The Easter season ended recently with Ascension Thursday, and it’s time to reflect on religion and how it influences one’s life.
I went to St. John’s Elementary School and Cardinal Spellman High School. Going to Mass on Sunday was a family event as a child, and as a teenager, my friends and I went early at 8 a.m. before taking the long train ride to Rockaway Beach in the summer.
As a young adult, I came to find many Catholic rules inflexible and questioned many of the teachings. I would describe my values as Christian, and developed my own understanding of right and wrong.
I married in the church and sent my son and grandson to Catholic schools. Right now, I would be considered a lapsed Catholic, having divorced and remarried and divorced again. I may no longer be exommunicated, however, because my first husband died (the interpretation of my status depends on which priest I questioned).
Social responsiblity is important to me, and I support several charities, including two Catholic schools. Today, going to church is for wedding and funerals.
My mother died a few weeks ago, and I once again was confronted by arbitrary rules enforced at St. John’s Church, now called the Church of St. John and Visitation (since the two parishes merged last year). I was told at her wake in Williams Funeral Home that St. John’s Church no longer allows eulogies before or after a funeral Mass. When I questioned Father Kerrigan directly about the ruling, he said it was part of the recent guidelines issued by the Archdiocese of New York, and he could not permit it.
He advised that I read the eulogy at the funeral home, which I did that evening. Unfortunately, some friends and relatives attended the afternoon wake, and many others attended the funeral Mass the next day and could not hear it. I was told that many people at Mass commented on the absence of a eulogy, surprised that a woman with five living adult children had no one to say a few words about her life.
Mom’s story is an Irish-American immigrant story. Margaret McGrory (nee Gillespie) lived in Marble Hill for 58 years, raised six children, and worked at the New York Public Library for 25 years, almost entirely at the Kingsbridge branch.
One of the last thing we did together before her death at age 94 was to watch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. She was looking for her great-grandson, Shane, who was marching with All Hallows High School.
Here is the eulogy I hope you will print, so that her friends, neighbors and former colleagues will know that her children did care enough to share her story. The church thought it wasn’t appropriate to tell.
Margaret McGrory was Peggy to her family and friends, mom to me and my sister Mary and my brothers Liam, Philip, Eugene and Kevin, and of course grandma and great-grandma, too. She was truly a remarkable woman for her day. I feel so blessed that my parents settled in New York City. Because of their choices, I am a New Yorker today.
Mom grew up in a farm in Ireland just outside the town of Ballybofey in County Donegal. She was a middle child in a large family of 13 siblings. She had strong bonds with her brothers and sisters, about half of whom emigrated to New York to find work, build new lives and raise their own families.
She began her journey on the long train ride from Donegal at the top of Ireland to Cork in the south. She shared the train car with fellow travelers, among them Laurence McGrory, who was headed to the same ship docked in Cobh and sailing to America.
It was May 1948. Peggy went to her sisters Annie and Mary in Brooklyn, Laurence went to his sister Mary in the Bronx. They soon met again at an Irish-American dance — surprising because mom loved to dance, and dad just hated it.
But they did share other interests, and soon became a couple, with dad making frequent long subway rides from the Bronx to Brooklyn so they could go stepping out.
Dad was drafted just months after arriving in New York, but that didn’t keep them apart, and they married in July 1950 when he finished his U.S. Army tour. The young family quickly outgrew their Brooklyn apartment.
After careful saving and personal sacrifice, in 1959, they moved to the Irish enclave in Marble Hill with their five children. I was age 7, and the oldest; Eugene was the youngest then and just 8 months old. The Victorian house with its back yard and many rooms allowed them to embrace the American dream of home ownership. Our house was a half-mile from Gaelic Park where we spent many Sunday afternoons at hurling and Gaelic football matches.
Life wasn’t easy. Dad worked two jobs to keep us fed, clothed, and the mortgage payments always made on time. The hard times were not talked about in front of us, and the economy was of no concern to us as children. Our childhoods were care-free and happy.
Many of the families on Adrian Avenue were large, and we had lots of friends. In the summer, there were trips to Rockaway and Orchard beaches, or Shea Stadium to see the Mets (with milk caps saved over the winter to get free tickets to the bleachers). Remarkably, we each got to bring a friend on the trips, and we would sit three deep on the back bench seat in the big blue Rambler.
We would fight for a window seat — not to look out, but to breathe — because back then our car did not have air-conditioning.
Mom and dad saved to take us to Ireland every five or six years to visit their parents' farms where we met whole new families of cousins. In all, we had more than 100 first cousins. To this day, we are all still good friends on both sides of the Atlantic.
Education was a high priority for mom and dad, and they made sure we all had the opportunity to go to college. Dad worked nights to earn premium pay, and mom was the one to make sure our homework got done, the house was clean, and we were all taken care of. We grew up on good Irish food — meat and potatoes, and fish on Fridays. Mom's idea of an occasional Italian dinner was a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti, and we were teenagers before we tried pizza on our own.
Like most other mothers in Marble Hill and Kingsbridge, Peggy was a stay-at-home mom. But it really wasn't a surprise when she went to work at the Kingsbridge Library. It was a place we went to regularly with her, and on our own as we got older. She was an avid reader and well-known to Eileen Riols, the branch librarian who offered her a job when Kevin (now the youngest) started kindergarten.
She was known as Margaret at work. She loved working at the library, and it was an important part of her life for 25 years. She made new friends and read the latest books, and talked with readers about her favorite authors over the desk as she checked books in and out.
She was promoted to senior clerk and then clerical supervisor for the branches in the northwest Bronx region. She enjoyed learning new skills, embraced automation and taught computer and automated circulation skills to library staff when the New York Public Library entered this new technological era.
As we left home, mom and dad began to have free time to themselves. They enjoyed weekend trips to Niagara Falls and Montreal in the summer, and still made trips to Ireland every few years. There was a huge family reunion in Ireland in 2000 for their 50th wedding anniversary attended by family from the United States, Euopre and Australia.
They enjoyed monthly bus trips to Atlantic City with their friends from St. Johns and Visitation. When mom went on her own with friends or visitors from Ireland, they sometimes missed the bus home. They would beg for a ride with another bus, often needing to be picked up on the east side of the Bronx or in Yonkers.
She would explain to dad that it wasn't lucky ot leave a winning machine and complained because her bus left "early."
In later years, mom and her friends Mae Martin and Theresa Maher enjoyed the short ride to Empire City when it opened in Yonkers. Liam, Kerrie and I took turns as their weekly chauffeur.
Each of us have stories about how mom stood up for us and taught us how to stand up for ourselves. She instilled her values of honesty, hard work, and the importance of saving money. Credit was frowned upon and you only borrowed money to buy a house. Everything else could be purchased after you saved enough money, and then it would mean more to you.
Mom read a book a day in her retirement for years until her eyesight failed. We all became avid Scrabble players after Eugene and Kerrie re-introduced us to the game as adults. Mom was a strong player and beat us frequently until well into her nineties. The large-print Scrabble dictionary in her dining room is well worn.
For 94 years, mom made her mark on the world with her warm smile and the Irish brogue she never lost. She's resting in peace now with dad, Phil, her brothers, sisters, cousins, parents and many friends.
We know she's happy in the County Donegal enclave she discovered in heaven, and is watching over us all just as she did here on Earth.
We love you, mom, and miss you already.