Blessings of Our Grandparents

Maybe it’s the more relaxed days of summer that bring back such pleasant recollections…

Perhaps it’s my recent two weeks of vacation, allowing me welcome time for reflection, that remind me of them…

It could be three weddings of nieces this summer, that bring back happy memories of family roots…

Whatever it is, I’ve been thinking a lot lately of my grandparents.

I do not remember my grandfathers too well. In fact, I never even met my mom’s dad, as, sadly, he abandoned his family, spending his life in a losing battle with the bottle.

My dad’s father, William Timothy Dolan after whom I was named, my mom tells me—I remember somewhat, since he died when I was only 8. What I do recall of him is all good: a tall man, a ready laugh, quick to pick me up and hold me high, teaching me to fish, and opening his house to everybody. When we’d spend happy weekends out at his house in the country, it would be he who would lead us into town for Sunday Mass. When “Pata,” as I called him, died at only 58, it was the first time I ever saw my own dad cry.

Both my grandmas I remember with love and gratitude.

Dad’s mom—Martha Mary Troy Dolan, (I thought of her on July 29, the beautiful feast of St. Martha, who so often welcomed the Lord to her home, and was one of His closest friends)—was a warm, happy, welcoming woman. Both her sons were in World War II, and she would read to me the letters my dad sent her from places with strange names like “Iwo Jima,” “Guadalcanal” and “Okinawa.” She worried so much about her two boys during the war that she lost almost all her hair.

It was “Nonnie Martie,” as I called her, who taught me to say the Rosary, and she always had one on her nightstand and in her purse. It was she who took me to Confession and Mass on any First Friday that I was with her, and she who would bring me into Immaculate Conception Church for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament when we’d go out shopping on main street, Maplewood, Missouri.

And then there was “Nonnie Lu,” my mom’s mother. Lucille Goin Radcliffe had a tough life: married young, converting to the Catholic faith to wed her husband, Tom, who, as I mentioned before, was, due to his alcoholism, hardly an exemplary husband or father.

She had to work from the start, a “working mom” before it ever became routine, who sacrificed to send Shirley (my mom) and Lois to Catholic schools, proud of her two girls, holding her head high in a rough situation.

Nonnie Lu took me to Sunday Mass at St. James, taught me to use her missal so I could understand the Mass, and always let me light a candle. It was she who told the story that at three I informed her I wanted to be a priest, and lovingly encouraged me the entire journey in my vocation. I owe her so much.

A couple of weeks ago, on July 26, we celebrated the Feast of SS. Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary… and thus, the grandparents of one called Jesus.

Even the only begotten Son of God had a “Nonnie” and a “Pata”!

As I survey the Church today, I praise God for our grandparents.

When I visit our schools, there they are, beaming in the back of church as their grandkids proclaim the reading, one of the prayers, or carry up the bread and wine;

And then the principal, teachers and pastor tell me that quite a few of the children would not even be at that Catholic school if Grandma and Grandpa were not helping, and that so many of the kids go to them after school;

As I visit our parishes for Sunday Mass, there they are again, bringing their grandkids to church.

And it is these same great folks who are so often the sparkplugs of our parishes and projects.

For so many of our children, grandparents are a source of love, wisdom, time, stability, attention, interest and faith.

Almost 40 years ago, as seminarians in Rome, a group of us were able to visit Russia, then under the boot of atheistic communism.

We were able to sneak a visit to a Russian Orthodox monastery, one of the few allowed to exist, under close, oppressive control.

The monks were eager to converse, but asked us to do so in Latin, since, they whispered, there were undoubtedly listening devices in the parlor!

One of us asked how the ancient Orthodox faith could possibly be “passed on” to the young, since schools, books, and religious instruction were all outlawed.

The monks smiled. “The grandparents are our ‘secret weapons’! They teach the children quietly, and sneak them to church!”

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the funeral Mass of a splendid Catholic gentleman, Joseph Miller, the president of the American Association of the Order of Malta.

What Joe’s grandkids would always remember, eulogized his son, would probably not be his splendid business achievements, earthly success or community acclaim. No, what they would recall was that he went to Mass daily, made sure they all did every Sunday, and would be seen every day praying his Rosary and kneeling at his bed every night before bed.

How blessed we are to have our grandparents!