Hibernian scholarship program a proud achievement

The 2019 AOH Scholarship winners, Anna Cernich, Emerson Chirpich, Liam Quinn, Megan Kuckleman, Natalie Rovello and Emma O’Connor, surround Bishop Johnston as the awards ceremony got under way Aug. 8. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — The Padraig Pearse Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians annually awards scholarships to a few students attending Catholic high Schools in the Kansas City area. The criteria for scholarship eligibility includes : Fifty words (maximum) about one Community Activity (not necessarily religious) performed by the student and why; fifty words (max.) about one Religious Activity performed and why; fifty words (max.) about up to five Scholastic and school accomplishments and why they were selected; a list of up to five extracurricular activities or hobbies/special interest, with 50 words or less, an explanation of why one is most important, and a 500 word essay on an Irish topic chosen by the Division’s scholarship committee. The applications and essays are blind-judged, so that the judges don’t know who wrote what.

The scholarships are awarded in early August by the Division and the checks presented to the winners by Bishop James Johnston, Jr. at a celebratory event held in Cristo Rey-KC high school’s cafeteria, which is also Redemptorist parish’s cafeteria. The most recent event on Aug. 8 was an evening of surprises.

John McEvoy, president of the Padraig Pearse Division, announced that, in the past, about 25 high school students applied for the scholarship, which formerly was for $500. This year, 61 students applied for the now $750 scholarship. The scholarships are funded by the Hibernian’s partnership with the Kansas City Irish Fest, and by Hibernian Lenten shrimp dinners, annual golf tournament and, this year, one was in memory of the Hughes Family and one in recognition of Redemptorist Father Richard Quinn. Six winners were selected. As each winner’s name was called, they came forward and read their essay on the topic, “My Favorite Irish Song.”

Anna Cernich, a junior at St. Pius X High School, wrote about “Men of Erin”, written by Ian Byrne and performed by The Elders. She wrote, “I believe the song portrays the most endearing quality of innate Irishness: genuine gratitude for the friends and family that care for us. It inspires me to strive to live a life of fulfillment with my own family and, as the song suggests, ‘live by the lessons they gave.’”

Emerson Chirpich, the John Hughes Scholarship winner and Senior at St. Pius X High School, wrote about the sea shanty “Drunken Sailor”, performed by the Irish Rovers. She wrote, ”The reason [it] is my favorite song is because of my father. … Whenever I hear the song, I think of my father and the love he has for me. At the same time, I am realizing that sharing laughter and love is an important part of the culture of Ireland. Irish music is created to entice people to sing and dance with their friends and family, and to create lifelong bonds and friendships while doing do.”

St. James Academy freshman Liam Quinn wrote about Ian Byrne’s “Men of Erin” from a different perspective, as representing his own life. He wrote that the song gave “multiple examples of maturity, friends and faith in God. … “Men of Erin” also takes me back to simpler times … before my mom got sick with cancer. … The song quotes, ‘please do not cry my mother as you sit by the hearth, I will dance your memories with joy in my heart.” He said the diagnosis took a toll on his family. “… It is very difficult to watch, our mother, the heart and soul of our family, be in such pain and agony.” Liam wrote about the “Men of Erin” in his own family doing what needed doing, helping her, distracting her with laughter, sympathizing with her and taking on role she could no longer do. “I feel that “Men of Erin” is a great representation on my life from being very connected to the Irish culture all the way to helping me cope with the various struggles of life.”

Megan Kuckleman, winner of the Father Richard Quinn scholarship and St. James Academy senior, wrote about “The Old Irish Blessing”, relating the familiar words, “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand,” to her own life. She said, “Imagining sitting in the power of God’s hands is so comforting. … “The Old Irish Blessing” has been an anthem for me since I was a kid. The words give me comfort when I feel the sun on my skin, drive to go with the wind, and strength to keep going when I can’t feel the rain.”

St. Teresa’s Academy junior Natalie Rovello wrote her essay about “Galway Bay”. She wrote that the words “create a perfect portrait of Ireland and its people.” An old version begins with “Sure, it’s maybe someday I’ll go back to Ireland.” Natalie wrote, “… The first person makes this an immigrant song and deepens the lyrics to follow. The first half of “Galway Bay” resonates with Irish immigrants, … It is a lament for what was left behind. But the second half is triumphant. It first tells the story of the Irish people at the hands of the English. The undying hope of the Irish people is told in the song, with a bit of traditional Irish humor. The English ‘might as well go chasing after moonbeams/or to light a penny candle from a star.’ Irish culture may have been demonized and put to scorn, but it still exists despite every hardship.“

The heroine in the song “was resilient in the face of hardship. She loved life — and all its ups and downs — to the fullest. She had faith that God held her in the palm of His hand. She was aware of and respected her heritage. She embodied the Irish spirit and all I wish to be.”

It was time for a special surprise. Redemptorist Father Gary Ziuraitis, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) parish, gave some background on the final scholarship. Per the wishes of the Lueckenhoff family, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has established the Will Lueckenhoff Memorial Scholastic Scholarship for candidates attending or wishing to attend St. Michael the Archangel Catholic High School in Lee’s Summit, in memory of William G. Lueckenhoff, 1954-2018. Funded by the Lueckenhoff family and administered by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the scholarship is for $3,000. The Lueckenhoff family plans to keep the scholarship funded for a long time in their late husband, father and grandfather, brother and uncle’s memory. The first winner of the Will Lueckenhoff Memorial Scholarship was Emma O’Connor, a senior at St. Michael the Archangel.

Emma wrote about “Wild Rover”, the words of which she described as an important part of the Irish heritage. The song’s tale is about a roaming Irishman, away from Ireland for many years spending his money on whiskey and beer. After his days of roaming he returns home to make peace with his parents and settle down, reminiscent of the story of the Prodigal Son. Emma wrote, “It is a reminder that even though we may stray, we are able to turn our lives back around and ask for forgiveness just as the Irish man and the Prodigal Son. The deeper meaning behind this song reflects Christ and the unconditional love we receive from him every day.

She concluded, “… I hope to continue playing and listening to Irish music to remember where I came from and the reason behind the songs, along with the memories lived through them. … The Irish songs that I grew up with will never be forgotten and the life lessons taught through them will forever be remembered.

The scholarship recipients and their families all posed for pictures with Bishop Johnston and John McEvoy of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

And now to go listen to “Wild Rover”, “Galway Bay”, “Men of Erin”, “Drunken Sailor”, and “The Old Irish Blessing” and remember my Irish heritage!


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October 31, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph