BY TOM OSSA
March is Irish Heritage Month, and the great Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Pearl River just came and went on March 17. If you’ve ever been to the parade, you might have seen some of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians marching alongside their male counterparts waving to the crowd.
Some may think that the LAOH is merely an extension of the more publicized Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), or only assist in organizing the parade each year. Yet they are entirely separate entities. But while the parade itself is a perfect opportunity to promote Irish pride and accomplishments, there is so much more to what the Ladies Order accomplishes each year – much of it in light of the organization’s motto: “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.”
The main Ancient Order of Hibernians is the oldest and largest Irish Catholic-based organization in the United States. Established in 1836, their goals have been to promote the Irish Catholic faith, while helping the communities that they live in through charitable giving and volunteer work. The LAOH originally began as a part of the same organization, but in the 1960s began branching off as its own independent entity, with its own Constitution, logo, and separate organizational structure.
In 1963 Rockland County began its LAOH, and presently has three divisions in the county located in Blauvelt, Pearl River and Suffern with a total of approximately 120 members. By the 1980s, a nationally recognized organization had emerged, with a president that was charged with overseeing each LAOH division in the United States.
Officials that manage the operations of the LAOH are different from the men’s AOH – for instance there are differing numbers of appointed and elected officers from the AOH counterpart. And while one of the criteria for membership is to be a wife or mother of an AOH member, other options for membership include simply being of Irish heritage, or being a woman within a Catholic religious order. The overarching goal of promoting Irish History, culture and language is a common thread in much of the charitable works that the LAOH performs throughout the year.
Some of the many charitable works performed by the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians in Rockland County include:
· In the summertime, the LAOH works with People to People to conduct food pantry drives
· Every Thursday, LAOH members visit St. Zita’s Irish Home for Single Ladies, assisting in arts & crafts time with the residents
· Every year, members hold a baby shower for clients Birthright & donate baby items
· This year, Thanksgiving dinners were held for families that were affected by Superstorm Sandy
· Each year, members adopt two families from People to People, and Christmas shop for the household
While many of the efforts are locally based, some recent efforts have had further reach. For example, the members recently worked to alleviate the suffering caused by Superstorm Sandy in other regions of the tri-state area. In November 2012, the LAOH helped load two busloads plus several cars full of supplies for victims of the storm as far-reaching as the Jersey Shore, Far Rockaway, and Long Beach.
The LAOH also offers several financial subsidies for various individuals. Each year they offer a total of $1000 in scholarship money, divided between one grammar school and one high school graduate. The designee is awarded the money after submitting an application to the LAOH, as well as committing to learning more and being tested upon Irish History. Currently the organization is promoting a fundraiser through Lord and Taylor in Paramus, NJ, who have agreed to offer deep discounts up to 50% on items within the coupon book that is being offered. If the LAOH sells 50 booklets, Lord and Taylor will increase the incentives offered to the organization.
Tradition still holds very strongly within the organization. On February 1 each year, the LAOH celebrates the Anniversary of St. Bridget, their patron Saint, which was held this year at Saint Margaret’s Church in Pearl River. And of course, the LAOH helps organize the annual parade in Pearl River, as well as provide transportation for members to travel to the NYC parade. On the day of the event, officials from both the men’s and women’s organizations escort the honorees, Grand Marshal and Battalion Commanders to the parade. They then participate in a special Mass at the Dominican Sisters’ Order in Sparkill, and have a hearty breakfast before heading to their designated parade stations.
Remember to wave hello as the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians marches in the St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17th. To contact the Rockland County LAOH, learn more about membership or scholarships, please send an email to: [email protected].