Friday, July 14, 2017

In Ireland, the future of the Catholic Faith is up to the Irish now

Irish and Irish Catholics are not  the only ones close to the Catholic faith. But it's something many of us have loved for generations and it has been force in every aspect of Irish life. Only time will tell whether Catholicism is reduced  to a trivial pursuit for the Irish in years to come. In Ireland, it's up to the Irish now. It won't be the English that will taking their faith away or robbing them of the richest part of their DNA, it will be the Irish themselves. 

In America, we have pockets of culture that have been transplanted that have a presence that is more authentic than the origin location. I remember traveling through Wisconsin where I heard there are Northern European recipes that can no longer be found in Northern Europe. Country after country in Europe is shown on travel shows where churches are all but museums. Some of the fallout is taking place here in America.

When we were little bitty kids, we learned the Hail Mary. It was easier than the Our Father and it was a prayer that honored Jesus's Mother. It was what we call a prayer for intercession. From the earliest days in Catholic School we learned that Mary would intercede for us, asking for us. At the same time, we were learning about Jesus and what he had done for us. As a little kid in a Catholic home and going to a Catholic School, there was many crucifixes around and images of Jesus. We prayed to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. 

I've written a few posts like this one and I'd like to use this thought today to introduce my book, The Brown and White. My book isn't about faith and beliefs so much as it is about the life we lived at the time when I was in high school. But faith was at the core of our existence and a Catholic faith was at mine. In  truth, I'd like to go back and feel the faith that I had at that time. As an adult, I think it works a little different.  I think some of us, like Mother Theresa can feel disconnected at times and at other times feel in touch.  When we were kids, I think we felt in touch most of the time.
Forty plus years in the making, The Brown and White is a fictionalized memoir that tells the story of Collin Callaghan's freshman year at a Chicago Catholic High School. Collin is a white boy who is living in turbulent times in a changing city. He clings to his neighborhood and his family as he heads out each day with his classmates on the Brown and White, the ancient school bus driven by free-spirited Willie. Memorable characters abound as this story unfolds. Collin's lovable family, especially his Irish Catholic policeman father and his Irish immigrant mother face life together. Collin and classmates blaze their own humorous and passionate trail through the late 1960s. A unique cast of terrific teachers are there to see the boys through. Laughs and life meet readers head on as they travel on the Brown and White.
Copyright 2017, Sporting Chance Press

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

South Side Chicago Moms

Moms were in a league of their own during my Catholic grammar school days. First, many of the dads had fought in World War II and these vets lived lives that were a lot tougher than most men today. Moms seemed focused on dads’ happiness and did an incredible job keeping things together in the post-war family. Many moms of the Era would famously say that at times they thought of murdering their husbands, but they never considered divorce!  

Our dads were hard working and many of them had second jobs. So, the moms were often the ones to run all the errands: take the kids to doctors, deal with the schools, buy all the groceries and clothes, and many others that are shared today—at least in part. Sure, the dads could be tyrannical at times and bossy, but I remember moms ruling the roost. 

Our next-door neighbors were Lithuanian immigrants who came over after World War II. Mr. Sankas was an engineer, a mechanic, and a restaurant owner. Mrs. Sankas was beautiful and we got a kick out of her English—well, the little English she knew.  The Sankases had an airplane in their garage, a Studebaker bullet nosed car, a yellow Rambler station wagon, a vast collection of opera records, hundreds of Popular Mechanics and National Geographic’s magazines, and enough electronic gear to manage communications with relatives all over the world should an invasion take place here in America.  

My friend, Mike the Menace, used to hide in the bushes when Mrs. Sankas came out of her home at dinner time to call her sons in. She would yell out, “Stanleeey, Seeleey (Sylvester), and my friend would yell out from the bushes in his South Side Chicago accent, “Coming Ma.” Mrs. Sankas would look puzzled at the response, but she would turn around and head inside thinking that Stanley and Sylvester had heard her call. 

Another noteworthy mom in the neighborhood was Mrs. McCarthy, Mike the Menace’s mom. She came from rural Canada and was a mom who could cook anything including a variety of game that her older sons had hunted. For most of us, the only meat we ever saw had been processed by a butcher and was wrapped in plastic.  We were city kids after all! But Mrs. McCarthy would not only cook the food, she would skin and clean the animals by herself.  I remember walking down in their basement one day and seeing a pile of dead squirrels on a chopping block that were in various states of butchering. It was an eye-opener for me. I was told they taste just like chicken. 

Mrs. O’Meara lived across the street and had an Irish temper.  Like a lot of moms, when she was mad at one of her kids, she would yell at them using their formal first, middle, and last name: “John Kenneth O’Meara, you go out in that yard and pickup your baseball mitt and DON’T LEAVE IT OUT THERE AGAIN!” Sometimes we could sit across the street and hear an entire 10-minute tirade from Mrs. O’Meara word for word. 

Most of the women took pretty good care of themselves.  Men might be the boss at times, but the women placed limits on what they would tolerate from their men. And when the women got angry, the men would fold up the tent in a hurry.  

We did have one exception and that was Mrs. Lonus. She was one of those women who was a housewife and cleaned houses for a few wealthy people outside the neighborhood. The plight of Mrs. Lonus was always on the mind of my mother. Mrs. Lonus was always taking the bus to her work, but her husband took the car to his job. When the Lonuses pulled up to their house with bags of groceries in their trunk, Mr. Lonus would walk into the house empty handed. Mrs. Lonus on the other hand could be seen carrying heavy bags of groceries in. My mother was not prone to swearing, but when she saw Mrs. Lonus carrying the groceries in to the house, my mother’s colorful curses echoed through our house to describe her absolute loathing of Mr. Lonus.  In fact, her voice would sometimes carry up and down the block like one of Mrs. O’Meara’s tirades.  The final judgement on Mr. Lonus came from his total absence from Mass attendance. Mrs. Lonus was at church every Sunday and she walked. But Mr. Lonus used the time to wash his car. And as far as my mother was concerned, anyone who would do unnecessary work on Sunday and not attend Mass, was destined for HELL.

Most of us got comfortable with our moms around the neighborhood.  Our neighborhood friends knew the odd and the whacky aspects of our families. But when we got together for rare gatherings with all those we knew from our parish in public places, we were often a little embarrassed by our parents when our other classmates or teammates might see them.  

The worst place for embarrassment was at football banquets—especially my 8th Grade Football banquet. First, most the time at St. Cajetan, we had good teams, but that year we had not excelled. So, our celebration wasn’t much to look forward to after the season.  Second, depending upon how many of our neighborhood friends showed up, I might end up spending the entire night sitting with our parents. Third, I knew my mother had no interest in sports at all and she would be looking for other ways to entertain herself. 

It was winter and icicles had formed all around the old neighborhood houses. I had just received an old blazer from my cousin and I was sporting it that night. The tan, green, and gold plaid blazer could have been a fashion coup for me, only it was several sizes too large. I was also sporting one of my dad’s wide ties—something that Dick Tracey might have worn. 

My parents’ car was an oil-burner. On the trip to the fancy banquet hall, black smoke flew behind us.  I ducked down in the back seat so no one could see me.  When we came to the banquet, I was anxious to get inside, but my mother was taking her time—this was a date for her and she wanted all the validation that came with it. My father opened the car door for her and held out his arm for her journey to the entrance. My mother was wearing a hat that I despised. It may have been influenced by something Jackie Kennedy had worn in France, but the American Discount Department Store version of it looked like it had been created in five minutes with some glue and rose-colored toilet paper. It was a times like this that moms went heavy on the make-up and perfume. Not the kind of stuff that endeared them to their sons. 

The banquet hall was a typical variety of garish chandeliers, marbled carpet, and white cloth-covered round tables spewed out in a generous room. It included rectangular tables in the front for dignitaries and a hundred cheap plastic trophies on another group of tables. The guys couldn’t keep their eyes from the plastic golden prizes, but we were later disappointed to find that they had “participant” engraved on them. A podium stood front and center.

It turned out that night that 8th Graders were required to sit with their parents, but several of the cool guys had managed to come by themselves. So, tables were a mix of parents and their kids with a few lucky stragglers. The usual banquet food flowed forth as the speakers came up to the podium and talked briefly about the positive influence of athletics. I remember a bad joke about a swearing priest who was out playing golf with a Rabbi and a Protestant Minister. And then the trophies were handed out with great speed as the night was coming to an end. 

I was feeling embarrassed and I expect many others were feeling the same way as their parents were sharing stories with a few beers for lubrication. The kids had maneuvered to what became all-kid tables and were shooting the BS. The ever-dapper Dennis Costello was talking about girls and holding court. He sat back in his seat sporting a suit that was altered to fit his thin physique. Costello suddenly paused and asked if any of us had seen one of the moms, Mrs. McQueen that night. Most said no, and suddenly Dennis stuck his pointer finger out in the direction of the ladies’ room. There was Mrs. McQueen prancing across the way with a short mini skirt, a low-cut blouse, high heels, and a bleached blond beehive. 

With a collective sigh, we all looked at each other a little less embarrassed about our own moms. 

Copyright 2017, Sporting Chance Press

Lawrence Norris is the author of The Brown and White, a fictionalized memoir of Chicago Catholic high school days that takes place during the late 1960s. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

It's a Pleasure to be Irish

Well, first let me just say that for the first time I have a pretty good idea that I am as Irish as I had thought.  My mother came from Scotland, but her parents were Irish.  My dad's mother was a Callaghan, but his father made us wonder...he was a Norris. Surrounding the Norris name (relatives of my grandfather) was more Irish names, but Norris is often English. 

I know there were Norris's hundreds of years ago in Ireland, but you just never know....

So I was very interested in a genetic test that my sister had performed.  As I understand it, Irish genes are somehow very distinct and if you Irish, the tests show Irish. And the results show that we are 91% Irish, and over 8% from the UK and a smidgen of other.  Off hand, I'd say that's pretty Irish. 

I have never been one of those people who don't like their own race or ethnicity or feel compelled to be someone with many different ancestors from different corners of the world.  I have never felt compelled to be "diverse." At the same time, I have shared a lot of experiences that others from different ethnicities have in common with my family.  If you are a Frank McCourt fan,  you know that his diverse students in New York could often identify with his upbringing--they could relate to the stories.  As Frank wrote, students used to say, "tell us another story, teach." 

The Irish poor, were pretty poor! If you came from a poor Irish family you know your experiences may strike a cord with poor blacks, Hispanics, and others. Irish stories often include family stories of alcoholism. Bad temper, but also good humor may be part of the Irish family story. Being Irish may also lead to relatives who can really craft a good story or play a tune. 

I love being Irish, but growing old in today's world can also give you a healthy appreciation of the gifts of other cultures.  Each ethnicity illustrates good things found in others. And I've come to appreciate others who are making new strains. 

I spent a week with my grandson last week who is mix of many races.   He is my grandson but not by blood, but I can tell you I love him as much as if he is by blood. I used to look at a child like him and say that he has a little bit of this and a little bit if that. And maybe you can still do that, but I like to think that he is wholly something new. A couple of my daughters who live at home, love this little boy as much as they can love him. And I suppose, we all know that the bits of ethnicity make up his image. If we took any little piece away, he would not be the same. So I am happy with his ethnicity and happy with mine.

We have another grandchild who is half Korean and half European. Again, I take no credit for this child's ethnicity. But we can not love this child enough.  She is just a baby and likes to stare at me as I walk by her. There might have been a time when I looked forward to a number of Irish grandchildren, but that day left a long time ago.  I would love Irish grandchildren if we got them, but so far we are blessed with diversity and I could not be happier. But its not a diversity that is born out of wishing and hoping, it's born out of living.

I think the secret is to not take your ethnicity as a the great standard setter and appreciate you family as it extends and where it extends.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Good Thought to Start Your Day

“This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good, but what I do today is important, because I am exchanging a day of my life for it! When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving in its place something that I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, and not loss; good, and not evil; success, and not failure; in order that I shall not regret the price I have paid for it."
We put this prayer in Sports and Faith: More Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey that we published earlier this year.  (Sporting Chance Press, Spring 2015).

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lorica of St. Patrick Poster

I love the Lorica of St. Patrick. It is also referred to as St. Patrick's Breastplate.  Some called it St. Patrick's poem or prayer.

I have loved the Lorica for decades because there is a certain desperate quality about it that reflects Saint Patrick's life that was full of worry.

I asked my son Dan who is a graphic artist teaching in Japan to come up with a photo that he could use to create a poster.  I thought it turned out very nice.   If you like this poster and would like to order a copy, two, three or more right away, just send me an email at with your shipping information and number of copies--I'll send the poster(s) with a bill.  The poster is 14" X 11" digitally printed on thick stock and suitable for framing.  The cost of the poster is $12, plus tax if applicable.  I will pay the shipping charges.  I roll them up and send them in a thick tube--either first class or priority mail. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Galway Cathedral and JFK

JFK Image in Galway Cathedral

As I said in a previous post, a trinity of my sisters are in Ireland and one of them took this photo in Galway Cathedral. The mosaic on the right is one of John Fitzgerald Kennedy who is beloved in Ireland.  Kennedy was also loved in my family and many others on the south side of Chicago.

A Trinity of My Sisters in Ireland

A trinity of my sisters landed in Ireland about three weeks ago.  There are hunting down a few relatives and spending some relaxing time in Galway. Here's a photo of my youngest sister.

I can't speak for all Irish Americans, but it's views like this that bring me closer to God than a grand view of Rome or even a religious site in Bethlehem.  Jesus is everywhere, but for some strange reason I can feel him Ireland best of all, where my ancestors first got down on their knees.