ELMHURST – An Elmhurst native has risen to the prestigious role of queen of this year's Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Mary Kate Manion, who now lives in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, graduated from Immaculate Conception Grade School in 2005 and IC Catholic Prep in 2009. Manion was homecoming queen of her IC Catholic Prep graduating class of about 45 students.
She recently had a chance to visit the schools, see some of her former teachers, meet some students and give a speech at an assembly.
"And I said I wish I could say that it's nice being back in my hometown, but I really am there every other week. ... My roots are in Elmhurst. They always have been," Manion said in a phone interview March 6.
Manion's immediate family lives right next door to her aunt and uncle, who, in turn, live right next door to her grandparents – all in a row.
"So family's really important to me. ... One of my favorite pastimes is being able to be so close to cousins and my grandparents and have Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter all on that block," she said.
Manion is a third-generation Irish-American. Her father's family hails from Galway, and her mom's family is originally from Mayo. Her parents named her "Mary Kate" after the character Mary Kate Danaher of the movie "The Quiet Man."
Manion's father encouraged her to apply to be queen in her first and second times of applying, saying her aunt tried out when she was younger. Manion said in order to be queen, women have to be between the ages of 18 and 28, unmarried and of Irish descent.
Manion tried out for the first time when she was 18. She said she didn't make it far "at all," getting cut in the first round.
"All these women are so accomplished and whatnot, so I mean coming in at 18 is really intimidating for me," she said.
After she graduated from St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, her dad encouraged her to try again. She made it to the final round before being cut.
This year, she told herself she wanted to win.
"I want to show Chicago that I'm a great candidate to be the St. Patrick's Day queen," she said. "I love my Irish heritage, and I want to be a good representation of that."
And she won.
"I'm still smiling talking about it now because it was just the greatest shock in my life," Manion said.
Surrounded by family, she got the news she was selected from among the 60 women in this year's competition.
"Honestly, I cried," she said with a chuckle.
Manion added she is a first-year board member at Aunt Martha's, a community health center nonprofit, and wanted to be an advocate for the organization and the people they serve.
"I'm really proud that I'm on this platform so I can advocate for Aunt Martha's Health and Wellness," she said.
As queen, she also gets to shoot a puck at a Chicago Blackhawks game, throw the first pitch at a Chicago White Sox game and receive a trip to Ireland.
"I'm excited to go there and be able to see my roots and see where my family's from and get to know my heritage even better because I've never been able to experience that," Manion said.
If you go
WHAT: St. Patrick's Day Parade
WHEN: noon March 17
WHERE: Columbus Drive from Balbo Street to Monroe Street in Chicago