29 April 2008
My mother's 38th death anniversary
My mother, Mary Collins, was born in Dublin on 18 January 1915, the third of ten children of William Patrick Collins, also Dublin-born, and Annie Dowd from nearby County Meath. Indeed, Annie grew up near Tara, about 35 kms northwest of Dublin, very close to where St Columban's, Dalgan Park, the seminary where I studied from 1961 to 1968, was to be opened in 1941, replacing the 'Old Dalgan' in Shrule, on the border of County Galway and County Mayo, that had welcomed the very first Columban students in 1918.
Mam, who married my father, John Coyle, on 6 July 1942, died in her sleep early in the morning of 29 April 1970. It was the fourth anniversary of the death of her own mother.
The photo above was taken in a studio in Dublin when my mother was 19, according to her life-long friend, Mrs Maureen Gunnery, who my mother always referred to by her maiden name, Maureen Clare, as she did with other married women whom she had known when young. (It's only a custom in Ireland, I understand, for women to take their husband's surname, It's not required by law). Maureen died only a few years ago.
A couple of years ago the husband of one of my cousins was talking about the crucial decisions that parents make that affect our who lives. He mentioned my parents' decision to send me to O'Connell Schools, run by the (Irish) Christian Brothers. It was named after Daniel O'Connell, 'The Liberator', who laid the foundation stone in 1828. His election to the parliament in Westminster that same year, though he could not take his seat because he was a Catholic, led to Catholic Emancipation, ie, the repeal of most of the anti-Catholic laws in the United Kingdom, the following year.
My mother hated school and left the day she turned 14 since the law didn't require her to go any more. But she wanted only the best for my brother and me. O'Connell Schools was one of the very best in Ireland. It has a primary and secondary school. I was there from 1951 to 1961. Most of my classmates were children of parents who had never gone to secondary school. Fees were low in the secondary school - about one week's wage for a tradesman at the time - and many of us earned scholarships.
Very few of my cousins had a full secondary education but for my mother it was all-important that we got that chance. It was she rather than my father who was the driving force here, though he was fully in agreement with her. I'm very grateful to both of them for that, among many other things.
After my mother's death I could see signs of what I call the 'thoughtfulness' of God. I was studying in the USA at the time, already a priest, and the previous Christmas had an unexpected opportunity to spend six weeks at home in Dublin.
I remember on one occasion, when I think my mother was present, preaching about the Resurrection. I truly believed what I was saying but it was only at her death that my faith in the Resurrection moved from my head to my heart. I knew the truth of it with my whole being. My fahter had a similar experience during the funeral Mass. Within hours of my getting the news of my mother's death I felt a deep peace and an awareness that she had completed what God had asked her to do. I learned that she had been living to see my ordination, which took place on 20 December 1967. She had chronic bronchitis since the time I was about four.
My mother had a lovely singing voice and appeared in many amateur productions in her younger days. She was a great fan of Canadian singer Deanna Durbin who had a beautiful, pure soprano voice. I often heard Mam talk about a movie in which Deanna starred, Three Smart Girls, made in 1936 when the singer was only 15. My mother would always smile when she recalled the film. But it was in a sequel made in 1939, Three Smart Girls Grow Up, that Mam found her party piece, Because:
May you be part of the heavenly choir, Mam!