Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mary's Birthday Party

Mary’s Birthday Party, 2003

I’m not Catholic, so when a neighbor invited us to "Mary’s Birthday Party," it didn't occur to me that we were going to anything but a party for another of our neighbors, an elderly widow whose name happens to be Mary. We didn’t really know Mary well, and I was a little confused when another neighbor who was invited mentioned that there might be a “blessing of the fleet” involved. But being a nice guy and appreciating the kindness of our neighbors, I threw on a jacket, grabbed the camera and walked down the lane to the party.

Turns out this was a big thing. Almost a hundred people had arrived before me. The Mary in question was not our elderly neighbor but, rather, THE Mary, the one Catholics spend a lot of time thinking about. And the “blessing of the fleet” part? Well, that turned out to be a misunderstanding.

About a 30 minutes before the ceremony was to begin, out on the Lynnhaven River behind the house a line of boats came into view. A reproduction harbor tugboat led the way, a statue of Mary perched atop her wheelhouse. The parish priest stood at the bow, his robes flowing in the cool October breeze. A dozen or so other boats carrying the faithful trailed not far behind.

Upon arriving, the priest was the first to disembark, leaving the heavy lifting to a cadre of aging Knights of Columbus. When everyone had assembled on land, the statue of Mary was carried from the boat to a pedestal on the lawn.

A worship service was held on a rise in the land overlooking the river. The theme of the priest’s homily was "Jesus was a Feminist!!" (Emphasis the priest’s.) Hymns were sung that you might have heard in the Sister Act movies, only they didn’t sing the Whoopi Goldberg versions. Parts of them were sung in Latin.

Some of my pictures from Mary's Birthday Party were selected to appear in the monthly Catholic state newspaper. Unfortunately, Hurricane Isabelle occurred before they could run. The next month the newspaper was still occupied by more serious issues than pictures from a birthday party quickly receding into memory.


  1. I'll bet that thing is heavy! (Did they steal it from someone's garden for this auspicious occasion?) I always hoped I would see one of these ceremonies while I was in Italy, but never did. Lots of Mary memorabilia, and statue insets on exteriors of walls and houses, mind you, but no processions while I was there. I was hoping maybe I'd at least get to fashion a crown of flowers or something. Great photo!

  2. I was raised Catholic and my mother made us go to Catholic schools. She wasn't a real believer in Catholic school education (although she was raised Catholic and even went to an all-girl Catholic college and still talks about how mean Sister Bonaventure was) but she did not like the idea of us going to public schools in south Georgia. (Nevermind we lived on a resort island.) I think she wanted her money back the day we came home from first grade religion class talking about "Baby Sleezus".