March 17 is a special feast day for parishioners of St. Patrick in Owego, whose church is named for the patron saint of Ireland.
Yet going back a few weeks, the Tioga County worship site could just as easily have been dubbed St. Valentine — thanks to not one, but a trio of popular Valentine’s Day events that took place there.
St. Patrick’s church hall was the site of a mother/son dance on the afternoon of Feb. 8, followed by a father/daughter dance in the evening. Three days later, a late-morning Mass took place in St. Patrick Church to honor couples who have been married 50 years or more. Those participants were then treated to lunch back in the church hall.
All in all, there were lots of warm Valentine’s hearts coming together to help melt away the winter chill. According to Lisa Salamida, administrative assistant for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes, the mother/son dance drew 27 boys and 22 moms; the father/daughter celebration attracted 68 girls and 49 dads; and the anniversary event brought together 27 senior couples.
Kicking festivities off on Feb. 8 were parent-child combinations of all ages for the two dances. Salamida noted that several parents were accompanied by more than one child, with Rae Anne Miller’s four sons providing the largest entourage. All the mother/son and father/daughter participants were treated to a variety of snacks, games and dance tunes, with favorites such as “YMCA,” “Macarena,” and limbo and train dances mixed in with slow songs.
“It was very fancy; people were formally dressed. A lot of the girls came in with wrist corsages. You could tell their fathers had gone all out,” said Salamida, who coordinated the dances and anniversary event along with Diane Snyder-Bell, business manager for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick.
Both dances date back a number of years to when they were fundraisers for the former St. Patrick School. Although the school closed in 2015, parish staff and volunteers stepped forward to maintain the yearly dances, which now serve as parish fundraisers and draw folks from the general community as well as those from Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick.
“I think it’s the (children’s) one-on-one time with their parent,” Salamida said in explaining the appeal of the dances. “They feel special for the day.”
Meanwhile, the senior Mass and luncheon has a nearly 20-year history. It originated at St. John the Evangelist in Newark Valley and the former St. Francis of Assisi in Catatonk through the efforts of Betty D’Arcy, who served as pastoral associate for those churches at the time. The gathering grew into an annual affair, eventually moving to St. Patrick and expanding participation to include all the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick churches — St. Patrick and St. John the Evangelist along with St. Margaret Mary in Apalachin and St. James in Waverly.
“We’ve been doing this quite a long time,” said Al Gillow, who, along with his wife, Flo, have attended St. John the Evangelist for more than 50 years.
This year’s luncheon was highlighted by a full meal featuring chicken and biscuits. Parish staff members spent the entire morning cooking and setting up, and children helped with the serving.
Al Gillow said he originally became connected with the anniversary event because he and his wife provided music for it — even though the couple had been married “only” 45 years or so when they started.
“We weren’t qualified yet, but they invited us to come to the dinner anyway,” he quipped. The Gillows have continued attending each year after reaching their 50th anniversary; in fact, their appearance on Feb. 13 came a few months in advance of their 65th anniversary this June 25.
“There’s something special about celebrating that many years,” Flo Gillow remarked. “I think part of it has to do with our exposure to Marriage Encounter back in the 1970s. You want to celebrate (a long marriage), and you want to be the example.”
The anniversary liturgy and luncheon were actually attended by a couple whose nuptials occurred even longer ago than the Gillows’: Ronald and Brenda Dougherty, married for 69 years. Al Gillow said that during the Mass, the celebrant, Father Daniel L. White — who serves as parochial vicar of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick — asked which couple has been married the longest, and he received a quick answer.
“We all knew in advance. A bunch of people just pointed their fingers toward (the Doughertys),” Al Gillow said.