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St. Patrick's Day is celebrated at Immaculate Conception Church dinner

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St. Patrick's Day is still a week away, but parishioners at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Leavenworth, Kan. celebrated early at the 14th annual St. Patrick's Day Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner on Sunday, March 9, 2014.

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Miege Hall at Immaculate Conception Church was festively decorated with shamrocks, leprechauns, rainbows and the colors of Ireland as parishioners gathered for the dinner.

Corned beef and cabbage were the stars of the day at the dinner. Potatoes, carrots, Irish soda bread and a variety of green-tinted desserts added to the festive air.

The Atkins family was well-represented at the dinner. My parents, Bob and Eunice Atkins, became parishioners at Immaculate Conception in 1967 and raised their eight children in the parish.

Half of the couple's children and several grandchildren joined them on Sunday at the dinner. Sister Kathy Atkins, Debbie Reilly and Pat Atkins are also parishioners at Immaculate Conception.

Pat's wife, Denise, was working and missed the dinner this year, but is normally in attendance at the dinner. I was delighted to join my parents and siblings for this event while on a visit from Virginia.

Like my siblings, Immaculate Conception was a big part of my life when I was growing up. People may say you can't go home again. As someone who goes home again several times each year, I'd have to disagree.

Fr. David McEvoy, pastor of Immaculate Conception, was on hand at the dinner, escorting his mother, Frances, to look at the silent auction items for sale.

As Irish music played quietly in the background, parishioners savored their meals while chatting with one another. Some people wandered from table to table to speak with friends.

I spoke with my brother Pat's kids, who all volunteered at the dinner, about what they like most about the annual St. Patrick's Day Dinner.

Zach Atkins said, "I really like the corned beef." His younger brother Tom said, "The cabbage is great. The food is fun and I like working at the dinner."

Sister Maddie said, "All the family that was there," while Katie and Marcus, the two youngest in the family agreed, "Dessert." Their dad Pat said, "It's all about the food," and Denise added, "I like seeing my kids help everybody."

The history of Immaculate Conception is rich with German and Irish tradition. Immaculate Conception Parish was founded Aug. 15, 1855, by Bishop John Baptist Miege in Leavenworth, the first city of the new Kansas Territory.

Miege began construction on the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the first Cathedral west of the Mississippi, in 1864. On Dec. 30, 1961, the Old Cathedral was destroyed by an early morning blaze.

The current Immaculate Conception Church was rebuilt on the site of the Old Cathedral and dedicated on May 31, 1964.

Miege founded St. Joseph Parish on Sept. 5, 1858, to serve the German immigrant community in the Kansas Territory. The first church was dedicated on July 10, 1859.

In 1864, St. Joseph became the first permanent foundation of the Carmelites in the United States. The Carmelite Order and St. Joseph Church celebrates the Order's 150th anniversary in the U.S. in 2014.

In 1981, the Carmelite Order took over Immaculate Conception Church and the two parishes underwent official canonical union on July 1, 2008.

Parishioners of the two churches have become one family in Christ. The family atmosphere is on display at events at both churches, where Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph families work side by side from start to finish.

After the St. Patrick's Day festivities ended, many hands made light work of the cleanup. Parishioners look forward to the 13th annual Germanfest at St. Joseph in June.

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