Top of the Morning

March 22, 2015 at 10:22 am

It is good to pause for a moment and appreciate our roots and the sacrifices made by those who went before us.

On the Gorman side,  our ancestors were peasant farmers who left Ireland at the time of the Great Famine in the 1840s and 1850s, settled North of Chicago in Waukegan and farmed the land.  At the time of the famine,  Ireland was part of the UK, the richest country in the world, but suffered from neglect.  The Irish people were considered racially inferior.  The English did not allow them to vote, go to Church or school.  The tenant farmers were pushed off land to allow cattle to graze to feed the English appetite for beef.  Absentee English landlords controlled the land.  Ireland is a rich farming area and sufficient food was grown in Ireland during the potato blight to feed the 8 million Irish, but the peasants could not afford to pay for what they grew and the grain was exported to England.  All they could afford to eat were the potatoes that they grew and on which they subsisted.  Originally, a third or more of the potatoes were grown to feed the cattle.  It was a blight that caused this crop to fail and resulted in an estimate of 1.5 million people starving.   Some might say it was genocide, but it was more likely simply neglect, apathy, or the bigotry of the English  and a strong belief in market forces vs government intervention.  During the famine over 25% of the population died or immigrated.   Many boarded the “coffin ships” to the US.  20 percent of the passengers did not survive.  Apparently the Gorman/Egan/Brady families thrived in the US.

Your great grandpa was a very successful coal salesperson in the early 20th Century.  Commonwealth Edison was one of his main accounts.  He married Mame at Old St Patrick’s.   He was a Republican in the days of Teddy Roosevelt.  Not sure if he was actually a progressive or not.  The Depression hurt the family’s net worth, but he was still able to send Grandpa to College and Law School.  They lived on the near Westside of Chicago  around Garfield Park.

The Scanlon’s came to the US in the early 20th Century and reflect an economic reality in the  Ireland  of that time wherein the younger generation was forced to immigrate to find economic opportunity.  While the economy of Ireland has improved in the late 20th Century, many young are still forced to leave Ireland.  Grandpa Scanlon like many Irish worked on the railroads.  He did not actually build them as the Irish did in the 19th Century.  Martin O’Meara was part of the Chicago police force after fleeing the Black and Tams in Ireland.    They immigrated prior to Irish independence.  They lived on the Westside as well in Austin which borders Oak Park.

The Irish were the earliest immigrant group from Europe.  As such, we had the opportunity to figure out how to succeed in the new world and gain positions of influence and power prior to the wave of European immigration.  This is evidenced by the Irish presence in the big city political machines such as the Daley machine in Chicago and the hierarchy of the 20th Century American Church.    As time passes and the Irish find other opportunities and success and the demographics of the city and Church have changed, this  Irish presence has receded as it should.

Whether they immigrated in the 19th or 20th Century,  the Irish and other Catholic immigrant groups left an unbelievable legacy as reflected in the Catholic infrastructure of parishes and schools.  The immigrants believed in educational excellence and  the importance of family as well as  their religious traditions.  The parish community became the vehicle for embodying and propagating these values.   As I lived and breathed these values growing up,  I knew no other reality.  As it has shaped me, I am sure it has influenced you as well.  If you look around, you will see products of the Catholic educational system everywhere.   For instance,  the Supreme Court is largely Catholic as is the partner group at Deloitte.  Catholic Universities continue to provide graduates who not only have the skillset to succeed, but also make a difference in the lives of others for the common good.

We celebrate the memory of St Patrick today.    He was an English lad kidnapped and taken to Ireland.  He later escaped and returned to England  where his relationship with God continued to mature.  He was inspired and discerned a call to return to Ireland as a missionary.  Along with St Brigid, he is a patron saint of Ireland.  His feast day in Ireland is a holy day of obligation.  May Sts Patrick and Brigid pray for us this day that we may grow in wisdom and grace.

Happy St Paddy’s Day!  And Happy St Joseph’s Day to my Italian friends.