Thursday, February 18, 2010

Homecoming - A Daughter's Lenten Reflection

Susan M. Moutin

FEBRUARY 15, 2010 

Ashes mean something different to me this Lent. As I am marked with this sacred symbol, my heart connects to a two-chamber urn sitting on my mother’s old dresser. One chamber is now filled with her ashes.

After a two-and-a-half-year struggle with breast cancer and then leukemia, my mother Maryhelen (nicknamed Mother Mary when she gave birth to my youngest sister on Christmas) died on the feast of the Assumption 2008. How appropriate this day of death was for a woman born and raised in the Parish of St. Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin), who then spent most of her adult life in two Marian parishes: Mother of Perpetual Help and St. Mary.

My mother was a woman of faith. She regularly sang in our church choirs and was active in Christian women’s groups. Our family was devoted to Mary and rarely missed the weekly devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help or Mass on the five first Saturdays. Like many choir members who were active when the church shifted to the use of the vernacular after the Second Vatican Council, she struggled at first and missed the beauty and awe of Latin hymns. But as liturgical renewal progressed, she gradually adapted and came to love the sacred hymns of John Rutter as well as the folksy musical style of the St. Louis Jesuits and Marty Haugen.

St. Ignatius Loyola invites us to reflect on our experience to see how God’s hand has been with us not only in consolation and joy but in desolation. A large portion of his Spiritual Exercises invites the retreatant (and each of us, at any time) to delve more deeply into the life of Christ and engage in Christ’s interaction with the world of his time by using our senses and imagination to place ourselves in the stories. We can imagine ourselves as characters mentioned in the stories and even as characters who may have been left out. As we move toward Holy Week, exercising our imagination on the stories from Christ’s passion and death can bring unexpected insights.

The Lenten readings are rich: the temptation in the desert; the transfiguration; the parable of the fig tree; the parable of the lost sheep; and the woman caught in adultery. As we enter each story we deepen our understanding of Jesus. Retelling the stories helps us to keep Christ alive in our own life.

As I begin another Lent, reflecting on my mother’s dying process has been a profound spiritual preparation for the season. The family was “blessed” by having six weeks with her after a first serious death scare on July 4. During these weeks she said goodbyes from her bed or, on the days when she could manage it, from the living room recliner. The hospice workers who visited each day noted that she was one of the few people who gave away their wardrobe before they died. My sisters, nieces and I had helped her sort through her simple clothing while she specified where each piece was to go: relatives, friends, St. Vincent de Paul Society or Goodwill Industries. She told stories about many of the pieces: what she wore at special events like Knights of Columbus parties, family weddings and baptisms and first Communions, which she never missed.

She agonized about what to wear in the casket. I thought she had resolved the issue when she decided on the outfit she wore for my oldest son’s December wedding several years ago. But now we were in July. One hot steamy night as we sat up talking—because the nights provided the most anxiety and fear for her as she approached death—she told me she had been reconsidering the choice. “It might be too warm,” she said. “Mom, I don’t think it will matter,” I replied, wondering if she would remember this conversation in the morning. She was worried about the appropriateness of a winter-weight garment, as if knowing she would die in summer.

But what overwhelmed me, my dad and my siblings was the constant daily parade of people into the house, people whose lives she touched: her sisters, our cousins, in-laws, neighbors, hospice volunteers (she herself had been one), lionesses (she was a member of the Lions Club), bridge partners, food bank volunteers (she was one), choir members and others. On an average day we received more than 40 phone calls from people checking in on her. Sometimes I wished the phone would stop ringing.

Culling through boxes of photos and recounting the great stories associated with them reminded me of how we as a faith community cull through the images and words about the life of Jesus, the key moments and relationships we will always remember because they have become something of who we are as a Christian family.

In the last six weeks of her life, Mom received daily Communion at home during a visit from the young pastor or pastoral associate. No matter what had happened in the preceding day or anxiety-producing night or what pain she was in when Father Brian came, her reply to his question, “How are you today, Mary?” was always: “Oh, I’m a little bit better.” Yet more than 10 times in those six weeks, near-death experiences brought Father Brian and his sacred oils to anoint her for the journey that seemed so long in coming. I commented in her eulogy that she was anointed so many times she likely slid right into heaven.

The last week was by far the most difficult. On the day she died, she entered into a state that hospice caregivers know well—the body’s oxygen supply diminishes. She was unable to communicate with us from about noon that day until about 3. Then, to our amazement, she called for my dad and reached over to hold his hands. She became quite anxious and thrashed about (another expected pattern in the death process).

But what happened next will be etched in my heart and soul forever. About an hour before her death she reached out her arms and began distinctly saying, “push me, pull me, push me, pull me.” Mom was not speaking to any of us in the room. I had no doubt that she was being greeted by angels and her deceased sisters and brother, whom she missed so much (she was the oldest of eight children born in close succession, and they were very close).

Those were her last words. “Push me, pull me.” Then she became quiet. I felt her soul slipping from her body. We gathered my siblings and dad around the bed and began to pray: Our Father; Hail Mary. We all touched her. I put one arm around dad’s shoulder as he sat on his walker next to the bed, and had one hand on mom’s foot. I instinctively began praying the Memorare, a prayer that had been renewed as a deep part of my own spiritual journey when I struggled with some issues years earlier. Then from the deepest recesses of my memory I prayed aloud the novena prayer to the Mother of Perpetual Help. Mom took five or six deep breaths and died.

If there is such a thing as a peaceful death, we were blessed with one for mom. Now, less than four feet from the side of that bed, my mother’s ashes sit, awaiting the day she will be joined by my dad and then interred in their plot in the parish cemetery.

I remember and relive day after day the journey to my mother’s death because it brought all of us closer to our own destiny and to God. So it is with the Lenten journey. This is a time to remember the life, suffering and death of Jesus Christ because it brings all of us closer to the Resurrection.

Susan M. Mountin is director of the Manresa Project, a vocation discernment intiative at Marquette University, where she has served for more than 30 years as a campus minister, administrator and adjunct professor of theology.

Friday, February 5, 2010

You're Still Catholic?


J.C. Sullivan

If I needed a reminder of why I don’t go to Mass every Sunday, a recent Christmas provided it. I must qualify what follows however.

Because of my previous writings critical of some practices of the Roman Catholic Church, some have thought I had abandoned the Roman Catholic faith into which I was born. I have abandoned the American Democratic Party, I confess. And, individuals within the Roman Catholic faith have certainly given me reasons to think, “Hey, why the H… have I remained Catholic?” Certainly some priests and other individuals have given me reason to become agnostic. However, my personal spirituality holds that faith and religion are two different things; faith being spiritually given while religion is man-made. But, back to Christmas Mass.

In anticipation of the 10:00 a.m. Christmas Day Mass at St. Barnabas,  I showered, shaved and donned a class “A” uniform, i.e., dress clothes. Our church building is what might be called modernistic – we have no kneelers, which isn't a bad thing. However, except for a few of the faithful, I don’t believe American Catholics have any sense of  reverence.

I observed men, women and families beginning to fill the pews. In they came – men in jeans, their sons in numbered sports jerseys with football players names on the back. Most wandered into their chosen pew, many with their hands in their pockets. No sense of reverence, no acknowledgement of the tabernacle and the presence of God. No bowing of the head, no genuflection, as if they were entering a movie theater. In came oversized women who ought to be wearing clothing that flatter their figure but instead are squeezed  into undersized pants. Don’t they know how they look?

Inside the church, in front, hangs a painting of what, I suppose, is somebody’s depiction of  what the historical Jesus looked like. I don’t know how they know that – maybe a painting of Jesus has survived and they have painted a newer, larger version. It’s a  distraction to me.

Yet, despite all these personal misgivings, I see the innocent child peering back over the pew in whose family is seated. The brass is heard clearly, enhancing the music from the cantor. The bell choir is novel and appreciated. Most important, however, is the presence of the faithful. My presence there carries on the tradition of my family. I’m aware of the history of the Irish and the persecution of those of the Catholic faith. I’m there because I want to be – an outward sign of my faith.

I’ve been given a good Catholic education in grade and high school. As one of nine children of a Cleveland Detective, my parents sacrificed to pay tuition to insure I had a Catholic education. It’s been a good base for the development of my spiritual growth, which wasn’t an easy task for my parents and teachers, and has given me an inquisitive mind.

I thank the Sisters and Priests of my boyhood who gave me an education in faith and morality. I thank the Benedictine Brothers and Priests of my high school for being the models of manhood that I remember. I thank my parents for loving me inspite of having given them reasons for not doing so. 

It’s for these reasons that I don’t go to church every Sunday. It’s for these reasons I have remained Roman Catholic.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Morrisroes and O'Dohertys of County Mayo, Ireland

edited by J.C. Sullivan and Jim Rukosky

     In times of Eireanne, unfortunately similar to that of today,  two men of Mayo would stand firm. Patrick Morrisroe the son of Mary Brennan and John Morrisroe was born in Charlestown, County Mayo 19th February 1867.  His baptismal sponsors were Luke Brennan and Frances Kelly.  As seemed to follow family suit, he was educated at the local N.S. Seminary, then on to Ballaghadereen and Maynooth College. Following his ordination at the Cathedral at Ballaghadereen he served in the diocese of Achonry. In 1896 Patrick returned to Maynooth to become  Junior Dean in the College.

     Patrick was consecrated a Bishop at the age of 44 in the Cathedral, Ballaghadereen, along with his cousin Most Rev. Bishop Michael J. O'Doherty,  later to become bishop of Zamboagna, in the Philippines.  Most Rev. Dr. Healy, Archbishop of Tuam was the consecrating prelate, and was assisted by Rev. Dr. Clancy, Bishop of Elphin.  The congregation which filled the Cathedral included Messrs. John Dillon M.P., J. McVeagh M.P., and John O'Dowd M.P.  The sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Beechler, Maynooth College.

     A man of deep learning, Patrick was an authority on theological and liturgical matters. His Lenten Pastoral of 1941, one of great controversy was censored by the government.  In it he directs his final comments to a world in crisis.  "As we pen these pages, beloved Brethren, we are face to face with a spectacle probably more appalling than any recorded in the annals of history. Long ago it was predicted that nation would rise against nation and Kingdom against Kingdom."

     At the age of 79 Patrick died at the Palace, Ballaghadereen. Priests and people from all parts of the Diocese of Achonry attended the removal of the remains to St. Nathy's Cathedral.  The Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Walsh officiated at the house.  The funeral procession was headed by the members of the Diocesan Chapter and a large number of surpliced clergy of the diocese who chanted the Miserere. Members of the St. Vincent de Paul and Gardai acted as pall-bearers and marshals, and gardai, under the direction of Supt. J. Lyons provided a guard of honour. Members of all the Catholic organizations marched in the procession.
   Julia O'Kelly and Michael O'Doherty welcomed son Michael J. into this world July 30, 1874 in Charlestown, County Mayo. Michael's brother Denis J. would later succeed him as rector of the College of Salamanca.  His Grace's early years were spent between his birthplace and Kiltinagh; his early schooling, he received at St. Nathy's College, in Ballaghadereen.  Finishing his course studies he proceeded to St. Patrick's College, Maynooth University for his philosophical and theological studies.  He was ordained a priest 30 November 1897.  He was then only 24 years old.

     A brilliant scholar, his first appointment was to a professorship in his native diocesan college, where he taught for several years.  It was largely through his efforts that St. Nathy's College was raised to a prominent place among the educational institutions of Ireland.

      Michael was appointed by the Council of Irish Bishops, Rector of the College in Salamanca, Spain, where he directed for seven years.  He was successful in restoring the ancient glory of the college.  For it's support Bishop O'Doherty recovered a number of legacies and endowments of which it had been deprived since the Napoleonic wars and subsequent upheavals in Spain.  He became a close friend of King Alfonso of Spain and was honored by the letter with the order of knighthood of the Spanish household, a rare distinction.

     At thirty-seven he had established himself as an educator and administrator and became a notable figure in the Catholic hierarchy.  When the diocese of Zamboagna was created in 1911, his Holiness, Pope Pius X appointed him the first bishop. After his consecration Michael traveled to Rome to meet with the Holy Father.  He met also with Cardinal Merry del Val and Cardinal de Lai.  He left Queenstown 22 February 1912 for America. Accompanied by his secretary Rev Stanislaus Hyghes, PhD. he toured the country from coast to coast visiting friends.  On 6th March he stopped in Baltimore to visit Cardinal Gibbons whom he wanted to meet since he was a child.  On July 26th 1912 he turned his sights east to a new endeavor in a new world.

     Six months after arriving at his diocese Michael’s memories reflect his despair: "When I sit down to ponder (on the needs of my diocese), I am not overwhelmed by the burden, for if God wishes every necessity supplied, so shall it be.  But I feel at a loss to know where to begin".

     There were 40,000 square miles to cover by seventy priests. Often times this resulted in a parish only being visited once a year for sacraments.  Michael writes: "Our great need is Priests . . . and we have no Seminary, not one Catholic hospital in this diocese.  There is no high school for boys and girls, no orphan asylum or other asylum of any kind, no training schools for teachers no Cathedral worthy of the name, no bishop's residence."

      Narrowly escaping the hurricane of October 15th ,where the roof was torn off the pastor's house where he was staying, and two days later surviving a near drowning at sea in a 40 ton steam launch, he would change these missing foundations of Catholic belief. Having assessed the needs of the flock, Bishop O'Doherty began working to establish a general hospital in Zamboagna. Concurrently he began the establishment of Catholic schools.  With great energy, wisdom and courage he set about laying the foundations of an enduring progressive diocese.

     It was at this time that Michael crossed swords with General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing, US Army.  It was not a duel fought in the wee hours between two adversaries  rather a war of the pen between a prince of the church, in defense of his faith, and the enemies and the attacks that are forever aimed at the Catholic religion.  Christianity and Catholic education were the objects of offense and defense. The battleground was the Mindanao Herald, the paper of Zamboagna.  Changes were being made with the enlargement of the "Moro Province".  The opening headline read; With the enlargement of Moro Province to include the vast area and population of the pagan tribes of Agusan and Bukidnon there accrue increased responsibility for our new Governor".  In this was a distinct implication that the majority of the inhabitants of Agusan and Bukidnon were pagans, an insinuation belied by the majority of Christian Filipinos in those areas.  The article piled up more assertions; this geographical change is an appropriate one as it places the bulk of the non-Christians of the southern archipelago under one government..."  A Challenge - a provocation - an attack that had to be answered.

     Without delay, his Lordship advanced readily to the engagement. In a letter dated 11 December 1913 to the editor, He undertook to express the general resentment of the Catholics in having been unceremoniously grouped with the "bulk of the non-Christians of the southern archipelago..."  As the Bishop pointed out the phrase used "either ignores the existence of the Christian Filipinos who are in the majority, or insults excellent Catholics, by including them among the pagans, which they and I as their Bishop resent most heartily."  General Pershing filed a report which read in part "The Public Schools maintained throughout this province are well in advance of the sectarian schools in every particular..."  If there was a way to raise the dander of the Irish born Michael this was it.  He could not let this provocation go unanswered. 

     In his second letter to the editor he showed, based on current data how the parochial school of Dipolog was the finest materially, and on the question of intelligence he revealed that the "parochial schools of Dipitan, Caraga, and the girls' school of Tetuam, even in the matter of English, can stand side by side with the best of the public schools; and in the moral line the less that is said the better for the public schools".

 The Mindano Herald became the forum for these great powers. Numerous erroneous statements were made against the Catholic Church, and the people of the province.  In this duel of great powers, Michael was to win. The final lunge by Bishop O'Doherty was both direct and fatal to Gen. Pershing and Supt. of schools Mr. Charles R. Cameroon.  This lunge delivered with such swift and vigorous ease, sounded the finale in this unique duel. For the adversary's reply was neither parry nor feint, it was an apology: "I apologize for having made these erroneous assertions and beg to withdraw the entire statement, very respectfully, Charles R. Cameroon."  

     To his credit Archbishop O'Doherty was the catalyst in building such notable landmarks in Zamboagna as the Malate Catholic School, the De La Salle College, the Cathedral at Zamboagna, and of course the Hospital blessed by Michael at 9:00am, Sunday 6th February 1916. To his credit Archbishop O'Doherty is credited with founding the National Catholic Education Council, as he was a staunch defender of Catholic education.
     Much is written about Michael's life in Zamboagna, and his service to mother church. To date I have been unable to ascertain information regarding his death.  It is unclear if he was returned to Eireann for internment, or remained in Zamboagna.  Perhaps it may be more fitting that he remained there as this man of Mayo had grown roots deep into the soil of Manila and the Philippines.

     "It is needless to point out the achievements of the Catholic church in the Philippines, as they speak for themselves. However, it is not amiss to state that Catholicism has taken a deeper significance in the lives of the Filipino people . . . and has played a greater role in their conduct.  This, undoubtedly, is due to the influence of the man at the head of Catholicism in the Philippines - Archbishop O'Doherty". Manuel L. Quezon President of the Philippines 24 August 1936.


The Vatican - per Jim Rukosky
Most Rev. Thomas Flynn - Bishop of Achonry, Ireland
Mssr. Patrick Corrish - Archivist, Maynooth College, Ireland Maynooth Library
Mr. JC Sullivan, Northfield, Ohio, USA
Mr. James Rukosky, Cleveland, Ohio, USA