Holly Claiborne Sheehan and William Barry Hall Jr.
“Are you ready?” they asked.
“I remember I was taking really deep breaths to try and stay calm and in my head I could actually hear my heart beating,” says Holly. “Then, whoosh!” Both doors opened and there she stood, making a grand entrance in a gown of alabaster shimmer satin and a cathedral-length, Belgian lace mantilla that her Aunt Beth bought in Brussels in 1968. Holly was the fifth bride to wear the delicate heirloom.
Even beyond the veil, the theme of family ran strong through the wedding, as both the Sheehan and the Claiborne family histories are deeply rooted in Holy Trinity and Sacred Heart (site of the reception). The early Irish settlers of Barry’s family were parishioners of Holy Trinity, then known as Saint Patrick’s, at the time the cornerstone was laid in 1857.
“My father wrote a beautiful note he titled ‘Coming Home’ in our wedding program so that our guests could read all about it,” says Holly. “In the note he mentions the stained glass window in Sacred Heart that was dedicated to Michael Sheehan, our relative. The stained glass window with his name on it is the one that depicts the wedding at Cana. Because of this, the gospel reading that Barry and I chose for our ceremony was John 2: 1-11, which is about the miracle Jesus performed at the wedding at Cana.”
The wedding ceremony was also enhanced by beautiful musical accompaniment. A string quartet performed a prenuptial recital of classical music and opera singer Tonya Currier Griggs, who sang at Maria Shriver’s wedding to Arnold Schwarzenegger, performed Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” during the traditional Catholic ritual of the Dedication to the Blessed Mother.
The bridesmaids wore frappuccino-colored gowns of duchess satin accented with ruched European bodices that flared into full trumpet skirts. They also wore caged veils of Russian netting attached to sprays of delicate feathers and carried hand-tied nosegays of brown Cymbidium orchids and Leonodis roses wrapped with brown satin ribbon.
Following the ceremony, guests and the bridal party enjoyed an elaborate reception at Sacred Heart Cultural Center, where the historic stained glass windows were lit from outside the Grand Hall to illuminate their rich colors throughout the evening.
Luminaries outlined the entire exterior of Sacred Heart and led to a white, carpeted marquee draped with billowing fabric, which was drawn back in the vestibule to reveal a five-tier wedding cake covered thick in ivory fondant icing. Accented with sugar-spun swags washed in 24-karat gold leaf, the cake featured an entwined gold monogram of the couple’s initials and wedding date on the tiers.
The baptismal font, from which many members of the Sheehan family were baptized, was spot-lit and crowned with a mound of white hydrangeas. Two cloverleaf buffet tables divided the Grand Hall and were centered with massive floral arrangements of ivory Polo roses and white hydrangeas.
“The entrance of Sacred Heart that night really said it all. It was unbelievable,” says Holly. “Then once they [the guests] came in, there were waiters standing with trays of my daddy’s signature drink, Flip Flops, to hand everyone—that really set the tone.”
Another colorful tone setter was a group of shag musicians from Wilmington, N.C.—the Craig Wollard Band. “I was very nervous about the dance with my dad. My parents are big shaggers. They eat, sleep and breathe shag dancing so, of course, my dad wanted our dance to be a shag dance,” says Holly. “The song we picked was “This Will Be,” by Natalie Cole.” To Holly’s relief, she did not trip over her dress during the fast-paced, father-daughter dance, and she fit right in with the many shag club members who were heating up the dance floor all night long.
The reception extended into the formal garden that glowed with white paper lanterns, white linen-draped tables and white wooden chairs. A tent housed a frozen shooter bar, which Holly says was very popular among the guests. “There was not one person at that reception who didn’t have a fabulous time that night,” says Holly.