The family Rosary

A memory from Patrick's Corner ...

Illustration by Herb Schnabel

I’ve long been thinking about the characteristics belonging to many of my friends and their families when we were growing up. 

Some characteristics were expressions from the “auld country,” such as those used by the neighbors who had roots in the County Mayo. If one or two were jabbering about their homeland and the name “County Mayo” was mentioned, my ears would perk up. If one of the speakers mentioned “in Mayo,” they would no doubt follow up with, “God help us!” 

Finneran, our noble and cherished janitor at the St. Columbkille complex, hailed from County Mayo and probably mentioned “Mayo” and “God help us” in conversation at least 80 or 90 million times a day. 

Bloke’s family ancestors came from County Limerick, and Mr. Callahan used tobacco—but he didn’t smoke. Instead he would take a good wad of tobacco and wrap it in a little wad of tissue paper. He would shove this wad between his lower lip and gums and keep it in his mouth whenever he was at work in the roundhouse changing engines or repairing cars. 

The O’Boyles—like most other families in our area—always gathered at their family table regardless of which meal was being served, and they waited until all were present before they said grace. The unique thing about this family was that they used a Scottish grace supposedly made up by Mr. Robert Burns. “Some ha’e meat and canno’ eat; Some ha’e na’e meat and they can eat.”

The O’Boyles said they learned it when they were kids, and all the other kids in their neighborhood said it, too.

The O’Boyles—like most other families in our area—always gathered at their family table.

Now my family didn’t any have any traditions like that; we just thought a boy should have a clean hanky, a penknife, and a rosary (ideally with all its beads intact) in his pants pocket. Girls carried a purse and typically didn’t have a penknife, but they had a “chapel veil” (a clean hanky), a hair ribbon or two, and a rosary.

The trick to having a rosary in one’s pocket was that if someone did not have one, you were obliged to hand yours to that friend and tell him (or her) to keep it. 

It was a strictly Irish custom, and I don’t think I have encountered it in many other locations other than our neighborhood.

Possessing a rosary was sort of like giving a blood transfusion to someone who needed it.

Back when we began saying the Rosary, it wasn’t called the Family Rosary. It was a custom that seemed to be locally common, and we were expected to abide by it. Later there was a priest named Father Patrick Peyton had a radio broadcast in the early evening. When Mama and the people in our parish found out about it, they saw it as a divine command, making 7:00 p.m. in Cleveland a time for all Irish kids and their parents to assemble together and “tell their beads” along with the soft brogue of Father Peyton. 

Possessing a rosary was sort of like giving a blood transfusion to someone who needed it.

It was old Father Guilhooley, the founding pastor of St. Columbkille Parish, who got it started. That was sometime after Mama and Daddy had settled in the neighborhood and before Kevin, Danny, and I were a part of the Patricks of Maxwell Street.

The Rosary devotion in St. Columbkille’s parishioners was long established when we Patricks moved in. I never did learn exactly how this practice really became “official.” Perhaps it never was! 

Be that as it may, at 7 o’clock every evening, one could be certain to actually “feel” the sudden quieting of our neighborhood for 20 minutes or so. After Father Patrick Peyton’s ministry hit the airwaves, people were somehow given a handle to grab onto that help them slow down from the ordinary pace of life.

Family members gathered around large or small radio sets at 7 p.m. to hear Father Peyton lead the Paters and Aves. He usually closed with a word of encouragement, and the families rose from their knees or chairs to go on with their regular lives.

Since our flat tended to be a gathering place for many of our friends, it was understood that if our friends happened to be there when the announcement “It’s time for Patrick Peyton!” was made, it was automatically expected for those friends—Catholic or otherwise—to kneel with us on our somewhat threadbare carpet and “tell our beads” together with our family. Adults who were visiting could usually find a spot on the couch or in the stuffed chair during our Rosary time.

Illustration by Herb Schnabel

It was also expected that Rosary time was the right time for anyone to mention special prayer intentions, regardless of who was in need.

Come to think of it, I know for a fact that Jim Hoch and Denis Tracy, both from Danny and my group of friends always carried a rosary in their pockets—and Jim was Lutheran and Din was a Presbyterian.

Talk about ecumenism! Rosalie Saperstein, Ritchie and Noam’s older sister, was pregnant and in danger of losing the baby when Ritchie and Noam stormed into the sacristy of St. Columbkille asking if the Catholics could pray for their sister since we always did that whenever someone needed a good blast of prayer power. Well, Rosalie did not lose the baby, and the whole family knew how seriously we were praying for our friends. The Sapersteins collectively thanked the neighborhood for their concern and prayers and even named the child Miriam in honor of our Mother Mary, who they were certain had a hand in bringing all to fine fettle. 

Rosalie did not lose the baby, and the whole family knew how seriously we were praying for our friends.

It might have seemed odd to some going into the Saperstein flat to see a very Catholic rosary in a small pearl dish prominently displayed on an end table.

During college days at Notre Dame the replica of the famed Grotto of Lourdes was one of the most common places for students and visitors to stand as they moved from place to place on this magnificent campus. No one seemed to merely rush by. We would stop and look at the statue of that magnificent Lady placed in the stone niche; we knew she was looking over us. Many students would automatically reach in their pockets or purses for their own beads. It was a time of reflection that could not seem to be passed up.

One fall day I was moving from class to class and, as usual, had a few minutes to stop at the Grotto. Suddenly a very tall, husky priest wearing the black robes of the Holy Cross Fathers (who are the founders of this famed campus) put his hand on my shoulder and spoke softly in my ear.

“Let me hold your beads, son,” he said. I handed him my rosary, and he rejoined the man and lady who were with him. They stood praying for a time and then moved away with my rosary. I glanced after them, and the priest turned and gave me a passing smile and an appreciative nod—and I knew my beads would travel far; Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, himself would pass them on to someone else who needed them. 

I got another rosary from the bookstore that I passed during my routine day. 

Many students would automatically reach in their pockets or purses for their own beads.

Later, after marrying my wife—who was with me for 48 years—it seemed unthinkable to even get in our automobile to go somewhere and not say at least a decade or two. My Trish always led these devotions. I know that the mantra-like repetition of our “tellin’ our beads” brought a subtle world of meditation into my life.

And when I “tell my beads,” regardless of the time or place, I know I am in good company because Father Patrick Peyton was the one who said, “The family that prays together stays together!” 

Father Pat is now up for sainthood, and I am not surprised in the least. He may have never known it, but perhaps Trish has mentioned it to him up in the glories of their new home. 

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply