The truth about St. UrhoHe held the sports editor, social reporter and several other positions for the Mesabi Daily News in Virginia, Minn. A relaxed sort of fellow, he seldom raised either his voice or ire but this day something had crawled into his craw.
By: Karl Aho, Lake County News Chronicle
He held the sports editor, social reporter and several other positions for the Mesabi Daily News in Virginia, Minn. A relaxed sort of fellow, he seldom raised either his voice or ire but this day something had crawled into his craw. I noticed his furrowed brow, the more than usual slope of his back and drumming on desk in between typewriter strokes. Usually his finger flew across the keys – that’s right “finger.”
Herman had not mastered the typewriter and popped out his news articles with just one finger. When asked about his typing method he reasoned out loud that you could hit only one key at a time so one finger was enough.
He noticed my presence, turned his head and peered up from his hunched over position. He looked me in the eye as well as a person with a hunched back could and asked, “Got a minute?”
“Sure,” I said, “I turned in my article to the editor.”
The article was my daily “devotional” of some two hundred words, which appeared, on the “front page” of the newspaper during Lent and Advent.
The editor would have liked it to run all year, but as a busy Lutheran pastor I begged off, almost a hundred articles a year was enough. Imagine that, a devotional written by a Lutheran pastor on the front page of a fair-sized daily newspaper. The American Civil Liberties Union was not paying attention and the other religions were not complaining. It was a different world then.
Herman motioned me to come close. He whispered, “I got a great idea. Those St. Patrick’s Day celebrators are not going have it just their way.”
“What are you talking about,” I also whispered.
“Take a look,” he said loudly as he handed me a few typewritten pages. I glanced through the pages that I took either as the ravings of a disturbed man or someone who was trying to write a humorous history of Finland.
“What grapes.” I asked “There is no grape crop in Finland no more than there is in St. Louis County.”
“And there are more Finnish Lutherans than there are Irish Catholics who have a parade on March 17th.” Herman answered dodging my question.
“What does that have to do with grapes in Finland,” I questioned.
Herman looked at the floor and muttered to himself, “How do they let such lunkheads get through seminary and become a Lutheran minister. Everybody can understand that we need to create a counter-celebration to the St. Patrick’s Day parade.”
He looked up to see if I had heard him.
“We didn’t study St. Patrick’s Day in seminary, parade or not. What are you talking about.” I said pointing to the papers he had given me.
“It’s all there. I applied for a parade permit for the day before St. Patrick’s and whether I get it or not I’m going to announce the parade and will march down Chestnut Street at noon. You want to join me? You gotta get something green and purple to wear. We will meet here at 11:45 a.m.,” Herman said with excitement nodding to me as if I had agreed to this scheme.
“Who will be in the parade,” I questioned with considerable trepidation.
“So far, you and me, but when they hear about it we will have a crowd,” he said.
Herman continued, “They will all be wearing green and purple.”
I frowned and asked, “Why the green and purple?”
“Green is for the grasshoppers and purple for the grapes.” Herman said as if I understood what he was talking about.
“You just don’t seem to understand,” Herman said irritably, “there are more Lutherans than Irish Catholics in Virginia.
“Why should they have a parade for St. Patrick?
“And we get nothing.
“The Lutherans should be represented because we are a majority. So we will have a St. Urho’s day. Read the story I wrote. St. Urho drove the grasshoppers out of Finland to save the grape crop.”
I was puzzled, “I never heard of St. Urho.”
He laughed, “Well you have now.”
I looked at him seriously and said, “Herman you are a bigot. You don’t like Catholics.”
I’m a Lutheran and not a Catholic. I’m against St. Patrick’s Day.” Herman almost shouted and waved his hands in the air.
“But why a Finnish St. Urho,” I dared to inquire.
“Because he would have been Lutheran,” He replied and added “if he existed other than in my head.”
“Well, what about the Swedes, Norwegians, and Danish Lutherans. Do you think they want to celebrate your fictitious Finnish saint,” I asked with all sincerity.
“Let them get their own saints and try to come up with someone as good as St. Urho.” He added, “You know Urho means hero, brave, and strong”
“So this is just a figment of your imagination just to get back at the idea of St. Patrick’s Day,” I finally asked.
“This whole thing may never catch on, but I’m going to have a St. Urho’s Day if it’s the last thing I do,” he called after me as I retreated toward the door,
For all I know, even though there have been many who claim they invented St. Urho, Herman did write the story and our conversation did take place long before I had ever heard of St. Urho. It is possible that Herman got the story from someone and related as his own. I don’t know for sure. But I do know that a few days after our encounter, Herman march down Chestnut Street in Virginia all by himself, celebrating with a green and a purple ribbon tied around his hat. He waved to the people on the sidewalk and shouted “Happy St. Urho’s Day.”
He had his day and he had his parade.
Within the year, Herman passed away of a heart attack while doing what Finns love to do. He died taking a sauna.
That, as far as I know, is the truth about the origin of St. Urho.
Karl Aho is a retired Lutheran pastor and lives in Two Harbors. He holds that this account of St. Urho is true.