Friday, June 15, 2018

Mother Cabrini

For as long as I can remember my late father – may God be good to him - wore a religious medal on a chain around his neck. Every night before he went to bed he took it off, pressed it to his lips, and then laid it on the night-stand. And every morning he took it up, venerated it once more by touching it to his lips and put it back on again. It depicted the face of a woman, so I presumed it was of our Lady. It was only when my father was well advanced in his Alzheimer's that I took a closer look one day. I realised then that it wasn't the Blessed Virgin, as it showed an elderly woman in religious habit. I turned it over. There was an inscription on the back. And it said that the face belonged to St
Frances X Cabrini, the first American saint.

Now, I had never heard of her so I had to look her up online. She was a nun from Italy who had been sent to America to help the many Italian immigrants who were struggling to make a life for themselves in a new country at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The website showed that she had a shrine in New York city where her body lies beneath an altar, encased in a glass coffin. Seeing the images of her coffin online came as a bit of a shock as I realised I had been there. One of the abiding memories of my childhood is going for a walk with my father one day when I was four and being taken to a church where a lady lay beneath the altar.

At this point I suppose I should mention that when I was a child we lived in New York. My parents did what many Irish immigrants did back in the 50s and 60s – they went to America when times were tough, married and began a family, and then returned home when things picked up. I checked the address of the shrine. And sure enough it was only a short walk from where we had lived.

I have no idea why my father was so devoted to this saint that he wore a medal of her for over fifty years. By the time it occurred to me to ask he could not answer. But as I remember standing before that glass case, I can see my father's lips moving. I know he is explaining to me why he has brought me here. But I cannot hear the words. The answer to my question of his devotion stands at the edge of memory, tantalisingly close; but I can not reach it.

Perhaps I one day will. Until then I have the comforting thought that it was indeed something he wanted to share with me. And I hope I will some day get the answer. Not in this life, of course; but in the next. 

published in the Kilkenny Reporter, 13 June 2018 

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