Shamrocks pay tribute to pastor

By | March 24, 2010

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Emma Van Enkevort, 12, places a shamrock on a wall at St. Mary Church in Appleton. Parishioners have decorated hundreds of shamrocks with messages to their late pastor, Fr. Mike O’Rourke, who passed away Feb. 22. (Dick Meyer | For The Compass)

“It was meant to be a healing bouquet,” said Anne Higgins, parish member. “But we lost that opportunity. (Fr. O’Rourke died on Feb. 22.) So then we thought it was a perfect way to give people a chance to express their feelings.”

And express themselves, people did. Paper shamrocks in all sizes and shades of green have been signed, colored and decorated. Hundreds hang along the walls of the church, 130 feet long on each side.

“I hope you like heaven,” one reads.

“I miss Fr. Mike. He was a good preast,” says another, written in a child’s hand.

“You brought my husband back to the church,” another shamrock proclaims.

Photos from families’ weddings, funerals and anniversaries adorn the shamrocks. Fr. O’Rourke’s face is on many. One drawing, too big for a shamrock, shows Fr. O’Rourke in St. Patrick’s rock band in heaven. “Fr. Mike is playing the fiddle” an arrow on the sketch explains.

“Kids and adults alike have embraced this idea,” said Brian Dresang, parish business manager. “The kids think it’s great and they get to express themselves in a fun way. But the adults have taken them and really made them into masterpieces. They’ve added pictures and designs. There are pictures and Bible verses and things of all different natures. It has been way more then we ever imagined.”

One man, after Mass on March 20, shook his head in amazement at the sight, as young people ran up the aisle, pointing out their shamrocks to friends. “They sure did a lot of work,” he said.

Higgins said the responses remind her of the Scripture readings that say each of us is special to God.

“You can’t comprehend it,” she said, “how one being can have a relationship with every one of us. But Fr. Mike’s life was like that. So many people keep coming forward with stories about how he made them feel special.”

The shamrocks will remain in the church through this week. Then they will be gathered together and put into a scrapbook. Given the number of shamrocks, Higgins admits that it will take more than one book.

A DVD of Fr. O’Rourke’s funeral Mass and a jigsaw puzzle of photos of him, designed by Nancy Woods, liturgy coordinator, for the priest’s 40th jubilee in 2009, are available for parish members. Dresang said that 100 people had requested copies of the puzzle.

“As a friend,” Dresang said, “I knew that he had affected many, many people. But I don’t even think Fr. Mike knew how many people he affected. It gives me a drive to challenge myself to try to affect people on a personal level. His impact was just so huge.”

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