Father Ed Harnett came to St. Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette in 1984, and has made many good friends in the community, but he never had a birthday celebration like the one he had April 30.
That’s when Harnett, who turned 89 years old that day, was saluted with a birthday parade, including vehicles from the Wilmette police and fire departments and about 100 cars.
“It took maybe 15 or 20 minutes for everyone to pass by,” said Father Wayne Watts, pastor of the now-combined Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier Parish.
Watts organized the birthday parade, sending an invitation to parishioners in his daily email April 29 and making sure to leave Harnett and the priests who live with him off the distribution list. Then he arranged with one of the priests to bring Harnett outside at the right moment.
“I was inside talking with one of the other priests, and he said, ‘There’s a big sign for your birthday in the front yard. You’d better come see it,’” said Harnett, now pastor emeritus.
When they stepped outside, the hook-and-ladder truck that was leading the parade started its siren and the parade began.
“It was quite a surprise,” Harnett said. “I was absolutely stunned. It was incredible.”
Watts said the gesture was intended not only to show Harnett how much parishioners loved him, but also to give parishioners something to smile about.
“He’s 89, he’s served our church so well,” Watts said. “Many people are getting a little tired of the home confinement. He’s followed the directions of the home confinement, and I don’t think he’s left the house since mid-March. He’s a great guy and people love him, and I wanted to give people the opportunity to celebrate him.”
Harnett said the rest of his birthday passed quietly.
“Very quiet,” he said in a telephone interview that evening. “We’re like everybody else, keeping our distance and trying to not cause any health problems. It was enough excitement this morning.”
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