SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - For many people in Savannah, St. Patrick's Day is a religious holiday celebrating the ministry of someone who helped bring Christianity to Ireland and other parts of the world.
Early on St. Patrick's Day, Mike Kenny will climb the steps Grand Marshals before him have ascended for the signature moment of his tenure as the season's central figure. That will be his second most important stop at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist that morning.
"The mass is going to enhance my experience that day tremendously," Kenny said.
More than 1,000 Savannahians will start St. Patrick's Day with the mass at the Cathedral - many more with a silent prayer or thought of the origins of the celebration.
"We don't call it Patrick's Day. We call it 'Saint' Patrick's Day, so we recognize that he is a Saint and a member of the Catholic Church and the Christian faith," said Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, Catholic Diocese of Savannah.
There is nothing holy about many parts of Savannah's celebration, but for many Catholics, the day is as blessed as it is green - a right, above all things, of faith and family - and in that order.
"That's the reason for the season. It's the Feast of St. Patrick. He taught Christianity to many parts of the world," Kenny said.
"What I'm happy about is we haven't forgotten our origins. We begin the day at the Cathedral with a mass and the celebration of our Christian faith. When we come together at the Cathedral at the beginning of the day, everyone feels welcome, and we like that. We want that to be a significant part of the St. Patrick's Day Celebration in Savannah," Bishop Hartmayer said.
It has been for Kenny for the last 40 years - if only from a distance.
"Actually, the last mass I have attended was 1978 when my dad was Grand Marshal. Since then, I've been in the staging area with the staff or executive board duties have kept me from the mass," Kenny said.
He'll be there this year, feeling he says, just as he did when he walked in with his father 40 years ago.
"Wow. I'm sitting in the front pew, walking down that main aisle, having people looking beautiful, clapping for you, all the well wishes and just make that trip. It's going to be unbelievable for me and my family," Kenny said.
As that mass will be for the many Savannahians sitting behind him and standing together in their faith on St. Patrick's Day morning.