Like Chicago itself, Mercy Home for Boys & Girls’ Irish roots run deep.

Like Chicago itself, Mercy Home for Boys & Girls’ Irish roots run deep.

Mercy Home’s origins owe to a native of the Emerald Isle, Chicago’s first Archbishop, Patrick Feehan, who hailed from Tipperary. In 1886, Feehan gathered a group of priests to discuss the growing crisis of homeless children in the city. Countless desperate and unaccompanied young people were riding the rails from the interior of the U.S. to the burgeoning industrial mecca in search of opportunity. Others came from lands overseas, including large numbers from Ireland. Instead of fortune, many of these children found exploitation and abuse in the city’s unforgiving streets.

Father Dennis Mahoney, a Catholic priest on loan from a parish in Boston, proposed an idea that would later become Mercy Home. The next year, the small orphanage formally set up shop above a Catholic Library in Chicago’s financial district before moving to its permanent home on the city’s Near West Side a few years later.

From Mercy Home’s founding fathers to the succession of Catholic priests who have led the venerable child-care mission over the course of its 137-year history, each one has been of Irish descent, including its current President, Fr. Scott Donahue, who was inducted into the Irish American Hall of Fame in 2019.

Now, every March, the fabric of this Irish tradition unfolds with great pageantry, as Mercy Home and Chicago celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for weeks. Among the city-wide festivities a familiar presence has made itself known for well over two decades: Mercy Home for Boys & Girls’ March for Kids.

Many Names, One Purpose 

Held under various titles since 1996, Mercy Home’s March for Kids has given Chicagoans the chance to celebrate all things Irish while making a difference in the lives of young people in need. Over the years, the multi-faceted, month-long campaign has generated support for Mercy Home every year through online and on-the-street donations, raffles, publicity, and an annual family-friendly celebration following the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade downtown.

Beginning in the mid-1990’s, Mercy Home’s party following every Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade was a popular part of what had been dubbed first as “A Touch O’ Green,” and later as “Shamrocks for Kids.” Those programs eventually evolved to include teams of volunteers who collected donations for Mercy Home on the streets of Chicago around St. Patrick’s Day and at events like area parades.

In 2014, Mercy Home rebranded the program as March for Kids and focused its efforts on generating wider public awareness about youth in crisis while raising funds that made Mercy Home’s work possible. The post-parade party was shelved temporarily until plans were finalized for its triumphant return following the 2020 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But in the days leading up to that year’s holiday, most celebrations planned in Chicago would announce cancellations due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event was kept on ice again in 2021, but with the return of Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2022, Mercy Home once again welcomed friends and families to come together for its March for Kids Post-Parade Party, now at a bright and spacious new Michigan Avenue event space known as Venue SIX10. Located inside Chicago’s Spertus Institute, Venue SIX10 is just a few short blocks from the start of the parade route and its floor-to-ceiling windows provide guests with sweeping views of Grant Park and Chicago’s lakefront.

The tradition has continued to grow and the 2024 Post Parade Party will take place once again Venue SIX10 and immediately after the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 16. The party offers live Irish music, step dancers, kid and adult beverages, Irish-themed food buffet, and children’s activities like featuring carnival and arcade games, great prizes, balloon artists and more. Best of all, proceeds help Mercy Home for Boys & Girls provide a home, healing, education and opportunity for kids in crisis.

Beyond the Party 

In addition to the Post-Parade Party, other elements of Mercy Homes’ March for Kids program will raise support for its young people and raise awareness about the organization’s work throughout the entire month.

On March 2nd, Mercy Home’s Associate Board, which is made up of young professionals, will officially kick off Mercy Home’s March for Kids with a party and fundraiser at the Butch McGuire’s.

On March 16, Mercy Home’s float and marchers will proceed down Columbus Drive in downtown Chicago for the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The next day, St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, our friends will march along Western Avenue in the South Side Beverly neighborhood, ending right near our Girls Home.

Over the years, March for Kids has provided opportunities for volunteer groups to collect donations to Mercy Home at parades, churches, schools and workplaces. This March, for example, members of the Knights of Columbus will collect donations after Mass at a number of Chicago Catholic parishes.

But even if you aren’t going to be in Chicago to sample any of Chicago’s legendary St. Patrick’s Day festivities this year, you can still give abused, neglected, and at-risk youth a safe home, therapy, education, job skills, life skills and more. Help kids build brighter futures by donating directly to Mercy Home. Gifts made during the entire month will be matched by a generous donor.

Throughout its many incarnations, Mercy Home’s March for Kids’ core mission remains the same: to raise funds and awareness that help Mercy Home provide young people with the safety, healing, and opportunity they deserve. What better way to get in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit?

Discover More