school or the CCD. We’re a parish. We’re a community.” Around 90 kids and their parents walk each year depending on the weather. Kids ride on the floats with the parents walking on all sides for safety. “It’s a sense of community,” Fox said. “Growing up in Ireland there were always parades.” Catholic News Service contributed to this story.