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Diversity is watchword in San Antonio community

By Peter McDermott

To people who see red at the sight of Orange, Joan Moody says: "Chill out!"

South Texas is a big tent culturally speaking, so it should be no surprise, she believes, that San Antonio's Irish community is too.

And when her fellow past president of the Harp and Shamrock Society of Texas Bob Szczepanski wears an Orange collarette, her attitude is "So what?"

"We let it go, like water off a duck's back," Moody said.

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To some objectors, she has said: "You guys wear the kilt and that's Scottish."

"That shuts them up," she reported. "I've no problem with the kilt, but my belief is that if it's Irish it should be a solid color.

"The collarette is Bob's way of identifying as Protestant and Irish, and he's very proud of both," she said of Szczepanski, whose father's family was Polish. "He's not a member of the Orange Order. We don't have that down here, but we do have the GAA."

He only sports Orange, she said, at the St. Patrick's Day Parade; he doesn't wear the collarette at the Alamo event.

Moody often surprises Irish newcomers to the city with the news that there are plenty of Protestants in the Harp and Shamrock Society.

"You're kidding," one said to her recently.

"No. A majority of our members are non-Catholic or lapsed Catholic," she replied.

Moody said of former Irishman of the Year Bob Szczepanski: "Nobody that I know of has done more for the Irish and to promote what it means to be Irish."

She has said to skeptics: "Remember that when it comes to getting a job here, he could be an asset."

And when they finally get to talk to him they quickly come around to her view.

Moody knows something about diversity from her own background, which is Irish and German Catholic on the maternal side and Scots Irish on the paternal side.

"Culturally my paternal grandparents were Presbyterian and Methodist/Episcopalian but in the early 20th century North Texas, they reared their sons as Christian Church Disciples of Christ," she said, "which is what my dad was when he married my mom in front of a Catholic priest before the altar of the gift chapel at Ft. Sam Houston, since he was military."

The conversion was gradual. Her older sister would remember: "When we got back from Mass, dad had the breakfast made."

"But, I never knew him as a Protestant," Joan Moody said.

"My mom brought forward many of the Irish traditions. " she said, "She compromised with my dad on some."

The family first visited Ireland in the early 1960s when they lived in Germany, though her father was more enthusiastic about visiting Scotland.

Moody now makes the transatlantic journey every year.

Her knowledge of the complexity of Irish and Scots-Irish history (indeed, she lectured on the subject at last weekend's Highland Games and Celtic Music Festival) makes her sympathetic to Szczepanski's position.

She said of her friend, who declined to be interviewed by the Echo: "He's a shy and humble man.

"We're not talkative down here," Moody said. "We do things in a quiet way."