Harford’s Thelma Graziano, Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians member, celebrates her Irish heritage

Thelma Graziano of Joppa, practices her parade wave style Wednesday afternoon. Graziano is a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hiberians and will be the Deputy Marshal for the Baltimore St. Patrick's Day parade.
Thelma Graziano of Joppa, practices her parade wave style Wednesday afternoon. Graziano is a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hiberians and will be the Deputy Marshal for the Baltimore St. Patrick's Day parade. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Thelma Graziano grew up in Baltimore surrounded by people from Ireland and of Irish descent, and the Joppa resident has worked hard over the past decades to keep the history, culture and traditions of the Emerald Isle alive.

“It means everything to me, because it’s my past, and we can’t forget our past because if we do we forget what our forefathers went through to get us here, to where we are today,” she said last week.


Graziano, 78, was prepared to ride in the 65th St. Patrick Parade through downtown Baltimore last Sunday as the deputy grand marshal and a representative of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians of Maryland — she is past president and current vice president of Harford County Division 2.

The parade was postponed because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The events would have happened ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, the annual celebration of Irish culture, which fell on Tuesday this year.

Although Graziano was saddened about the postponedment and cancellation of so many St. Patrick’s Day events, she recognized the health of the community was the top priority.

“Together, we can all celebrate Irish culture and heritage at a later date,” Graziano said.


Graziano grew up in Northeast Baltimore in a family with roots in Ireland, Germany and England. Her paternal grandfather, Samuel Condell, immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1880s, and her maternal grandfather George Hoffman, who was Jewish, immigrated from Germany.

Both of her grandmothers — Harriett Fowler on her father’s side and Mary Boring on her mother’s side — were English.

Graziano was raised Catholic, but she recognizes her grandfather’s Jewish faith and noted he came to the United States to avoid religious persecution in Germany.

“That Irish [side] loves a good time, but that dag-gone German says, ‘Not until you finish your work!’” Graziano joked during an interview last week at the Joppa house where she lives with her daughter, Maria Kirchner, and her family.

Kirchner is the youngest of six biological children raised by Graziano and her late husband, Frank. The couple also adopted three children.

Francesco “Frank” Graziano, who was of Italian heritage, died in 2013; he and Thelma were married in 1959 ― Thelma called him the “joy of my life.”


Thelma Graziano got involved in the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians in the early 1970s. The organization is open to women who are 16 or older, practicing Roman Catholics and Irish, either by birth or descent, according an article Graziano provided. The motto of LAOH, which was founded as the Daughters of Erin in 1894, is “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.”

The organization was founded initially to support young Irish women as they immigrated to the U.S. Its missions today include community service, supporting Catholic churches, schools and seminaries and promoting and preserving Irish heritage and culture, according to Graziano’s article, published in a periodical of the Missionary Society of St. Columban.

Graziano noted living in the tightly-knit neighborhoods of Baltimore, where many people resided in rowhouses and “almost everybody in the city went to a Catholic school,” made it easy to maintain Irish culture, as well as the cultures of Germans and other European immigrants.

Graziano and her family moved to Forest Hill in the late 1970s, and the spread-out nature of Harford County made maintaining Irish culture more challenging, so people of Irish heritage bonded through local Catholic parishes.

She and other LAOH members — there are about 28 women in her division — work on many community support projects through churches and other organizations.

“They’re very into their community, they try to reach out to the local area,” Kirchner said.

The division meets at Saint Mark Roman Catholic Church in Fallston, and it works on causes related to muscular dystrophy, autism, the Salvation Army and the Gabriel Network, which supports women dealing with unplanned pregnancies.

“So many dedicated Irish do so many things,” Graziano said.

She also has worked to ensure her Irish heritage, as well as a legacy of community service, is maintained through her children and grandchildren. Graziano is a retired occupational therapist who spent 21 years at the former Rosewood Center in Baltimore County, and later worked with Harford County Public Schools children with special needs.

Kirchner recalled her mother bringing her along during various activities for the students she served. She also was involved in Irish dancing as a child, as well as German, Italian, flamenco, even Hawaiian dancing.

Krichner, 39, and her mother participated in events to welcome Pope John Paul II to Baltimore in the fall of 1995, including the pope’s celebration of Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. She also studied abroad in Ireland on an Irish Way scholarship when she was a student at Fallston High School.

“Pretty much my whole life, I’ve been ingrained in [Irish] culture,” she said.

Kirchner has two children, George, who is 12 and Isabella, who is 7. Isabella takes lessons at the O’Connor School of Irish Dance in Parkville. Kirchner and her daughter were slated to march in the parade Sunday with the dance school.

Graziano stressed the importance of maintaining one’s heritage and religion, because “If we forget that, then we stop appreciating what we have.”

“It’s all about the next generation being better than the previous one,” she said.