March 17, 2006

Trinity of influences: On St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Catholics celebrate faith, family and heritage

By John Shaughnessy

As they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Catholics will do more than savor corned beef and cabbage or raise a glass in song and cheer.

They will also draw sustenance from the stories and memories that capture the three essential elements of their lives: their faith, their family and their Irish heritage.

Here are three stories of the way that trinity of influences has touched the lives of certain Irish Catholics in the archdiocese.

A wedding for the ages

The bells of Ireland decorated the church pews and a smile danced across the face of Megan Griffin Murphy as she prepared to light the unity candle with her husband-of-mere-minutes, Ryan Murphy.

Standing in front of friends and relatives who filled St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis, Megan thought about how her wedding continued a remarkable connection of faith and family.

A hundred years earlier—to the same weekend—her Irish immigrant great-grandparents pledged their hearts and their lives to each other in the same church.

And 61 years ago—to the exact date—her grandparents also promised their love to each other at St. John’s. The church was also the same place where her parents made the same vows 30 years ago.

“I could not have dreamed a better way to start our journey as husband and wife,” Megan said about the four-generation connection. “It was such a great feeling standing in the same spot as my great-grandparents 100 years ago. And I really wanted to be married in the same church as my parents.”

The glow increased when she and Ryan lit the unity candle, which also had a special family tie.

“My parents used it on their wedding day,” recalled Megan, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis “They hadn’t burned it since then. Before the wedding, we had been sitting around talking about all the things I still needed to get. I mentioned the unity candle, and my Dad went upstairs and came down with their candle. It was awesome.

“We’re not going to burn it either, in the hope that my son or daughter someday may want to use it when they get married. I think it would be really neat.”

Her parents, John and Donna Griffin, get emotional still thinking about their daughter’s wedding on Oct. 28, 2005.

“It was just something really special,” said John Griffin, a member of St. Barnabas Parish. “It was just a tribute to the faith that all the generations had in God. It just brought up all the memories of faith and family.”

A family tradition

On Feb. 12, Amy and Patrick Joseph Miles rejoiced when their second child—their first son—was born.

Naming him became one of the easiest choices the couple would ever make. Patrick Ian became the fifth straight generation of Miles’ males to be named after the patron saint of Ireland.

“My wife really liked the name,” said Patrick Joseph. “Deep down, it was something I wanted to continue. I thought it was very special to be a fourth generation, and to have a chance at a fifth generation, I couldn’t pass it up. I know what it meant to my father and grandfather.”

He hopes to continue another family tradition for his children.

“My parents put our faith as the foremost part of our lives,” said Patrick Joseph, a member of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis. “They went out of their way to let us go to a Catholic school. They made sacrifices. I hope to teach my faith and show my faith with my own children.”

Sacrificing to build a better life for their children is part of the tradition of being Irish and Catholic, said Patrick David Miles, the grandfather of the latest addition to the Miles family.

“My great-grandmother had a pretty rough life,” Patrick David said. “She immigrated here, married in 1902 and her husband passed away in 1905, leaving her with two sons. She ran the farm and raised those two boys, including my grandfather, Patrick Leonard. His oldest son, Patrick Ellis, my father, eventually came to Indianapolis and opened a grocery store in Holy Cross Parish.”

While he’s proud of his family’s five generations of Patricks, he’s even more proud of the heritage that spawned them.

“I think the Irish are special people because they were persecuted for being Catholic, and they didn’t give up on their faith,” said Patrick David, the grandfather.

“The tendency is when things get tough, people duck away from things. The fact that the Irish Catholics stood true to their faith, that means something special to me. We don’t suffer anymore, but you have to admire those people who came before us.”

A lesson in love

Karen Gallagher has always known the connection of faith, family and Irish heritage—a connection that was fostered by her mother, Kathryn Monaghan, and her father, the late Ray Monaghan.

That connection came alive again on Ash Wednesday when Gallagher’s youngest son, his wife and their two small boys visited 92-year-old Kathryn Monaghan at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove.

“When they went up to get ashes, Michael—the 2-year-old—grabbed my mother’s hand,” Gallagher recalled. “She told me she was so proud that he was walking up with her. She told me she said, ‘Ray, are you watching us? Are you watching us?’ She was tearing up as she was telling me this.”

Her tears came because the connection of faith and family was at the heart of the life of Ray Monaghan, who died two years ago after 66 years of marriage.

Gallagher tells the heartbreaking story of how her father, at the age of 11, came to understand the importance of family.

“His mother died and his father abandoned him,” she said. “Dad made a conscious decision that his children were going to have the life of love he didn’t have. He was a loving father who taught by example. His faith and his love for Mom were his two strongest lessons.”

Those lessons were showcased in an Easter Sunday moment about 15 years ago when he visited his wife in the hospital.

“Dad was supposed to go to Mass, then come to our house for breakfast, then go to the hospital to see Mom. But he went to see Mom first, before he did anything else,” recalled Gallagher, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis.

“But the main memory of that day was another lesson from Dad. Before he led us in grace, he said, ‘Easter is the most important day in the Church year. If it wasn’t for Easter and the Resurrection, our faith wouldn’t have any meaning.’ Easter wasn’t just a day for Dad. It was a validation of his faith.”

He viewed St. Patrick’s Day as a validation of his heritage. So does Karen Gallagher. She will begin her St. Patrick’s Day by going to Mass. As she kneels, she will offer prayers for the blessing of her faith, the blessing of being Irish and the blessing of her family, starting with the gift of her parents.

“St. Patrick’s Day was always important at home,” she said. “It was a way to express our pride and our Irish heritage. And the base of our Irish heritage is our faith and our family.” †


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