Two groups that play an important role in supporting students in Catholic elementary schools on the South Side will be honored during the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 15.

“Thankful for Catholic Elementary School Teachers,” comprised of 16 local schools, will serve as the grand marshal, and the Tom Hopkins Foundation, a charity that donates funds to Catholic schools and is named in memory of a Morgan Park resident, will be the honoree.

Representatives of the groups were introduced at St. Cajetan Elementary School on Feb. 11, and they said they are humbled to lead the parade.

“Our work is grounded in traditions of faith, academic excellence and service to others,” said St. Cajetan third-grade teacher Meghan Coleman. “And, our goal is to prepare all students to be creative, compassionate and selfless leaders our world needs them to be. This work is more than a job to us—it is a calling.

“At a time when screens and social media are dominating the lives of our children, we are more committed than ever to immersing them in literature, science and the arts, and in making sure faith and integrity remain the core of who they are. The job of a Catholic school teacher requires a lot of sacrifice, but the opportunity we have to work in such thriving school communities is its own reward.”

Coleman was surrounded by fellow teachers and administrators from the Catholic elementary schools that are included as grand marshal: St. Cajetan, Christ the King, Most Holy Redeemer, Queen of Martyrs, St. Barnabas, St. Bede the Venerable, St. Benedict, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Christina, St. Ethelreda, St. Gerald, St. Germaine, St. John Fisher, St. Linus, St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Walter.

They will lead a parade that was first held in 1979 and now includes over 100 entries and thousands of spectators along Western Avenue from 103rd to 115th streets.

The parish of St. Cajetan Roman Catholic Church is the birthplace of the South Side Irish parade, as children led the first parade marching around the 10900 blocks of Washtenaw and Talman avenues 41 years ago.

Coleman said she loves being part of the parish.

“I am constantly amazed at the way this community supports and cares for one another,” she said, “both in times of need and in times of celebration.”

The Tom Hopkins Foundation is named after the man known as “Papa Hops,” who was dedicated to supporting local youth sports activities.

After Hopkins died of cancer in 2014 at age 58, his children, Tommy, Martin, Liam and Annie, created the foundation. They have donated money to over 30 families battling cancer, as well as to the athletic departments of more than 10 Catholic elementary schools. The Hopkins Foundation also purchased a scoreboard to install at Kennedy Park for youth and adult athletics.

The foundation’s signature event is the Papa Hops 16-inch Softball Tournament, held every summer. The 32-team competition, considered one of the premier softball tournaments in the Chicago area, takes place on a Friday at Beverly, Kennedy and Mt. Greenwood parks. The championship is held under the lights at Kennedy Park, with thousands of people attending. Throwing out the first pitch as the crowd roars are members of families who are in the process of battling cancer.

Liam Hopkins—a St. Cajetan graduate—said his father lived each day to the fullest, and the softball tournament keeps his spirit alive.

The parade has been a staple in the family’s life.

“Kicking the 2020 parade off with the grand marshal has a special meaning to us in our mission. It’s a way for us to thank our community and the people who support and have supported the Tom Hopkins Foundation and the Papa Hops 16-inch Softball Tournament,” Hopkins said. “Growing up in this parish and attending the parade with our family every year on Western Avenue are memories made that will stay with us forever. It’s a tradition that was built off family, faith and community, a day to not only celebrate our Irish heritage, but also to come to celebrate the many organizations, businesses and schools that truly make our community the best.”

Parade Committee Chairman Jim Smith said its members were unanimous in their selection of the grand marshal.

He said both organizations are a perfect fit to lead the parade.

“Both our grand marshal and honoree are deeply committed to supporting our community and the people within it,” Smith said, “which is a core component of the South Side Irish Parade.”

The annual pre-parade fundraiser will be held on Saturday, Feb. 22, from 6 to 11 p.m., at 115 Bourbon Street, 3359 W. 115th St., in Merrionette Park. Highlights will include live music and the announcement of the 2020 parade queen.

For more information on the Tom Hopkins Foundation, visit the website at papahops.org.

For more information on the parade, visit the website at southsideirishparade.org.