Up Front and Personal

Parish of His Youth Imbued an Irish Spirit

By Joseph N. Manago

UnknownI am Irish in spirit, for the beautiful Irish people nurtured me at St. Patrick’s School, Kent Ave., in Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, 1959-1967. It was a time of “Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” “Harrigan,” and “That’s An Irish Lullaby” for the Irish Sisters of Mercy loved to sing and to stage beautiful musical plays each year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

It all began in Heaven, but flourished on Earth because of the dedication of an Irish Sister, Mother Catherine McAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland. The Sisters were holy, loving, intellectually versatile, and simply beautiful and thank God, they were “the old school,” the school of Catholic inclusionism in education. We knew of Christ from our morning prayers, afternoon prayers and the grace before and after meals.

Their habit of dress was beautifully black (with some white) adorned with a rosary and crucifix to ever remind us of the supreme sacrifice our Lord made on Calvary for us. A Sister was a teacher, a sister, a mother, a friend, even a pupil ever seeking to learn new knowledge as exemplified with the annual Science Fair. Their teaching was intellectual, moral and spiritual, and all from a Roman Catholic foundation, not the fallacious liberal secular humanism of modern American public education. The Sisters shared our joys, and they shared our sorrows.

The Sisters worked without a salary, for they were inspired by our Lord Who said, “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” And there was corporal punishment for the violation of rules and insubordination of legal school authority, not diversion routes, blaming misbehavior upon social environmental factors.

And then there were the Irish Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, who were truly our “Big Brothers” (Fifth through eighth grades; sexes were segregated after fourth grade), since they were always there to guide us and to chastise us in the strictest sense of the word. A Franciscan Brother wore the dress habit of the mendicant friars of St. Francis of Assisi during the time of the High Scholasticism of the Roman Catholic Church.

The classroom resonated with a Franciscan ambiance of poverty, humility, charity and celibacy. These wonderful men never received a paycheck either, for they worked for the glory of Christ in His Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, the Church.

Finally, may I honor the memory of those Irish priests of St. Patrick’s Church, particularly Fathers Edwin Stedman, the pastor, and Jack Cullinane, who taught me how to pray in Latin as an altar boy with the commencing words, “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.” Oh, how I remember those six o’clock morning Masses, the novenas, the High Masses of Christmas and Easter. I can still smell the sweet aroma of the incense, see myself lighting the altar candles and hear our “Mea culpas, mea culpas, mea maxima culpas.”

This is how I became Irish in spirit, with an Irish brogue in my heart.

In memory of my late Irish uncles, Edward Francis Griffin and Jack Wilkinson, F.D.N.Y., and my late Irish cousins, Cathy Wilkinson, Steven Wilkinson, and Lt. Glenn Wilkinson, F.D.N.Y. (9/11), may they rest in eternal peace in the presence of God and all His angels and saints.