Yesterday's Irish Independent tells the heartwarming, and possibly unique, story of Mrs Eileen McGuinness (85) of Dublin becoming within thirty minutes a grandmother for the 69th time, a great-grandmother for the 58th time and a great-great-grandmother for the first time. The three boys were born in the same hospital and nobody was aware of these remarkable coincidences until the babies were safely delivered.
Mrs McGuinness, now widowed and a mother of 16, 'has begun planning for birthdays already and a triple christening'.
But reflecting the reality of contemporary Ireland, the story mentions Michael, 'Eileen's husband of 50 years' who died in 1996, while reporting that two of the three new mothers were 'girlfriends' and the third the 'partner' of the fathers.
Not unrelatedly, the Irish-American Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, recently spoke of four challenges facing the Church in the USA. CNA reports:
The archbishop then broke down Jesus’ words into four practical challenges the Church currently faces in preaching the Gospel to all people, the first being the instability of marriage and family.
“That’s where we have the real vocation crisis,” he remarked, noting that “only 50% of our Catholic young people are getting married.”
“We have a vocation crisis to life-long, life-giving, loving, faithful marriage. If we take care of that one, we’ll have all the priests and nuns we need for the church,” Dolan said.
Why has marriage ceased to be important for so many Catholics in such a short space of time? And what does the sacrament of baptism mean to parents who don't believe in the sacrament of matrimony?
But thank God that these three infant boys will have a very different family experience from that of a growing number of children today especially in the West and in China, who have no siblings, no uncles and no aunts.
Incidentally, Ireland is one of the safest places in the world to be a mother with only ten maternal deaths per 100,000 births, according to the 1996 UNICEF figures. The figure for the Philippines is 280. The worst figure of all is that for Sierra Leone, 1,400.
In 1992, while on a chaplaincy programme in a hospital in Minneapolis, I met a patient who was a great-great-grandmother who remembered one of her own great-great-grandmothers who had been born in Norway in the 1700s. What a marvellous blessing to be a living link between nine generations and four centuries! (I'm presuming that many of her descendants are still very much alive).
May God bless the extended McGuinness Family and may our Blessed Mother and her husband St Joseph protect them always.