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‘We want to help you bring your home to Saint Mary’s’: College celebrates Mardi Gras

| Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Sara Schlecht | The Obse
Students gather at Rice Commons at Saint Mary’s to celebrate Mardi Gras on Tuesday. The holiday takes place the day before Ash Wednesday every year as Catholics prepare for the beginning of Lent.

Feathers, sequins and king cake drew students to Rice Commons on Tuesday evening for a Mardi Gras celebration hosted by the Student Activity Board (SAB) Traditional Committee.

Junior Mary Grace Noteman, chair of the traditional committee, said SAB worked hard to plan activities and provide refreshments for those who attended the event.

“We have some coloring activities and things to help de-stress before Lent kicks in,” Noteman said. “It’s for people to hang out and have fun and have something to eat after dinner.”

Throughout the room, tables were scattered with craft supplies to decorate masks. After-dinner treats came in the form of about 15 king cakes — oval-shaped cinnamon cakes with sugar frosting in colors of gold, green and purple. These cakes are a Mardi Gras staple.

Junior Sarah Catherine Caldwell, SAB vice president, said the group tried to get king cakes from Mobile, Alabama, but shipping them across the country proved difficult because the city’s Mardi Gras celebration is lesser known than that of New Orleans.

“Our king cakes are from Gambino’s bakery in New Orleans, Louisiana,” Caldwell said. “They’ve been shipped from Louisiana and overnighted by FedEx.”

Caldwell, who hails from Mobile, is particularly interested in the history of Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States, as the first occurred in her hometown in 1703. She noted that most people associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans but might not be familiar with the holiday’s history and presence in other parts of the country.

“Nothing shuts Mobile down like Mardi Gras — except for a hurricane,” she said.

During her first year at Saint Mary’s, Caldwell wasn’t particularly impressed with the Mardi Gras celebrations on campus because they didn’t feel like home. She thought the celebration was over the top.

“Bigger isn’t always better,” she said.

This philosophy guided Caldwell in her vision for future celebrations, which occur annually at the College. Through her involvement with SAB, she tries to make sure cultural events on campus do justice to the people who associate them with home.

When it comes to Mardi Gras, getting the king cake right is important, she asserted, as there are students who come from places like New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast who are familiar with the cake’s traditional role in the celebration.

“Growing up, king cake was an integral part of my Mardi Gras experience,” Caldwell said. “We knew we had to have king cake for this event.”

Because of her role on SAB, Caldwell said she has a unique privilege to plan an event that brings part of her home to Saint Mary’s.

“Not everyone gets to plan an event that brings their home to South Bend,” Caldwell said. “I’m just so happy that I get to do that. I love Mardi Gras. It’s one of my favorite things.”

In addition to its connections to her home, Caldwell emphasized the importance of Mardi Gras for Saint Mary’s as a Catholic institution, as the annual holiday anticipates the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

“It’s one of the ways we prepare for Lent for those that are practicing Catholics,” Caldwell said. “You load up on those carbs and then you fast [on Wednesday].”

The community aspect of Mardi Gras is something SAB tried to emphasize in Tueday’s event, Noteman said.

“Mardi Gras is amazing,” she said. “Everyone comes together, enjoying it and taking part in this celebration … it’s such a happy time.”

For Caldwell, the religious significance surrounding Mardi Gras is also important to consider.

“You celebrate … and then you go into Lent immediately after this big party,” Caldwell said. “Lent is such a somber time of self-reflection.”

Because SAB aims to engage the campus community with its events, the organization is open to students suggesting themes for celebrations or gatherings. Caldwell said she would be happy to discuss SAB doing events like the Mardi Gras celebration for students interested in planning cultural events.

“We want to help you bring your home to Saint Mary’s, our home,” she said.

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