After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon returned to its full glory at Terrace in the Park on Wednesday, March 16.
Hundreds of business and community leaders celebrated not only Irish American heritage, but also the progress made in the fight to end the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had the city — and the world — in its grips for two years.
Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, described the past two years as “hell on Earth,” ceremoniously tossed his face mask into a wastebasket and reminded everyone that life is short.
“Please take a moment to think about all those we’ve lost to COVID over the last two years,” Grech said. “Please keep in your heart and your minds the brave men and women of our armed forces throughout the world protecting us. We also mourn and appreciate the daily courage and bravery of the men and women of the NYPD, especially officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora.”
Danasia Davis opened the luncheon with a rendition of the National Anthem, followed by the benediction of Rev. James Kuroly, rector and president of Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary.
Kuroly recalled that his Italian mother would cook corned beef, cabbage and Irish soda bread, served with a side of pasta, on St. Patrick’s Day.
“She would say as she was cooking, ‘On St. Patrick’s Day, we are all Irish,'” the reverend said. “What she was trying to teach me at a young age is that we are all sons and daughters of God. So St. Patrick’s Day is a reminder that we are all one.”
His prayer — which included the people of Ukraine and the city’s first responders — was followed by the Presentation of Colors by the Second Battalion 25th Marines and a performance by the NYPD Emerald Society Pipes & Drums.
Keynote speaker NYPD Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell was supposed to be the recipient of the Public Service Award — an honor she respectfully and humbly declined in her speech.
“It’s not because I’m not Irish, but because I’m famous for my exits,” the 45th NYC police commissioner joked. She explained that her service had only just begun and would dedicate the award to the NYPD Emerald Society Pipes & Drums and all members of the NYPD.
The city’s first female police commissioner explained that the NYPD Emerald Society Pipes & Drums were the embodiment of service as the NYPD has had to endure many tragedies and challenges since the beginning of the year.
“I have heard the moving, consoling sounds of the NYPD Emerald Society Pipes & Drums over cries of grief and feelings of hopelessness far too often,” Sewell said, referring to the funerals of NYPD Detectives Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera, who were killed in the line of duty last January. “No matter the nationality of the officer or the circumstances of the loss. In your own grief, their melodies comfort the families and every member of one of the most diverse police departments in the world during unimaginable times.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards also remembered the thousands of lives lost to the pandemic, but pointed out that there was also hope because Queens was not only the first county in New York with 1 million vaccinations, but also the most diverse county.
“On a day like this, it is great to be able to celebrate the contributions of Irish American neighbors,” Richards said. “The Irish community has been a vibrant part of our borough; it has played a key role in our culture.”
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams recalled that the last time the St. Patrick’s Day luncheon was held was right before the city shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Finally, we get to see each other in person again to truly, truly celebrate this momentous occasion,” the first African American council speaker said. “This annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon is always special because we get to celebrate Irish heritage and culture. And of course, there’s no greater place to do that than right here in Queens.”
James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, received the St. Patrick’s Irish American of the Year Award.
The first-generation Irish American who grew up in Elmhurst was taught by his dad to love the Mets and hate the Yankees.
“As countless as countless immigrants from around the world choose to do every year, my parents chose these as their home as a place to raise their children. As a place to stake their claim to the American dream to provide a better life for themselves and their children,” Whelan said. “I’m very proud to be Irish. I’m very proud to be the offspring of immigrants, and I’m very proud to be a citizen of this great borough of Queens.”