The Roots of the West Orange Parade can be traced back 65 years ago to two organizations that are still involved today. These Organizations are the Irish-American Society of the Oranges and the Frank O’Hara Association. These organizations would march south along the west side of Main St. from Our Lady of Lourdes to the present site of the old A&P parking lot. Upon reaching there, they would board buses and proceed to the Newark Parade. In 1974 a permit was obtained from the Police dept. to expand the Parade. In that year, the Parade, following its expanded route, proceeded to Township Hall. It should be noted that in that year the Parade occupied the full width of Main Street. It was also during this time that the Parade was dedicated to Archbishop Thomas A. Boland, and that a reviewing stand was arranged at the West Orange Community house. The Parade sadly lost Archbishop Boland in March of 1979. The Archbishop’s last public appearance was fittingly at the Parade he admired so much, just five days prior to his death.
In 1976 the Parade Committee was formed and officially incorporated in 1977. This initiative was led by the first Parade Chairman Patrick J. Melvin. It was through Pat’s vision that the modern Parade was born. Pat sadly passed in 1996 one day after his beloved Parade went up the street again; he remained an officer of the committee till the day of his passing. The formation of the Parade Committee expanded the financial as well as the physical base of the Parade. The first formalized West Orange Parade was held in the bicentennial year of 1976. The Parade has grown exponentially from its modest beginnings through the continued dedication of the committee. The Committee today is comprised of many children and grandchildren of that “beginning” generation. The Parade has now become the preeminent Parade in the state as few can match its unique combination of dignity, class and size. The Parade attracts thousands of marchers, including Irish-American groups in the area in addition to fraternal, community and school groups. A very unique tradition of this Parade is the fact that all participants are encouraged to attend mass together as a prelude to the Parade. The Parade Mass has become a beautiful part of the day as the marchers are led in by the Shillelagh Pipe Band. The mass gives the marchers pause to remember the unique intertwined nature faith plays in Irish culture and how St. Patrick brought us this spiritual gift. Due to its appeal, the location of the Parade Mass is rotated yearly, involving the Parishes of Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of the Valley, Our Lady of the Lake, St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of the Lake, Verona.
The Parade’s other tradition is its annual investiture ceremony. This event is the social highlight of the St. Patrick’s Day season. This is the official swearing in ceremony of the Parade’s Grand Marshal and Deputy Grand Marshals. The piping in and announcing all the former parade honorees from previous years who continue to return to support the Parade highlights the event. The newest honorees are presented with their sashes that day and formerly introduced as part of the “Parade family.” The Parade continues to grow in size and respect as witnessed by larger turnouts of marchers, spectators, and the attendance of U.S. Senators, Governors, Congressman, and other elected officials. It has grown because of the family-atmosphere that has been provided and the family traditions it has fostered. New Jersey’s “Family Parade” will continue to be successful because of the refined way in which it allows Irish-Americans to demonstrate their pride in their heritage and culture in a dignified forum.
The Committee has been an innovator in improving the Parade in so many ways. The advent of flags, banners, posters, websites, pins, corporate sponsorships. etc. has constantly evolved to the point where the Parade has a unique look and feel that may be imitated but cannot be duplicated. The Parade has taken pride in honoring men and women from all walks of life. The Irish have always been proud of being both Americans and of Irish ancestry. They have been among the most patriotic immigrants this country has ever witnessed, winning more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group. Even George Washington recognized this fact by having a hand in the formation of the first parade in New York which is older than the country itself and is the biggest in the world today.
The West Orange Parade has been a social innovator in having the first woman Grand Marshal and first woman Chairman of any parade in the state. The Parade Committee today continues to be progressive with a relatively young committee which features women in many of the leadership roles. Throughout the history of The Parade there have been many who have contributed to its success and ensuring the continuation of a fine tradition in our community. While there are many who have gone before, The Parade Committee has chosen to remember certain individuals who have touched the hearts of many in a very special way. In 2016 we add the name Brendan P. Tevlin under the names of Archbishop Boland and Patrick J. Melvin. These exceptional gentlemen had a true dedication to the Spirit of St. Patrick and represented the qualities of faith and pride that are integral to the continued success of The Parade.
updated March 2016