Letter to 16 year old Mary.
I am getting in touch with you this morning to compare notes; sort of to let you know what is in store.
What an exciting ride it has been, though things turned out very differently from what you thought would happen. However, the same threads have been woven into the fabric of our life the whole way through. You took the school motto God Wills It seriously. I still do.
You were in the middle of Form Five when you turned 16. You were in better form than you had been the same time last year where the world seemed a gloomy place. Maybe your trip to Rome and reasonable Junior results had put a sunnier cast on things. There was no particular pressure put on you either at home or in school, so following your interests was sort of left to you. You liked school; you liked the regularity of life there. You were happy with the religious basis of all that went on and enjoyed things like the liturgies and singing in the choir especially in chapel. You admired the sisters who were the leaders in the school community. You were enthusiastic about Irish – helping to whip up interest in speaking it in a way of ensuring the school won the Ashbourne Shield. The summer in Rannafast was enjoyable though you, being more of a conformist, did not take pleasure from breaking the rules and sneaking out to the beach at night with boys from a neighbouring house. You were more interested in getting your Fáinne.
Your heroes and heroines were the Saints whose stories you read and who were held up to you as examples, particularly St. Therese of Lisieux. As the school retreat came along in Autumn 1951 you were becoming very concerned to work out what was God’s will for you. Your favourite poem was Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven and you thought God was pursuing you too.
It was in the Christmas holidays. We were sitting by the aga in the kitchen, warm and cosy.
“Mammy, I am thinking of going to the St. Louis Novitiate next September. I think that is what God wants me to do”.
“I would be pleased and proud if that is what you were called to do” she said.
“Will you tell Daddy?”
He is not so sure that it was a good idea but who was he, poor man, against God.
So that is what happened and life jogged on for years, with acceptance of the ups and downs which were part of the deal. School and religious life were the whole focus of your activity. The outside world rolled on its merry way, lots of things happened, but they were outside your ken. Then the Vatican Council came along, all sorts of high hopes were raised and eventually were dashed. Your father died suddenly and life took on a very black hue. Everything became highly unsatisfactory and the life you were leading seemed to hold no meaning. You looked at everything through a veil of tears. You needed time out to look at where you wee at. You got exclaustration from religious life for two years, with every intention of getting back on track, invigorated and renewed after that period.
Being on your own, left to your own devices without anyone telling you what to do for the first time in your life really was scary but invigorating. You could choose what you would do. You went to work at something completely different in Mrs. Kenny’s travel agency - frantically learning about package tours and air lines and dealing with customers who were sometimes very demanding. Leading groups to Lourdes was not that different from taking a group of school kids on a trip except you couldn’t sanction the group members who were often very much harder to organise. You went back to UCD to do a social work diploma and it gradually dawned on you that this life was suiting you surprisingly well and it seemed to you that God’s plan for you had changed and you were not going back to St. Louis.
So on to the Catholic Family Welfare Office in Belfast where God had his biggest surprise in store. Something good came out of the troubles for you. Something you at 16 had not taken into your calculations at all - a husband. The secretary of the co-ordinating Committee for Relief which was distributing help to the people who had been driven out of their homes and which met in our office was Muredach who you eventually married. Together you travelled the world and did many exciting things before heading back to Ireland. Through all your journeys you were still looking for and hopefully finding God’s will. When you came to Newry you were able again to pursue your love of Irish.
So you see, sweet sixteen, we are all of a piece. I would just like to reassure you that you made a good decision back then nearly 60 years ago. We have had a great life.