Sunday, July 5, 2015

Gray's Ferry...a long way from the Holy Roman Empire!

I am busy since last year researching my familial roots through Admittedly, it is really a very tedious task and the research takes you into directions you never considered going. Since last Fall, I have focused on the genealogical links of my maternal side of the family and have been quite surprised with the results. My mother's 12th great grandfather according to the little green leaves at Ancestry is William Brewster. Frankly, I did not recognize the name, and even made many inquiries to my grandfather's last surviving sister (since deceased in June ) if the name held any significance. She had not heard of the fellow William Brewster either. I researched the name a bit more and found out that William Brewster was one of the Pilgrim Fathers, a signer of the Mayflower Compact and most interesting a Puritan. How could I have roots based in Puritan theology ? Well one never really knows where the roots were established. In the case of my maternal grandfather some of his roots, my roots and my family's roots extended from 17th century England and the Netherlands since that little discovery, my membership in the Mayflower Society has been pending and Thanksgiving will hold new significance this year.
Those little green leaves are addictive, genealogical crack-cocaine that keep you searching and searching for clues regarding your roots. Educators should take note and use this methodology when teaching math, history or any other subject that requires motivation. Leaves work. As a result, I am surrounded by birth and death certificates, records of family interrelationships, baptism and burial documents and any other scrap of paper that provides further identity to my maternal family members from Gray's Ferry.
Uniquely, some of the names I knew from our old neighborhood actually go back generations in Gray's Ferry and most of these families share relationships that transcend the Atlantic Ocean and co mingle with each other not only in Gray's Ferry but in Ireland, Scotland and England as well. Religion also factors into our roots, and since starting to explore this interconnected root mass of inter-familial connections it is starting to make sense. The demographics of Gray's Ferry are well rooted in the Protestant and Catholic issues based in Northern Ireland since the Protestant Reformation and the reign of Elizabeth I. Other factors that developed the history of Gray's Ferry mirror most of the significant events that contributed to the evolution of the United States, including the Great Migration period, the American Revolution and every stage of United States history that followed.
The tracing of ancestral roots is something that has become a personal obsession at times, however it has introduced me to a new variety of friends, other researchers and membership in new societies, such as the Sons of the American Revolution. As part of my research, I have discovered 23 relatives with an association with the American Revolution, 5 with roots in Jamestowne Settlement,10 at Plymouth Rock and multiple cases of family members that fought in the wars of 1812 and the Civil War. To date, I have joined the SAR, and the Society of the War of 1812 and will continue to expound the historical significance of all of the families and their ancestors that lived and experienced Gray's Ferry.
While I enjoy following the little green leaves on, most of what they reveal needs to be researched more closely to make sure the facts are indeed correct. While I would like to believe all of the revealed green leaves, especially the ones that state that Charlemagne the Great was my 42nd great-grandfather...I have to put down my scepter and crown and thankfully realize that after all...Gray's Ferry was my home...not the hills of the Holy Roman Empire. Oh least Ancestry telly everyone they are descendents of Charlemagne, it sells more subscriptions through those addictive little green leaves.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Gray's Ferry has global roots.......

Recently, I began the process of researching my genealogical roots and discovered that there might be the possibility of having links to multiple Revolutionary War  Patriots, and perhaps even a connection to the Mayflower. Growing up in Gray's Ferry it really never dawned on me that some of my maternal ancestors might have been in the United States since 1620. Studiously, the process started with a membership with, and the green leaves began to appear, much to my surprise. Seemingly, armed with the leaves from, I began the applications for the Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution. What became very apparent in my search for lineage is the fact that my maternal ancestors indeed had quite a historical presence in the Philadelphia area and some of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution. Most significant to me however was the diversity of forefathers even within my own family. Some were of German descent, some of Irish ancestry even some from the Netherlands. It seemed that the Irish American ancestry that was always assumed and considered a natural part of the surname, McNichol, was in fact an anomaly. I was a melting pot composed with elements of many ancestors and cultures, but could have been quite at home with multiple nationalities as I continued my search through the genealogical saga that brought my maternal roots to pre-Norman Great Britain to Normandy. Of course now I have the bug and want to belong to every society one could possibly imagine. In reality such an aspiration is quite impossible because it consumes time, money and involves extensive research in order to make all of those little leaves disappear. Well over the past few months, I have been making those little leaves fall and have had a new appreciation for the lives of all of the people and cultures that made Gray's Ferry home during the period of the Great Immigration of the 19th century and even in some cases with the Mayflower and every great voyage in between all of those events. We really are a nation of immigrants, unless some of us that lived in Gray's Ferry were descendants of Native American Indian tribes. Who knows, perhaps there are some Lenape descendants that lived in Gray's Ferry, but I personally have never known any of them.
What I found most interesting was the fact that some of the same names of families that we grew up with in the Gray's Ferry neighborhood have in fact been there for quite a long time. My suggestion to all of the Saint Gabriel's community in Gray's Ferry is to do some research on your own ancestors and you might be pleasantly surprised your ancestors participated in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War and many other historically significant events that make the fabric of America come alive. Over the past months, I have accumulated birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates & countless other records that chart my family's tree. With all of that information, I am slowly filling in parts of family myth and legend with historical facts. I have learned that my family jumped around from address to address in Gray's Ferry, married neighbors,
professed different faiths and have dispersed today throughout the world from the neighborhood we all shared, and enjoyed. Most importantly however is the realization that my own family grew from multiple roots, multiple cultures all interwoven towards migration to the New World in search of religious freedom, personal liberties and the American way of life. So after reading this, dig out your family Bibles, ask questions and discover your real ancestry in and before and after experiencing Gray's Ferry.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gray's Ferry...steeped in American History and Geneological Roots!

Recently, I attended a meeting of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and encountered someone that never heard of Grays Ferry and its place in American history. The individual was a graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and he strongly without reservation maintained the United States Naval Academy was founded in Maryland, and would not change his mind. Well, nothing gets my Gray's Ferry up more quickly thank someone that diminishes the role our neighborhood played in American history. So I naturally went into the story of the Naval Asylum and the original design by William Strickland, the great architect (who by the way is entombed in his last work, the capitol in Nashville, TN), the skirmish at Gray's Ferry on September 27, 1777, American sharpshooters protected George Washington's flank as he retreated from the Battle of Brandywine, headed to Valley Forge, the first steam engine ship by Fulton happened on the Schuylkill river in 1820, the Federal Arsenal, first in the nation on Gray's Ferry Avenue and finally the facts concerning the Naval Asylum  and the contributions the lost area of Gray's Ferry have made to American society and history. Finally convinced, the Annapolis graduate conceded defeat and promised to read my writings on the topic. While the reasons for my writing on Gray's Ferry are not rooted in self promotion, they are deeply rooted in my love for personal ancestry and generations of history that occurred over the centuries in Gray's Ferry.
When I was growing up, my maternal grandfather used to tell me that he had relatives that fought in the American Revolution, some came on the Mayflower, some fought in the French and Indian Wars and even more uniquely some were settlers at Jamestown. Those points always made me curious and I finally got a chance to research all of those remote conversations with my maternal grandfather and with much surprise...they are true. With the assistance of bibliographical resources,, and other resources I tracked down each long lost ancestor and discovered names such as Babb, Bischoff, Gray (my maternal great-grandmother was a Gray.), Hancock, Wharton and even some Reeds. On a mission I finally found one connection to the American Revolution, Captain James Gray. Shocked, he was from Vermont, and his son James Jr. also was a Patriot and fought for American Independence. Now really determined, I continued research and called the local president of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR is a hereditary membership society, that traces the roots of modern Americans to colonial Patriots in the fight for American Independence.) The results staggered me, not only had I found 2 past Patriot relatives, but 24 that fought from Bunker Hill to Yorktown. My story is not unusual, and is quite common for most of the people that lived in Gray's Ferry prior to the American Revolution, they just don't know it, or have never believed the stories their grandparents and other relatives have told them throughout their lives.
Now I am trying to convince all of my first cousins to join the Sons of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the American Revolution & Children of the American Revolution. While we in America do not have titles of nobility, we are indeed a nation, city and neighborhood of rich histories that have many stories to tell, and show clearly that the fabric of America was woven in part in Gray's Ferry. When describing the SAR membership, I joked with one cousin that it was easier to believe that we had colonial ancestors, the larger question was how the heck did we end up in Gray's Ferry? In my case it was through marriage, as was common for 18th century natal Americans.
Now most of the people that grew up in Gray's Ferry, now live in Washington Township, New Jersey, especially in Sewell. Often I say that if Saint Gabriel Parish could be transported to Sewell, all of the parishioners would already know each other.
The next time you think about growing up in Gray's Ferry, try asking relatives the question: How did we come to settle in Gray's Ferry? I am sure the answer will surprise you, inspire you and make you proud that your family's roots are deeply rooted in the area from pre-Revolutionary America up to the 21st century. History is important, Gray's Ferry's history is important and each Gray's Ferry family in some manner is quite honestly related to each other through marriage, through faith and through American ancestry.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hope for the future of Saint Gabriel's Parish!

The recent announcement that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will close almost 50 schools throughout the Archdiocese is indeed a stinging wound that hurts everyone that has had the benefit of Catholic education. I admit, the proposed closing of Saint Gabriel School distresses me because my very roots of my Catholic beliefs were instilled there by the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the generations of priests that FAITHFULLY served thousands of faithful Catholics from the parish's inception. The closing of a school, or for that matter the closing of a parish marks a life cycle that has come full term, not happening overnight but rather taking generations of a declining spiral based on many, many points and issues. First, I emphatically support efforts to keep Saint Gabriel School and Parish fully operational, not for nostalgic and sentimental reasons;but because there is a genuine need for educational and spiritual nurturing in Gray's Ferry. One of the least read writings of the late Father Karl Rahner, was Towards a Church in the 2st Century, which speculated that Catholicism would experience great difficulties in the United States in the 21st century if considerations were not made to compensate for, shifting demographics of ethnic populations, the grave immoral invention and use of the birth control pill and Catholic's rejection of the official prohibition against artificial methods of birth control, and declining numbers of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Well, we can now say after looking into the rear view mirror, that Father Rahner was our own 20th century Nostradamus. What most of us also forget is the great industrial demise of the United States since the end of the Second World War, second and third generations of immigrant's children, living the American dream and escaping the confines of the city to the sprawling suburbs post WWII and finaly and regretfully White Flight from the urban environment. While we all lament the closure parishes and schools, how many of us would honestly return to live in the brick row homes of our youth, give up a driveway with a 2 car garage, a (dreaded) lawn that always needs to be cut, and a large home with 4 or 5 bedrooms with lots of closet space to hold as George Carlin most famously caricatured in his conceptualization of a house as just a big place to store more,"things."
Growing up in Gray's Ferry during the 1960's and 1970's marked the last vestiges of the 19th century's Industrial Revolution, and surge of Irish immigration to Philadelphia. When, we were growing up in the area, there were mills that made clothing, factories that made furniture, refineries that produced oil and gasoline to fuel the industries of the 19th and 20th centuries, DuPont Chemicals, Barrat's Chemicals, and dozens of industrial installations ran 3 shifts 24/7 to built "American Made Things", from ships at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, to clothing, military tanks and vehicles and even beer and whiskey (Ortliebs and Publickers). All of these jobs are gone, and frankly fueled the nation and the world from Gray's Ferry. The nation's first Federal Arsenal provided munitions and clothing on Gray's Ferry Avenue until its demolition in the late 1950s, the river provided hundreds of jobs for Irish immigrants in the area loading and unloading coal barges in order to keep the flames of industry and in most cases home heating burning. The birthplace of the United States Naval Academy in a building designed by William Strickland, proudly served as initially an educational institution and then a rest home for retired U.S.Navy sailors. Now that same property, has been developed into luxury condominiums and the local industries have moved offshore to places like Thailand, India and the former Eastern Block of the Soviet Union.
Saint Gabriel's Parish and School has seen all of these changes, including the painful race riots of the 1960's, the traumatic changes of Vatican II, that initiated the end of local eating establishments that supplied fish for our now cast-off tradition of abstinence on Fridays all year around.I would give anything to enjoy a dinner of fried oysters, oyster stew or a piece of flounder or a crabcake from any of the local bars( or tap rooms,as we called them) in Gray's Ferry. While my wife thinks I am ancient, there was indeed a time that there were icemen, milkmen, ragmen, itinerant window washers and street cleaners in Saint Gabriel Parish.  However, that era of Americana has been in rapid decline since the Second World War, and Catholic parishes unfortunately have felt the seismic effects more directly.
Another consideration regarding Catholic education that is often forgotten are the countless men and female religious that taught in the Catholic school system, well into their 80's teaching children by the thousands for decades for a stipend of about $100.00 per month. Remember, Mother Maria Robert, who was not only principal of Saint Gabriel's Schol, but prior of the convent of Sisters. She taught, administered, cleaned, mediated and oversaw a student population of over 2000 children and perhaps 30 I.H.M. Sisters for about $100.00 per month, with room, board and meals included. The decline of female and male religious as the primary educators in Catholic Schools directly affected the cost of Catholic education because laity now were required to fill the positions of religious, that were virtually free labor to provide Catholic education. These women, had 50-60 students per class, lived in community, wore a dozen layers of religious habits and they still scrubbed floors with mechanical floor polishers, controlled 1000 kids with a "clicker" and went back to a convent every night for a community meal (the choice of which was not theirs), evening prayer, night prayer and perhaps a short respite of television watching whatever Mother Superior wanted. Wow....what a charmed life. We forget the vocational sacrifices these men and women made to spread the Gospel to the parochial school system.They even had to staff, The Children's Mass" on Sunday, making sure their classroom charges behaved through the changing liturgical results of Vatican II.
Priests in the parish of course had life quite different. They called the shots, they had cars and they made all of the real decisions about the school, church convent and rectory, without having to be in a classroom all day will hundreds of sugar hyped children that really couldn't care about the right angle of a triangle, or the proper Palmer Method of using a cartridge pen (This author is living proof of the failure of the Palmer Method, I recently reviewed my 6th grade report card and noticed my grade for handwriting was a meager 75)! However, the priests of the parish did not have permanent deacons, extraordinary ministers of communion, lay teachers, outreach assistants and CCD offices. They celebrated all of the Sacraments, said Mass daily, including funerals and grave services, visited and took communion to the sick and infirmed, heard confessions on Saturdays from 2-5 and during the week for the school children and even like Father now Msgr.Shoemaker gave out the report cards quarterly in either a cassock or a priest's rabat and suitcoat. Report card day was often dreaded because Fr. Shoemaker looked over each report card and offered words of encouragement to each relieved student. In those days, Saint Gabriel had an actie parish life, a Sodality of the B.V.M., the Men's League of Prayer, C.Y.O., Block Collections, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday afternoons, Catholic league grade school sporting events, basketball, football, bowling. The parish priest drew the winning tickets at the weekly 50/50 raffle that offset the parish's high school tax paid to the diocese. Priests also, like Msgr. Joseph Waldron( while puffing a cigar) sat in the rectory basement and counted the collection with the men of the Holy Name Society and got it ready for afternoon pickup on Sunday by armored car for deposit to the bank. Priests at Saint Gabriel and all of the other parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia rotated weeks of "on call" which meant they fielded the phone calls, requests to write Mass cards, hear confessions and oversee the nightly running of the parish rectory on alternating weeks. Often called out to administer Extreme Unction, or what is now the Anointing of the Sick to those dying and sometimes those that were perpetually dying over 40 years, but just wanted to call out the priest for a chat.
Weekly Mass began at 5:30 am until the High Mass, with a full male choir at 12:15pm. Today, Catholic parishes are forced to endure a cadre of evangelical/Protestant music, usually with a strumming Sally and no real appreciation of the liturgical and theological importance of music in the Liturgy, and a disdain for anything that contains Latin or polyphonic chant as old fashioned or out of touch with the modern Church. And of course, every parish has the Evita like, arms waiving leader of song, that provides a Mitch Miller touch to the Sacred Liturgy and leads the community in songs that have been stripped of any references to gender, in concession to political correctness, despite the fact that the phrase, Sons of God is intended to be inclusive of all women as well.
I also need to respond to the allegations that Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary is and continues to be a breeding ground for pedophiles and sex offenders that eventually become Catholic priests. As a Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary graduate, I speak for myself, non-ordained and the ordained alike that lead morally upright lives as priests , married men and some even still celibate men of faith. I have known hundreds of Seminary companions since 1978 and am proud to have been associated with them as men , as priests and as fellow graduates. To condemn the entire population and educational purpose of the institution because of the actions of a small percentage of the thousands of men that have called Saint Charles , Borromeo Seminary their home and alma mater for over 175 years is an gross exaggeration of implied complicity that implies all of us( myself included) were pedophiles in training. Such ignorance and exaggeration is not only reflective of a Catholic population that is unable to comprehend the widespread effects of the clergy sex scandal, but also neglects to understand and appreciate the fact that without priests, there is no Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. Because some priests were not faithful to their promises of celibacy and obedience does not indite all graduates of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary both ordained, non-ordained, and those legitimately released from their priestly, or deacon  obligations as pedophiles and sex offenders. There are those that proclaim this on places like FaceBook and Twitter that hold this opinion, some even the siblings of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary graduates that perpetuate this erroneous understanding of priestly formation. I have known hundreds of priests, deacons and seminarians since grade school and have a great respect for all of them and continue to pray for those that might have erred as part of my Catholic obligation to fulfill the priestly prayer of Jesus, "That they may be one." The task of being a priest in today's agnostic or often atheistic society is to put it mildly, stressful and lonely at best.
Returning to the potential closure of Saint Gabriel's School...perhaps and regretfully the time has come to reinvent and reinvigorate the parochial system of education as we have known it over the past 100 years. If indeed one really wants to save Saint Gabriel School, move back into Gray's Ferry, enroll your children in the parish, attend weekly Mass, relearn to parallel park and put currency other than coinage into the collection basket and resurrect a neighborhood that has been subjected to multiple injustices, some self inflicted that have caused the current situation to exist. Most importantly return to celebrating Catholicism, by not only endorsing Catholic education, but by attending Mass, contributing appropriately and becoming active participants in the parish family.
While many will read this article and disagree with me, you have that right. I personally would love to return to a nostalgic Saint Gabriel Parish of times gone bye, but the reality is quite different than the memories. Rising costs of operations, teacher's salaries, the lack of active Catholics despite the inflated real estate prices in the neighborhood still does not indicate an area of sustainable economic or Catholic growth. If 200 former families of Saint Gabriel Parish would move back to Gray's Ferry and once again call it home, and actively participate in the fiscal, spiritual and temporal life of the school, parish and neighborhood....count me in....and I will see you at Dean's for a round. However, without people, revenue and youth population, coupled with the opportunities for viable employment Saint Gabriel and 48 other parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia need to envision a new model of Catholicism for the 2st century, that is rooted in a grass roots faith, anchored by a Catholic family, following Catholic traditions and contributing to the support of a parish complex before there will be a reversal of closures at Saint Gabriel and other parishes throughout the United States. If every Catholic would just attend Mass and contribute 25.00 per week in the collection basket...imagine the revitalization Catholicism would experience. It is time to let nostalgia go, place the scandals in their correct perspective, focus on stirring up the Holy Spirit to provide viable vocations and come out of the closed Upper Room, and like the Apostles leave fear behind and proclaim our Catholic faith and educational morals and values as exemplary models for faithful Catholics, evangelization and conversion to our faith and using the Catholic family as the cornerstone of our faith that will restore Christ's prominence to a Catholic world full of fragile peace and broken promises.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Immaculate Mary....processing around Saint Gabriel's Church!

October is alsways a memorable month, as is May when I recall the parochial school days at Saint Gabriel Parish School. It was Mary's Month, and the school was festooned to reflect Marian Blue in all of the classroooms and hallways. The most favorite recollection is the magnificent decorations that decorared the Mary Altar within the Church itself. Draperies of blue velvet and gold silk, covered the great painting of the Annunciation of Saint Gabriel and focused all of the atention on the pristine white marble, largrer than life representation of the Blessed Virgin. Of course, the penultimate factor was the sparkling diadem, with diamonds. The Marian Altar was transformed from the usual ancillary altar that balanced out the church with Saint Joseph on the other side, and became a monumental shrine devoted to Mary...just as important as Lourdes, Knock or Fatima for the multicultural parish of Saint Gabriel.
Throughout the years of grade scool, we processed to the song, Immaculate Mary, accompanied by the boming organ and Sister Maureen Rose I.H.M. leading the singinging. While we were not climbing the foreirn pilgrimage sites of Saint Patrick's Rock in distant Ireland, nor following the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem, we were indeed on a circular processional of pilgrimage honoring the Theotokos, the God Bearer and asking for Her Divine intercession with Her Son to the Eternal Father. Today, my thoughts of Mary as Theotokos are usually infused with a theological reflection or historical understanding of the Council of Ephesus; despite this my seminal faith is transported always back to my memories of processions and the Marian Altar at Saint Gabriel Church. Pragmatic and simple devotions are the touchstones that link us to our historical and theologicaal past, present and future. What I now understand as kairotic time, was rooted in signs and symbols of Catholic devotions that transcended generations of faithful Catholics.
October, as Mary's month had all of us gradeschool students carrying rosary beads, the boys, looping them through their belt loops and pacing the crucifix in their pockets, the girls, draping them in a similar manner in the waistbands of their uniform jumpers. Rarely do I see a Rosary when I watch the students at my daughter's school of Saint John the Beloved in Pike Creek Delaware, seemingly the Rosary is viewed as an antiquated sacramental displaced by outlandinsh and incorrectly instructed notions what Saint Francis might say in a contemporary world.
Every day, the bells at Saint Gabriel Church tolled precisely at noon for the Angelus. We stopped, stood and prayed the prayer that commemorated the great moment of Christ's Incarnation and prayed afterwards for the souls of the faithful (and not so faithful departed). Our parish doesn't even ring the bells out of deference for the fear of ecumenical offense to neighboring denominations, let also recall the magnificence of the Incarnation. Our desire to experience God and to feel and in some manner see God depends strongly on all of our traditions of signs and symbols. 
I personally always carry a Penal Rosary to remind me of the great persecutions my Irish forefathers endured both in Ireland and in the early days of the British colonies to pray and celebrate their faith. Additionally, I carry it to remind me of the unconditional faith and trust Mary must have felt as a frightened young girl that precipitated the Archangel Gabriel to first say to Her, "Non Phobia", "Do not fear." In recalling Gabriel's exclamation at the Annunciation it allows me to also reaffirm a personal lack of fear, through Mary's, "Fiat!" and the transformational mgnificence of Christ Among Us, the Incarnation, that always brings me back to the refrain, "Immaculate Mary, Our Hearts are on fire.", the same feeling Mary surely experienced at the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifiction and with the tounges of fire at Pentecost.
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary...and she conceived by the Holy Spirit....
constantly reminds of of the circular processions around a neo-Gothic Church in the inner city thay I remebber on a daily basis as the formational and foundational touchstone for my entire love and desire for Mary, Mother of God, the Church and each and every one of us,
Finally, find those rosaries and start putting them to good use, pray for the Church, past, presnt and future, It is realy more enriching and fulfilling than transactional psychological analysis!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Irish Diaspora...the Traditions Continue!

Rituals are part of the Irish Catholic lifestyle. Perhaps the most dreaded ritual is when a loved relative dies and all of the Celtic nuances of mourning are set into motion. Namely, the entire family is notified of the passing of either a grandparent, aunt, uncle or some other relative. Then the wake is planned, the funeral and finally internment at the Catholic cemetery. Usually this ritual remains unchanged and has seemingly remained firm, since the first Irish settlers set foot into the United States.
As a third generation descendant of great grandparents that emigrated from Ireland, I have always been fortunate to have a large extended family of pseudo- aunts and uncles, cousins of multiple degrees and scores of indeterminate relatives that always help when the Irish families of the Diaspora gather to celebrate life, weddings and death. They fascinate me in the fact that despite the distances between all of us by physical location everyone finds the time to come together to mourn and celebrate the life and the new life in Christ the deceased relative now enjoys.
These reunions are great opportunities to recall the lives and heritages of all of our Irish relatives that made successful and productive lives for themselves in a new country…in most cases with just the clothing on their backs, assistance from other family members that arrived in the United States a bit earlier and perhaps a few dollars to spare. Irish families after immigration to the United States generally were reliant on each other for support and encouragement. Another critical means of support was of course their Catholic faith, which often targeted them for many forms of discrimination and pejorative treatments by non- Catholic Americans. However, the Irish American emerged from the 19th century as a formidable influence that helped determine American society, lifestyles and politics.
I find it most interesting that despite the passage of generations and years, my Irish cousins and extended family of relatives is still in a sense embracing the traditions of our grandparents and great-grandparents and handing on these values as part of not only our Irish ancestry heritage, but also our heritage as good American citizens. While we sometimes only see each other when someone is baptized, married or buried, I know I am able to call on any or all of them for any sort of assistance if the need ever arises. That type of familial bond is perhaps rooted in the ancient Celtic tradition of the clans on some level; however I firmly believe that in the case of Irish Americans that sense of familial connections and obligations has a more deeply rooted foundation, namely in the long struggle for support and recognition the Irish fought as new immigrants to this country.
Many examples of prejudices are often cited as part of the contemporary American society, however our Irish ancestors were saddled with many forms of prejudices that took the form of anti-Catholicism and anti-equal opportunity discrimination that ranged from denial of employment to consigning the Irish immigrants to the proverbial slums of the 19th & 20th centuries simply because the Irish were considered anti-American based on their allegiance to their Roman Catholicism and the goal to achieve better lives then the ones they left behind in Ireland because of agricultural famine and British tyranny.
Growing up in an ethnically Irish family, in an urban environment (Gray’s Ferry) was perhaps the greatest lesson that imparted the true meaning of family, faith and civil responsibility one could ever receive. The lessons learned from a Catholic education (Saint Gabriel Parish), surrounded by multiple generations of relatives and friends that shared the same Irish identity and struggled to achieve better lives was a remarkable example of living the American dream and achieving it through hard work, strong faith and most importantly the support and love of an extended family that transcended generations of hard working and well intended Irish immigrants that all worked towards the same goal.
Recently, I attended the funeral for a great-aunt and lamented the fact that there are so many of my extended McNichol Family that I don’t even know simply because I myself have now become the older generation of the same extended family of Irish immigrants. It is refreshing however to know that all of these young members of my family, while not all retaining the family name are aware of the strong bonds and ties that unite all of us together as family, as Catholics and as productive citizens.
The names have changed over the generations but many of my extended cousins are still engaged in careers of law enforcement, lawyers, education and even skilled labor much in the way their great-grandparents made a living for themselves and their families. It is even more refreshing to note that we have all kept the faith and remained Catholic and shared the faith that brought out Irish ancestors to America in order to freely celebrate their faith in Christ and their devotion to the Catholic Church. Most impressive and reassuring finally is the fact that we still find it important to gather together to celebrate milestones such as births, weddings and deaths, not because we are required to participate, but because we want to be present at all of these events because of our common heritage as family, Catholics and above all friends to each other whenever and wherever there is a need to show our familial support that joins us as a transcendent clan of McNichols, there for each other whatever the reason, in faith and love.

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that reflects on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Philadelphia's Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. He is currently in an advanced theology & history degrees program at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. He writes daily at , . Hugh writes on his Irish Catholic parochial experiences at
He also contributes writings to The Irish Catholic, Dublin, British Broadcasting Company, and provides Catholic book reviews for multiple Catholic periodicals and publishers, including Vatican Publishing House.
Hugh lives in Delaware's Brandywine Valley with his wife and daughter.
Hugh welcomes your comments via

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day...a day to celebrate my Father's ongoing wisdom!

Father’s Day, the annual event that creates a rush of activity in the Hallmark stores nationwide, and multiple traffic jams throughout the parking lots of shopping malls and raises revenues at Macy’s stores is a really remarkable day. As a son, I never quite understood the real significance of the day…because my father was and is always there to help me in innumerable ways that I cannot adequately explain.
Throughout my parochial school years, my father never generated any academic stress on me or my siblings. When report card time came around, he usually looked at the quarterly grades and either said “Good job!”, or “Your mother won’t like that one!” My father was not a “school-hanger”, meaning he didn’t get involved in our school activities, grades, or anything on a regular basis. The only time my father ever came over to Saint Gabriel’s School was to tell the school nurse, Mrs. Gorman…”never touch him again!” when I failed the annual hearing test, administered in February, when I was usually recovering from my perpetual ear, nose and throat infections. Of course he was there for graduations and all of the other important milestones. However, my father is the most superlative example of someone that always loved his job…as a Philadelphia policeman and narcotics detective. He worked multiple shifts, weekends and holidays. He was usually working on Father’s Day, so we often got a glimpse of him before or after his shift. The most important lesson I have always received from him is this: always do your job and do it well.
Often, my father passed on counsel through his everyday remarks and comments. I never realized how intensely accurate these little tidbits of pragmatic information were. For example, my father (to this day) does not paint, plumb or fix things around the house. He always told my mother, “Cass I’m a cop…call someone when you need something fixed around the house!” This fortunately has always resulted in a maintenance job being done correctly, well and without collateral damage. Once, my father was putting up wooden folding doors at our house in Avalon. It was 95 degrees, sawdust was everywhere. My father was in the basement (yes basements do exist at the shore), with his Craftsman power saw, trimming the doors for installation. That went well, until he cut the doors a little too much and what were supposedly solid wood doors, turned out to be hollow…and with the overcut…they fell apart. Well that was the end of the Bob Villa experience…from that moment on, it was adhere to the concept and, “call someone to put things in around the house.”
In the 50 plus years of my parent’s marriage, my mother has controlled everything…the house, the kids, the finances, even my father’s wardrobe. As a now father of a 12 year old daughter, I understand how this route of least resistance made my father exceptional. He was always there for the important milestones in our familial lives…but was never overbearing or excessive in expressing his love and concern for his children. Most importantly, he saw his role as the provider, which he has always done 1000% for me and my siblings, Karen and Stephen.
In the McNichol household, we have never been known to run around expressing our feelings of love for one another. Perhaps it is the remnant of Irish Jansenism that still pervades that side of the family “roots”; maybe it is the remnant of German pragmatism that still courses through our genealogical DNA on the other side of the hybrid family tree that keeps us from saying those three words…I love you! But I have always known my father has loved us, because he has always been there as a provider, pragmatic sage and constant influence on the events of our daily lives.  While we don’t run around in a 1960’s sense of “love fest”, we love our father, even though it is sometimes not often said verbally enough. So yes, “I love you Dad…and thank you for always being there…even though we haven’t always appreciated everything you continuously do for me, Karen and Stephen during his brief life!”
Happy Father’s Day to a great Father, who is in his own way, Socrates, Archie Bunker and Clint Eastwood all rolled into one…a pragmatic philosopher, that always told us truthfully and honestly with the reality of Inspector Harry Callaghan the best way to accomplish our goals and tasks in life. We love ya!