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My Immigration Story

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

In a nation of so many descendants of immigrants, there are a million stories. Most of them are about an ancestor who left their home to find a better life and to live in freedom. The stories are filled with heroism, idealism, and perseverance.

Here’s my story. It’s actually not about me, it’s about my mother’s mother, whom I always knew as “Grandma Sheridan”. But because I wouldn’t be an American without her, I like to think that it really is my story too.  It’s the story about how she became an American.

Grandma lived down the street from us when I was growing up, and we were always in and around her house. She was a wonderful, kind woman, who had seen many tough times but was always willing to help others. But her story wasn’t easy to piece together. Grandma didn’t like to talk about herself, or where she came from. And we had no contact with relatives from “over there”. So we’ve gradually accumulated documents, and drawn on the memories of relatives who are now gone to eternal life.

Grandma was born and baptized Elizabeth Dowe, in 1885, in a tiny hamlet named Aghabullogue, in County Cork, Ireland. (I don’t speak any Irish, but I’m told that the town’s name sounds something like “Ah-Buh-Log”, with a long “o”, emphasis on the last syllable and a barely pronounced hard “g”). As a child, she was known as Lizzie, and she lived with her parents John and Hannah Hill Dowe, along with three sisters and a brother. She was the youngest in the family. They were farmers, and if you know anything about 19th century rural Ireland, you know that was a hard life.

Her father and brother died at some point before 1900, when my Grandma was a young girl. According to the laws at the time, the farm passed to her uncle, so her family was turned out of their home and lost their livelihood. They lived for a short time in a house in a nearby area called Clonmoyle, but in 1901 they decided that they had enough of poverty in Ireland. They would go to America.

This is the point in every immigrant’s story that always makes me pause and wonder. My Grandma was only 15 years old. Her mother was illiterate in English and Irish, and she had nothing waiting for her in America — no profession, no job, no place to live. My Grandma and her sisters could read and write English, but only one was employed in Ireland, as a dressmaker. As far as we know, the only people they knew in America were some cousins, who had come over earlier. That’s not a lot to go on.

But what they had was an abundance of faith, hope, courage, and a yearning for a better life.

They arrived in New York in 1902. And here’s the funny part of the story. They were on a ship that entered New York harbor, and thus passed under the watchful eye of the great lady who lifted her lamp beside the golden door to welcome my Grandma. When the ship arrived at Ellis Island, there was an announcement that all passengers in steerage had to get off. But my Grandma’s mother had managed to get Second Class tickets, so they decided that the announcement didn’t apply to them, and they didn’t get off at Ellis Island. Instead, they sailed up to the pier in Manhattan and set foot in America without ever going through any of the legal immigration process.

And so — my Grandma Sheridan was an illegal alien.

They settled in New York, and my Grandma worked for a time as a domestic servant in the household of the publisher of the New York Times. In 1911, she married John Sheridan, another Irish immigrant who was a greengrocer with the A&P Company. He was an American citizen already, and that’s how my Grandma became a legitimate American citizen. They lived mostly in the northern Bronx (in the same neighborhood where I still live), and had six children, the youngest of whom was my beloved mother, Claire.

My grandfather died in 1932, leaving Grandma to finish raising her young family — my mother was only 5 years old at the time. Grandma struggled, relying on income from the older children and dividends from A&P stock. But she was a firm believer in education, and she sent all of her children to college, even the three girls — which was certainly remarkable for that time. She was also a committed Catholic who took her faith seriously. There was never any question about the faith being handed down to her children.

Grandma took her American citizenship seriously. The flag flew every holiday. She was a voracious reader of the newspapers, followed current events very closely, and was absolutely committed to voting in every election. I recall very clearly her insisting that we had a duty to vote, and that if we didn’t vote, we couldn’t complain.

Her three sons all served honorably in the military in World War II — one was an officer in the Navy, another an officer in the Army Air Corps, and one was a grunt in the Army who landed on D+2 and went on to be awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. At least six of her grandchildren have served in the military, and many of us have served in government offices. Patriotism runs deep in the Sheridan blood, which you would expect with Grandma as a role model.

Grandma didn’t have any interest in being considered an “Irish-American” — she was absolutely American, through and through, and she was proud and grateful for this country. When she died at the age of 95, she had lived a rich, long, generous life in her beloved home country.

A few years ago, my wife Peggy and I visited Ireland, and went to Aghabullogue. It’s still a tiny hamlet, with little more than a church, a store, a football field and a pub, surrounded by beautiful rich farmland. I stood in the graveyard of the old parish church where my grandmother was baptized, and where she went to Mass for the first fifteen years of her life. The chapel has since fallen into ruins, replaced by a more modern building close by. It was profoundly moving to look around, and realize that the scene was virtually identical to what my Grandma saw every day of her youth. I was able to see the world that she left so that her future family — and mine — could be born in America.

Grandma Sheridan’s story is about an America that was willing to give a poor homeless girl a chance at hope and prosperity. I believe that story is still true today. I believe that America is still open to other young girls and boys who are yearning for the same kind of life that my Grandma was able to have, the kind of life that she was brave enough to give to her children, grandchildren, and beyond.

I believe in my immigration story. I think it is the story of America. And I thank God for it, and for Grandma Sheridan for having lived it.

Varia

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

1.  Governor Cuomo was honored by a “gay rights” group and called for the re-definition of marriage in all 50 states.

2.  More evidence that egg harvesting is harmful to women.

3.  Two employees of Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion mill have pleaded guilty to murder.

4.  Prof. Michael New on the effectiveness of a “supply side” strategy to limit abortion. At the same time, after Arizona’s informed consent law went into effect, the abortion rate dropped dramatically. Now you know why the Cult of Moloch hates such laws.

5.  A new documentary explores porn addiction. Which makes it worth recalling a recent study that shows (how to put this delicately?) that internet porn use de-sensitizes men to such an extent as to lead to an inability to function.

6.  Bishop Lori presented the Bishops’ concerns about religious liberty to Congress. See also this overview.

7.  Helen Alvare eviscerates the standard “elite” opinion about health care, contraception, and conscience rights.

8.  Piero Tozzi sheds light on the linguistic and philosophical engineering that lies behind much of the Culture of Death.

9.  The pressure increases for NYC to drop its sex education mandate: op-ed from Robert George (in the Times!) and negative attention from the NY Post.

10.  Great story of a faithful man who just wanted to pray the Rosary in public, and how the Lord answered his prayers. If you check out this coverage in the secular news, check out the Rosary he’s holding – it’s a K of C Rosary. Vivat Jesus!.

Varia

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

1. Kathryn Jean Lopez explains the significance of the debate over the Protect Life Act, and about the stark difference in worldview of the two sides.

2. Sr. Mary Ann Walsh of the USCCB hits the Administration hard over its anti-Catholic agenda behind HHS’s denial of a contract to the bishops’ migration agency for helping victims of trafficking.

3. A number of Catholic institutions (including the Knights of Columbus, the USCCB and several universities) take out an ad condemning the HHS contraception mandate.

4. Francis Beckwith on the President’s illiberal attitude towards religion.

5.  I decline to read the Huffington Post, and I won’t link to it so as not to endanger anyone’s soul.  But Tom Peters reads it, and has this piece about an anti-Catholic screed from the top official of the pro-”gay” Metropolitan Community Church, who also happens to be an advisor to the President.  Tom’s summary is worth reading because the Reverend says openly what the forces of “tolerance” are rarely honest about — their desire to force the Church out of the public square and penalize us for “discrimination”.

6.  Amnesty International used to be a legitimate human rights organization, until they decided that unborn children were either not human or didn’t deserve rights.  Now they’ve descended into madness, advocating the arrest of former President Bush.  No word on when they’ll ask for charges against state sponsors and facilitators of human rights abuses like sex-selection abortion.

7. Portland, Oregon, is experiencing a continued rise in suicide rates — in a state that has legalized assisted suicide . You mean encouraging death may lead to more death? Who could have known?

8. A public school teacher expresses her religious views about homosexuality on her personal Facebook page.  The government responds by investigating her, advocacy groups call for her to be fired. At least the ACLU is sticking up for her.

9.  Exposing the truth about the porn industry.  An overview of the harm it does to people.

10.  Either they’re so blinded by sin that they don’t see the disconnect, or they see it and their hearts are so hardened that they just don’t care.  California has banned minors from using tanning beds, even with parental consent — but of course a minor can still get an abortion without even notifying a parent.

11.  How to respond when somebody argues that abortion, divorce, and same-sex “marriage” are private matters that don’t affect others.

12.  Ireland continues to defend its pro-life laws against pressure from the UN.

Please, Father, Help Me To Be Holy

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

I’m trying to be holy. I try to set aside time for prayer, and I particularly try to be attentive during Mass.

But, the basic problem is me. I’m just very, very easily distracted. My mind whirls around, thinking about what I was doing, what I’m going to be doing, the current list of things I’m worried about, and on, and on. I just have a hard time focusing during Mass.

That’s why I follow along in a missal, so I can concentrate two of my senses at once on the prayers of the Mass, and try to get my heart and mind to join in those prayers. I’m trying to actively participate in the Mass, instead of just being there and mouthing the responses. By doing this, I have come to appreciate the beauty and noble simplicity of the prayers of the Mass, and they draw me upward to God — after all, He’s the one we’re addressing our prayers to.

That’s also why it’s a disaster for me when the priest change the words of the Mass. It throws me off, takes my mind out of the prayers, and adds yet another layer of distraction. The human element jumps in front of me, blocking my view of the divine.

This rarely happens at my home parish, or at the parish where I attend daily Mass. But it has happened on occasion when I’ve been travelling. For example, there’s the priest who seems to make up the words of the Eucharistic prayers as he goes along. How can I join my prayers to his if I have no idea what he’s going to say next? Or the priest who decided to re-write the Eucharistic Prayer so that it was in the form of a dialogue — some parts he said, and others were said by the congregation. I can’t even tell you what a strange experience that was. Or the priest who decided last weekend to use the Gospel reading from Saturday, the Solemnity of the Assumption, instead of the regular Sunday Gospel. That totally threw me off — I love Mary, and I’m sorry that the Assumption wasn’t a Holy Day of Obligation this year, but for goodness sake, the Sunday Gospel was the climax of the Bread of Life discourse from John 6, perhaps the most important thing that Jesus ever said.

It’s particularly difficult when the priest chooses a manner of speaking as if he is having a conversation with us. That’s even more distracting. I can’t help but thinking, why are you talking to me? Shouldn’t we all be talking to God?

I know that this kind of thing is usually done with a good intention, to make the Mass more open and inviting, or to make the congregation feel more a part of the Mass. But it has the exact opposite effect on me — it pushes me away, and makes it much harder for me to actively participate in the Mass.

I’m not a regular at the Traditional Latin Mass, but I imagine that this is not a problem — unless you’re an exceptional linguist, you probably couldn’t ad lib in Latin. There’s also the old instruction to the priest to “do the red and say the black” — do all the required movements and gestures, which are written in the Sacramentary in red, and say the required words, which are written in black. The few times I’ve attended the Extraordinary Form, it actually helped me that it was in Latin, because I had to concentrate harder to follow along, and I felt myself entering into the prayers more, and joining the priest in offering them. That experience has helped me be more attentive and focused while attending Mass in the Ordinary Form.

I don’t want to be critical of our priests, whom I love and pray for daily. And I don’t want to be some kind of “liturgical police”, constantly looking for problems at Mass and acting like I’m more Catholic than the Pope. That’s not my job, and I wouldn’t want it anyway.

I’m just trying to be holy. But I’m a weak, restless person who has a hard time concentrating on the Lord during Mass.

So, I’m begging. Please, Father, help me be holy. Please don’t change anything.

Thanks, Sarge

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Sunday was Memorial Day, and I want to say thank you to somebody I never met, and never even heard of until last Monday.

One of my many idiosyncrasies is that I like to walk through cemeteries. I like to look at the headstones, and I especially like to visit the graves of veterans.

Last Monday, when we observed the “official” Memorial Day holiday, Peggy and I were in Lenox, Massachusetts. And so, I convinced her to give me the time to make one of my cemetery walks.

Lenox has several beautiful cemeteries. One of my favorites is behind the “Church on the Hill”, because it contains the graves of a number of Revolutionary War soldiers. I make it my business to visit that place when we’re in Lenox, particularly to pay my respects to Maj. Gen. John Paterson, a great patriot who served in the Continental Army for the entire duration of the Revolution.

This Memorial Day, though, I chose the small cemetery of St. Ann’s Catholic Church. I love St. Ann’s for many reasons, but one reason is the plaque that’s inside the front door. It honors Fr. William Davitt, an Army chaplain and member of the Knights of Columbus, who was the last American officer killed in action in World War I.

The church cemetery is a beautiful place, on the side of a hill, with well-placed rows of graves. Family members tend their loved ones’ graves, and many have beautiful flowers.

As I walked through the graveyard, I was struck by how many sons of St. Ann went off to war, particularly World War II. Men of every national background, all united in their faith and in their service to our country.

One grave really arrested my attention. It was the last resting place of Sgt. John M. Fuore, who died at the age of 28. Based on the information on his gravestone, and with a little internet research, I found the following.

Sgt. Fuore served in the Navy in World War II, and then must have been re-drafted for service in Korea. He fought with the 2nd Infantry Division, in a Recon company. That’s dangerous work. During the brutal winter of 1950-51, the division fought a tough rear-guard action against Chinese forces that had intervened in the war. To give you an idea of the kind of fighting they endured, the 2nd ID had 18 men awarded the Medal of Honor in Korea.

That’s not as important as the one key fact on the gravestone in Lenox. On February 14, 1951, Sgt. Fuore was killed in action.

I never met Sgt. Fuore, and I’m not related to him in any way. Here was a man who spent most of his adulthood in uniform, serving to protect my country – to protect me. He gave “the last full measure of devotion” that Lincoln spoke of at Gettysburg. He left his family and his hometown, to meet his fate in a frozen field in the north of Korea.

As I stood by Sgt. Fuore’s grave, I was deeply moved, even as I’m deeply moved as I sit here in my office writing these words. All I could do was offer my small tribute to a fallen American soldier. I snapped a crisp salute, and went back to my life, the life won for me by countless men like Sgt. Fuore.

Thanks, Sarge. Thanks to all the other men like you. Thank you very much.

Ed Mechmann’s Bio

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Ed Mechmann is married with three children. He is a graduate of Columbia College, Harvard Law School, and the St. Joseph’s Seminary Institute of Religious Studies.  He works with the Archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office on public policy issues, and is the Director of the Safe Environment Program of the Archdiocese. He is a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus. Ed and his wife teach marriage preparation and natural family planning, and volunteer in the Church and community.