By Ray O’Hanlon
No parade is an island. It’s as true for Staten Island as it is for Manhattan.
This year’s Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a traditional curtain raiser for its bigger Manhattan cousin, is embroiled in a dispute this week over choice — choice of grand marshal and the fact that he is pro-choice on the abortion issue.
It’s perhaps too early to measure the potential fallout from the selection of Jerome X. "Jay" O’Donovan to lead the March 4 parade on the island.
But all the ingredients for a lengthy, bitter row are already in place: A parade, a polarizing issue and even disagreement among individuals who call each other friends.
The choice of O’Donovan has sparked an angry reaction from Msgr. Peter Finn, who, along with Msgr. James Dorney, is co-vicar of Staten Island’s predominantly Catholic population.
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Finn and others are objecting to the choice of O’Donovan, a Democratic City Councilman with eyes on the Staten Island borough presidency, because of the ex-Marine’s pro-choice position.
"We are objecting to the selection of Jay O’Donovan, a friend of mine, as grand marshal. It sends a mixed message," Finn, fresh from the annual Pro-Life march in Washington, D.C., told the Echo Tuesday.
Finn said that the local Richmond County Ancient Order of Hibernians, which runs the parade, was acting contrary to the AOH National Board by selecting a pro-choice grand marshal.
"Jay is free to march in the parade as far as I’m concerned, but being grand marshal is a special honor and makes you more than just a participant," Finn said.
"I’m very disappointed and saddened. The parade is first and foremost a celebration of St. Patrick."
Finn said that instead of attending the parade on March 4, he is now planning to say a Mass for the unborn. No picket of the event is planned and, at this stage, no decision has been made with regard to participation or non-participation of Catholic schools in the march.
Bill Reilly, president of the Richmond County AOH County Board and head organizer of the parade, said that the abortion issue was never considered when O’Donovan was chosen.
"We were honoring him for his service in Vietnam and his service to our community. Msgr. Finn didn’t see fit to speak to me about his position. He just went to the Staten Island Advance," Reilly said in reference to the island’s daily newspaper.
"It’s ironic. I’m pro-life and a pro-life advocate myself. Our district attorney William Murphy is pro-choice and he was a grand marshal," Reilly said.
Reilly, who added that he was "quite peeved" by Finn’s action, said the row is now "something mushrooming that didn’t have to go this far."
Finn, in response to criticism that he had not contacted Reilly before making his views public, said that he had discovered that Reilly had been in the hospital for heart treatment and had communicated his intentions to another Hibernian leader.
Councilman O’Donovan, twice the recipient of a Bronze Star during his tour as a Marine captain in Vietnam, said he is determined to lead the parade.
"It saddens me," he said of the controversy. "But I agree with the Hibernians that the parade is a celebration of our Irish culture and heritage. Being pro-choice is not a litmus test for grand marshal. It’s about record of service to your community, country and Irish heritage."