March 9, 2007

Ancient Order of Hibernians to recognize Father Munshower

By John Shaughnessy

Sheer delight flows through the voice of Father William Munshower as he recalls the infamous day when his grandmother and his grandfather had a heated debate about whether anyone who is Irish could end up in heaven.

On one side of the debate was his grandfather, John Ashcraft, a Methodist. On the other side was Kate Shea Ashcraft, an Irish Catholic whose love for her husband was dearly tested one day when he looked at her mischievously and said, “You Irish are not going to heaven.”

“My grandmother was outraged,” Father Munshower recalls as a joyous humor fills his words. “She asked, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘The Irish are too noisy. It says in the Bible, ‘Be still and know God.’ The poor fellow walked into a donnybrook. My grandmother reacted furiously. She knew the Irish were God’s new chosen people and his favorite people. She told him, ‘The Irish are certainly going to heaven.’ ”

Father Munshower laughs at the memory.

“I think they’re both in heaven, to tell you the truth,” says the chaplain at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. “Actually, they were beautiful together. It was a great, large family I was raised in. It was liberal, congenial, even gregarious. They liked to get together.”

The delight that Father Munshower has in sharing that story is matched by his joy in learning that he will receive the 2007 President’s Award from the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Indianapolis.

“The award is basically a lifetime achievement award for a person who promotes his Irish heritage or Catholicism,” says Jimmy McGinley, the president of the Irish-Catholic fraternal organization. “It’s for the way he lives his values and his Catholic beliefs, and how he promotes his Catholicism. He’s so proud of his Irish heritage on his mother’s side.

“He does so much. I’m not sure he truly understands the effect he has had on everyone around him in the Irish community and the Catholic community. He’s so deserving.”

Father Munshower will be honored on March 11 at the organization’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis. The celebration, which begins at 12:30 p.m., will feature a meal, music and most likely a few memories from Father Munshower, who has spent nearly all of his 49 years as a diocesan priest working in parishes, including serving at St. Paul Parish in Tell City, St. Agnes Parish in Nashville, and Holy Spirit and St. Thomas Aquinas parishes in Indianapolis.

“When Jim McGinley called me, he said I had to speak,” Father Munshower says. “I told him, first of all, it would be shorter than my homilies. He sighed a little in relief.”

Father Munshower turns serious when he talks about his Irish-Catholic background.

“For me and all my siblings, it’s the source of all our religious background,” he says. “We wouldn’t have our religious background if it wasn’t for the Irish side of the family.”

Now 75, Father Munshower traces his Irish roots in the United States to the 1850s when some of his descendants came from Ireland and found jobs as ironworkers.

“I think we Irish should be careful not to forget our roots,” he says. “We neglect those roots to our harm. We won’t end up like our ancestors if we don’t keep our basic touch with the people and our basic faith. We always need to be for the people who are just coming on. Our faith and our history should make us the champions of civil rights, the poor and people just arriving.” †

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