Irish Catholic Spunk

” (Ireland is) traceable into antiquity by its piety,

its valour,and its sufferings.  Every great European

race has sent its stream to the river of Irish mind.”

– Thomas Davis

She defied the stereotype. All Irish stereotypes. She was short, slight, and mostly soft spoken. She worked for the local municipal government. The kind of person who knew where everything was and had the experience and desire to help fix problems. One of the millions of Americans who keep the country going. They turn on the lights in the morning so that we can go about doing what we think is the real work.

I met her when I did general medicine. I took care of one of her parents, and one thing led to another. Soon I was established as the family doctor.  Better yet: the neighborhood doctor, because she made sure that husband, children, and all neighbors and church members she knew came to see me.  This small woman very soon stood out. I had to know more about her.

In St. Louis the key question is: “Where did you go to High School?” You cannot get past the second sentence when you meet someone new without clearing this hurdle. Ask anyone who lives in St. Louis: they will be able to tell you where all of their friends and acquaintances received their diploma.

She went to a Catholic school. She loved, and was loved by, the nuns who educated her. She made the decision to join the convent. During her religious studies she met a young man who was in seminary studying to be a priest. Before they took their religious vows they decided to leave the church life. They got married and settled into a middle class existence in St. Louis County.

I think that they should have been allowed to marry and pursue their religious vocation, but that’s another story that will get me in trouble, so on with the Irish girl. She was gentle. She wanted to help, to love, more than anything else. She worshiped her kids, and she kept in touch with her nuns and her church. I had the feeling that had anyone threatened her brood or her nuns she would be capable of some serious retribution.

At some point in later middle age she began to question her existence. I do not know what event precipitated her mini-crisis. She was more bothered by inefficiencies at work. She would have liked to learn more about other things. Her marriage was no longer a source of comfort and security.

She left her husband. She retired. She got her own place, some distance away (in St. Louis people think of a twenty-mile drive as long). She entered into a new relationship. I could see the dramatic change. I tried to explain to her that these were very meaningful steps that she was taking; that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to pause and take some time to reassess her life.

In her very loving way she shrugged me off. She assured me that whatever was boiling to the surface had been simmering for a long time. That she was happy. That she looked forward to every day. That the children were doing great, and that she could not think of anything that she wanted to change.

Within a few years her health began to fail. Despite significant weight loss and exercise her diabetes was not controlled. She had trouble relaxing. Her new relationship fell apart. She fell once.

I could not find a medical reason for this first fall. Soon, she he had a serious fall and sustained a significant fracture. The rehab was slow and difficult. Her trips to my office became infrequent, because of the “long” drive involved. The last time that I saw her she looked wasted and sad. Her existence, her life, just was not turning out the way she wanted.

There was another fall, and a bigger fracture. She decided that there would be no more therapy; no more pain; no disability. The woman who gladly devoted her life to helping others found no comfort in allowing others to do for her. Soon she died.

Maybe she did fit the stereotype. Her piety; her courage; her desire to help.  Her suffering. There are days that I have wondered what could have been different. I have come to the conclusion that she did an amazing job, and that she accomplished what she set out to do. We spend too much time thinking of what we could have achieved had the circumstances been ideal.  This obsession with perfection sucks our energy enough that we don’t work with what we have.

Today’s blog is a tribute to Irish Catholic spunk. To putting our nose to the grindstone and getting it done with what God gives us. To all those who wake up every morning thinking about what they need to do today to help, even if it’s cold, or rainy, or we just don’t feel well.

God bless all of you.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. loretta wishne

    thanks for the vote of confidence; as an Irish, Catholic, Rosati Kain grad…I can relate…

  2. Peggy Burgdorf

    I absolutely believe that catholic clergy should be able to marry, and wonder how her life may have been different had she and her husband been able to build a life around their ministry.

  3. Cordell Webb

    I married one of those Irish Catholic girls. So I know all about the spunk. She is the best and she puts up with me.

    1. Betty Townsend

      Thanks for your blessing and back to you, too. I’m only half Irish.