The ancestors of many Irish Americans emigrated to the U.S. early in the nineteenth century. For that reason, many Irish Americans aren’t connected to family living in Ireland, often only knowing the County that their ancestors came from. My Great Grandmother Julia O’Connell emigrated to the United States in 1896 at the age of sixteen. Because my Grandmother came over late, my family has always been connected to our Cousins in Ireland.
At the end of September, Shelly and I along with an Irish American couple from our parish spent two weeks in Ireland on the farm my Grandmother grew up on. My Cousin Jim is a healthy, active seventy five year old retired farmer (who still does some farming!). Jim and his wife Anne live on my Grandmother’s homestead. They own a very nice cottage next door that their adult children and grandchildren stay in when they are visiting. Jim and Anne invited us to stay in the cottage that sits on my Great Great Grandfather Batt O’Connell’s 220 acre farm.
The first morning I woke up in the cottage it was still dark out. I hurried and got dressed, made coffee and anxiously awaited the sunrise. As the sun came up, I raced outside periodically to take pictures of my surroundings as the light and colors changed. They were nothing less than spectacular. I looked out the living room window down to the Atlantic Ocean, and the colorful mountains of County Kerry.
I sipped my coffee and looked down the long road through the bog and pastures to the highway, reflecting on the fact that in the middle of the night one night in 1865, my Great Great Grandfather Batt was arrested by the British and taken away in handcuffs because a jealous neighbor who wanted his farm accused him of being an Irish Catholic rebel called a Fenian. He was held and tried, found innocent and permitted to return to his family.
I next recalled that on the same road I was looking at as the sun danced on it, my Grandmother Julia rode down it at the age of sixteen to head to America to build a life there, likely knowing she would she never see her parents or Ireland again. She never did.
Finally, I remembered a six year old boy who was greatly enthralled with his Great Grandmother, who spoke with an Irish brogue accent and always carried her rosary, praying it every day. Even at that young age, he knew his Grandmother was extremely special, and was touched by her hope, her faith, and her easy, loving way with people. As the boy grew and learned more about her life, her losses, her courage, and her faith, he became deeply affected and knew he wanted the kind of faith that she lived with.
Its been fifty nine years since I was six years old but I have not and will never lose my appreciation and love for my Grandmother. I carried the rosary she prayed with under my vestments at my ordination twenty six years ago. I still pray with it today. Her faith helped to form my faith. Her example is still one I desire to follow. Loving God, loving family, loving neighbor and always looking for the good in people and in life was her way. I’m still trying to make that my way.
Sometimes, it’s human to wonder if what we are doing makes a difference. Sometimes, it’s natural to wonder if our children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors will want to more deeply live a spiritual life because of our desire to live that life.
Keep trying to make a difference in your environments. Keep striving to be a voice of peace, a voice of hope, keep trying to be a person of love. Because of Him. It’s possible you will never know how you affected the faith lives of others positively. But they will know. And Christ will know. And that is enough.
Keep making a difference and leave the future to Him. After all, its been His all along.
Deacon Greg Kirk