HAVERFORD — When the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association issued the official statement on Tuesday announcing the 2020 Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade and all related events on Sunday would be cancelled “out of general concern for the well-being of everyone,” one local family quickly restructured its St. Patrick’s Day weekend celebratory events. The wearing of the green must go on!
Although they were part of the association’s decision to cancel Sunday’s parade, based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s guidelines to contain the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, Havertown residents Michael J. Bradley Jr. and his son Colin Bradley certainly must be among the most deeply disappointed participants, after having spent countless hours in preparation for what would have been the 250th Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Michael was set to be the grand marshal of this year’s parade. After his father was voted in as grand marshal in November, Colin, 26, stepped into his father’s longtime role as parade director for the very first time.
“I'm totally at peace with the decision of our board to cancel,” Michael said on Tuesday, following the official announcement. “I wanted us to control the story, not the city. They would have pulled the rug in the next 48 hours anyway. One case (of coronavirus) will go to 20 and will go to 50 by Friday. If three people are sick now, and go to parade, the headlines will be ‘they got sick at the parade.’ We might never recover from that narrative … the risk was not worth the reward going forward. I also am cognizant of the fact that we wanted to save people money who were flying here from Ireland, Oregon, Minnesota and New York and other places as well.”
Colin echoed his father’s sentiments.
“I'm disappointed we won't be marching on Sunday, but the right choice was made,” the new parade director commented. “I look forward to celebrating the 250th parade next year on March 14, 2021.”
Michael Bradley lives and breathes all things Irish. Married for 30 years to wife Linda, a native of Upper Darby, it was only a matter of time until he made it to the grand marshal seat of the greenest parade in the city.
A native of Delaware County, Michael lives his life as the embodiment of what was to be the theme of this year’s parade: “Faith, Family, Friendship and Heritage.”
He grew up in Drexel Hill, attending St. Charles Borromeo Elementary School and Monsignor Bonner High School. His parents moved to Wallingford when he was a junior and he graduated from Strath Haven High School. He went onto Penn State Brandywine in 1974, and then onto the main campus where he graduated in 1978 with a degree in marketing and management.
Just like Michael is all things Irish, he is also all things Penn State. The 1978 alumnus went on to serve on Penn State Brandywine’s advisory board for thirty years and inspire his six siblings, two sons, and multiple nieces and nephews — 20 family members in all — to follow in his Nittany Lion paw prints by graduating from the university or attending there currently.
Today, Michael, 63, is a successful businessman, overseeing the operation of M.J. Bradley Co. Inc. in Aston, founded by his father Mickey and mother Bernadette. The company installs epoxy flooring in large venues such as research and educational institutions and stadiums.
Between running his company and directing the parade, Michael would seem to have his hands quite full, but he’s involved in several other notable ventures. A current member of St. Pius X parish in Broomall, Michael has assumed an important leadership position in efforts to keep open and improve the quality of Delaware County’s Catholic schools. The grand marshal says of all the work that he does, he’s proudest of his involvement with Catholic schools. He’s chairman of the board for Delaware County’s archdiocesan grade schools and serves on the Cardinal O’Hara High School board.
Michael is also the director of the annual summer Irish festival on Penn’s Landing and has served on the board of Philadelphia’s Irish Memorial at Front and Chestnut in Philadelphia’s Olde City section.
Michael says his love affair with the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade began in utero in 1956 when his pregnant mother attended the parade as a spectator to see his father marching with Bishop Shanahan Catholic Club. He developed an early yen to get involved in the parade festivities and in the 1980s, knowing no one, he scored a volunteer job as a parade marshal. He enjoyed it so much, he went back every year, eventually becoming the assistant to the then parade director James Cawley Sr. In 2002, Michael stepped capably into the role of director, where he remained until this past November.
The parade changed a lot through the years he has been involved, with many changes coming from technology. In addition to working with a team of many others to tightly organize every detail of the parade so it runs smoothly and time-efficiently for television stations to broadcast, Michael spearheaded an effort to apply computer technology to the organization of the parade.
Also over time, organization of the parade became more complex. Details must be coordinated with city and state officials, as well as Homeland Security and the National Park system, Michael stated. After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, security tightened at all public events, including Philadelphia’s parades.
“In the past decade, security has went into the stratosphere,” Michael said, with his voice gaining a more serious tone. “In the 1980s, we dealt strictly with the Philadelphia Police Department. For this year, we had to get 30 security agencies on board in addition to the police and Homeland Security, from SEPTA police to the CIA because international dignitaries were scheduled to attend.”
The size and budget have also changed. Michael said many more people these days have a passion for their heritage and embrace it.
“The parade has at least tripled in size in the last 20 or so years and the budget is about five times what it was,” Michael stated. “We had to raise $100,000 in the past eight weeks. The pressure really gets intense as the March date draws closer.”
When asked why the fundraising isn’t spread more evenly throughout the year and why most of it is done in the eight weeks prior to the parade, Michael laughed and responded, “How many people do you think are doing their Christmas shopping now? Just like people need to be in the Christmas spirit to start shopping, we wait until this time of year when everyone gets in the Irish spirit!”
Bradley shares the credit for the success of each year’s parade with his wife and the 26 members of the parade board and many participating organizations, who all work hard behind the scenes to make it happen. He was really looking forward to being the grand marshal because, he said, it would have been the very first time he was actually in the parade and not on the sidelines directing it. He is so appreciative of being chosen grand marshal, that he invited all of the former grand marshals, including last year’s grand marshal Sean McMenamin and the 2017 grand marshal Barney Boyce to march with him.
“Barney is a Delco resident too,” Michael winked, exhibiting his Delco pride. “To have two grand marshals from Delaware County — now that’s special!”
Barney Boyce’s daughter, Karen Boyce McCollum,, who was supposed to sing the National Anthem of Ireland during Mass preceding the parade, said her family became close to the Bradleys because they all grew up together in St. Laurence parish.
“The best part of being involved in the parade are the relationships you form with other people who share your heritage,” McCollum, a resident of Broomall, explained. “The parade is a generational thing in my family, just like the Bradleys, with all ages involved in some way. My family is so fortunate to have formed such a close friendship with the Bradleys. We are so happy for them.”
Michael also invited the family members of deceased former grand marshals to walk in the parade with him, carrying pictures of their beloved. He says the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade is not only the country’s second oldest, but one of its finest.
“We are one of the few — if not the only — parade in the country that begins our St. Patrick’s Day Parade with a Mass at St. Patrick’s Church at 20th and Locust streets in Center City. The ‘Faith, Family, Friendship, and Heritage’ theme isn’t just a theme tagline for this year. It really sums up the core of our parade mission every year.”
On Sunday evening, March 8, the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade committee held one of its annual fundraisers at Springfield Country Club. Almost 700 supporters of all ages attended to listen to Irish music, watch Irish dance, eat and drink Irish specialties and honor the Bradleys.
Humbled, Michael Bradley was moved to tears.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I don’t think you should be honored for doing something that you love and that you put your whole heart into. This has been a humbling experience for me and a huge honor. All I do is cry—I get filled up whenever I talk about it. I am just so honored.”
The parade planning was especially emotional for him this year, because his son Colin was in the director’s seat. Although he will still be diligently working behind the scenes, Michael said he couldn’t be prouder to have Colin, the youngest of his six children, take over the reins as director.
“I’m obviously very proud of Colin,” Michael shared. “Directing the parade is a tremendous responsibility, but also a tremendous honor. He is going to have to have a lot of balls up in the air at the same time and be a precise coordinator, but I know he has it in him to do it.”
Colin said his dad is the reason he got into the parade, and once he did, he thoroughly enjoyed it. He admitted that the two months leading up to what was supposed to be “parade day” were intense.
“Participating in the parade and all its events has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Colin stated. “Of course because of my father, I went to every parade since birth, started out as a volunteer marshal and always had roles in every parade. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes support for me in this role. I’m still learning all the logistics and I couldn’t do it without the support of the board and so many other people. My dad has the playbook from 17 years of experience and thankfully, he’s sharing much of that with me as well.”
A 2011 graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School, Colin earned a degree in broadcast journalism and currently works at New Pace Productions in Ardmore. He is engaged to Nikki Mutter. Rev. Kevin Gallagher will marry the couple and Karen Boyce McCollum will cantor at the Mass, because, the Bradleys said, the connections and relationships formed through the parade, are strong bonds that result in year round, lifelong solid friendships.
In addition to his director role, Colin was also slated to be a color commentator, sitting alongside the Fox29 team of on-air personalities, Bob Kelly, Kathy Orr and Chris O’Connell, who would have been the commentators if the parade had went on as planned. Although all the work that Colin put into the parade won’t come to fruition on Sunday, he will luckily have the opportunity for a repeat performance, when he directs the 250th milestone parade in 2021.
According to the official statement issued at the cancellation, “In days to come, we will continue with enthusiasm to plan the 250th St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 14, 2021, celebrating St. Patrick, our Grand Marshal Michael J. Bradley Jr. and the distinguished members of the Ring of Honor.”
Always looking at the glass of green beer as half full, no sooner had the St. Patrick’s Day Parade been officially cancelled when the Bradleys and their friends and family regrouped and quickly planned a somewhat scaled-down replacement version of the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Sunday’s Irish revelry will begin with a Mass at the Bradley’s Havertown home celebrated by parade chaplain Father Kevin Gallagher, pastor of St. Denis Church in Havertown. Afterwards, the McHugh School Of Irish Dance will perform a dance routine in the parking lot of M.J. Bradley Co. From there, the Bradleys, friends and family will hop aboard Michael’s “Grand Marshal Trolley Tour.”
“We are planning on visiting parties already scheduled in the city, going to the Irish clubs down on Second Street where they will have a parade and party for us. Then, we’re coming back to celebrate some more in Delco. The plans are fluid right now, but families are welcome.”
Michael, Linda and Colin all expressed the importance of families and generations in the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade and related events. Their son Mickey is a marshal and most others in their family participate or are there to help out in some way. It’s definitely a family affair.
“The parade is very family-oriented and honestly, that’s what it’s really all about - generation to generation,” Michael commented. “Our parade bridges the gap.”
He said one of the most gratifying parts of being named grand marshal was knowing his parents, Mickey and Bernie Bradley of Glen Mills, would be there to share the special moment with him. Even though the parade was a no-go, he feels extremely blessed to share the 2020 celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, not only with his parents, six children, and eight grandchildren — including his 1-year-old granddaughter Quinn who is named after his grandparents’ village in Ireland — but also with his treasure trove of good friends and other family members.
“Like I said, 'Faith, Family, Friendship and Heritage' — it doesn’t get any better than that,” Michael said.