Recently, following on the article about my mother and father’s marriage, I have been asked to write a little more about my family. I think that this is very appropriate because of the upcoming Synod on the family this year and the next. In one of his writings, Pope Francis spoke of his grandmother in this way, reflecting on a note of hers that he keeps to this day in his Breviary. It reads: “May my grandchildren, to whom I have given the best of my heart, have a long and happy life. But if there are days of pain or illness, or if the loss of a loved one fills them with despair, may they remember that a whisper of a prayer and a look to Mary at the feet of the cross, can be like a drop of balsam on even the deepest and most painful wounds.”
These words of Pope Francis helped me to reflect on my maternal grandparents, Les and Mary Jones. They were married on June 2, 1915 at St. Patrick’s Church in Springfield, Illinois. Both came from rural farming families. My grandfather had lost both of his parents at an early age, his father being struck by lightning while guiding a plow with horses! My grandmother came from a rural Irish farming family east of Springfield. In my growing up years, they lived on Whittier Avenue on the west side of Springfield, and were parishioners of Blessed Sacrament parish where I later became pastor. Anyone on that side of town knew who “Les and Mary Jones” were! Before my grandmother died in l979, they had been married 64 years!
They were an integral part of our lives in every way, and in fact had seen nearly everything as a married couple: two world wars, depression, and the loss of their first child in l916, a boy who would have been my uncle, James Howard Jones. Yet, providentially, when my grandmother was in the hospital then (and she nearly died), my great grandmother , Mary Waters and one of the Hospital Sisters at St. John’s Hospital, persuaded the family to take a picture of the infant on a hospital bed laid out in his baptismal gown, so my grandmother would at least see him. Later on, this picture became famous in the national magazine for SHARE, an organization founded by Sr. Jane Marie Lamb OSF, to help couples who had lost children before and right after birth! My uncle, then, became known all over the States, years after his death. A year later my aunt was born, who eventually became a Dominican Sister, and then my mother 11 years later.
My grandparents were involved in every aspect of our lives, from Sunday dinners, to taking care of us, to my grandfather teaching us how to shift gears in his l958 Chevrolet Bel-Aire! They taught us of extended family, of reaching out to all and each other and sharing. My grandfather, very much a “people-person” was a salesman for General Mills and later Bunn Capital in Springfield, where he taught us of courtesy and how to be polite. My grandmother, much like the Pope’s grandmother, would pray all the time. I would often see her in her rocking chair with her worn prayer-book, before she began the day by staying in contact with her sisters and brothers! She loved Bishop Sheen on “Life is Worth Living” in the evening and “As the World Turns” during the day! She would not miss either! I would help my grandfather with outdoor Christmas decorations (those big lights!). It was they who paid for my first year of piano lessons, and encouraged me in my interest in player pianos! And my grandfather liked to write letters and notes and was proud of his handwriting. Most of all, they loved each other deeply, and my grandfather cared for my grandmother until her death in l979. He passed away a year later in l980.
When I return to Springfield, I always visit the cemetery to first visit my mother’s grave, and then their grave. We always called them “Mammo and Grandpa” to this day! They remind me of some other words of Pope Francis when he recently said on St. Valentine’s day to engaged couples that “Just as God’s love is stable and lasts forever, we want the love on which a family is based to be stable and last forever.”
Thank you Les and Mary, Mammo and Grandpa, for all you witnessed to us about the origins and purpose of “Holy Matrimony”, and for all you taught us about life and faith!