MAYWOOD, Ill. – The person who is the city of Chicago’s 2007 Saint Patrick’s Day Queen thought she was the most unlikely of all the more than 100 women who competed this year to wear the crown.
To begin with, Dr. Julie Anne Venci maintains a time-consuming, grueling schedule as a first-year intern in a four-year residency program in internal medicine and pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood.
Also, her last name, which any O’Kelly or MacGuinness will tell you, doesn’t sound like what you’d expect of the person who will preside over both the South Side’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, March 11 and downtown’s on Saturday, March 17, the day of the official holiday.
However, what really makes Julie’s crowning so unlikely was that she almost didn’t show up for the judging contest. Her mother, Josephine, who hails from the town of Cross Molina in County Mayo, Ireland, had secretly entered her daughter’s name in the contest and only let Julie in on her action’s the day before the Annual Queen Contest on Feb. 28.
“I had no idea my mother was going to enter me in the contest,” said Venci, who has attended both parades with her family in the past. “I never thought I was going to be the Irish queen. My mom wanted me to go out for it for years but I always said ‘no’ because I didn’t have the time. My mom called me a few times the morning of the contest and encouraged me to go. I went and I won.”
After the initial thrill of victory passed, reality set in. Julie’s thoughts immediately turned to how she could possibly mesh the duties of her year-long reign with those of her long days and many responsibilities at Loyola.
“The judges asked me questions about being a doctor and, specifically, how I would have time for this if should win. I was actually not planning on winning, so I didn’t really think this through,” Julie said. “Once I won, I let my program directors know what happened. John Coleman, who is also a resident, was very gracious and switched rotations with me for the month of March. I will now work in the ER during March, which will allow me to have some flexibility in my schedule.”
She’ll need that flexibility. She has quite a busy schedule ahead of her during the year that she wears the crown. Besides presiding over the two parades, she will be center stage at the ceremony when the Chicago River will be dyed a brilliant green, which has been done for 43 years straight. Her responsibilities also include a number of dinners and speaking engagements.
“I will also spend a day in City Hall inviting Chicago dignitaries to the parade. I will personally invite Mayor Daley, (Secretary of State) Jesse White, (Cook County State’s Attorney) Dick Devine, and, hopefully, (Sen.) Barack Obama,” she said. “What I am very excited about is attending the Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day Sox game in October. That day they pass out green baseball caps at the game. I get to attend and go out on the field, which should be a lot of fun.”
For the Irish who are questioning the origin of Venci, Julie’s last name, her father, Steven Venci, was born in Hungary, where he still maintains a house on the Hungarian-Austrian border.
“I know many people will be thrown off by my last name. My mom’s maiden name was Dunleavy. I’ve actually thought about adding an O to Venci to make it O’Venci, at least for March,” said the 28-year-old Venci, who recently became engaged to Irishman Kevin Carney, also a 2006 graduate of Stritch School of Medicine. “In order to be the queen, the only requirement is that you have Irish heritage. I am actually one of the few queens who actually has a mother who was born in Ireland.”
Being a first-generation American, Julie takes her Irish heritage seriously. As a youth, she participated in the St. Patrick’s Day parades as an Irish step dancer, an art form she recently took up again. Next year she plans to honeymoon in Ireland, courtesy of two round-trip tickets that came with her crown, among a number of other pricey gifts.
“My cousins are very excited that I am the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Queen. It’s funny because we make a much bigger deal about St. Patrick’s Day here than they do in Ireland,” said Julie, who has visited Ireland as well as Hungary on a number of occasions.
“What I’m most thrilled about is being a first-generation Irish-American who gets to lead the best Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in the country.”