The year after my mother died, I returned to the Church after a long absence. Because I was cynical about all things religious, I never had a serious talk with mom about her faith. I will always regret that.

In my eyes, mom’s faith seemed superficial and sentimental. Reflecting on memories from my childhood and the things she left, I now realize that her spirituality was so much deeper than I knew.

The only daughter in a family of six children, my mother was raised by Irish immigrant parents who had minimal education. She grew up relatively poor during the Great Depression. As the only girl, life was difficult for her and she longed to have a sister. Throughout her life, my mother Marie had a special devotion to her namesake, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mom 1st Communion001

In the mid-1960s, mom bought a concrete Marian statue for our front yard. Not much of a gardener, mom planted roses around it. Wherever mom went, Mary went. Mom and Mary moved to Florida when my dad was transferred in the early 1980s. When parents came back north to retire; so did Mary.

In addition to the outdoor statue, mom had a curio cabinet full of Mary statues. When at a loss about what to get her for Mother’s Day, another Mary was always my go-to gift.

My mother made sure that our family attended Mass every week. Before mom learned to drive, I remember going to church in a taxi if my dad was away on business. On vacation, our first order of business was to find the nearest Catholic Church and call for Mass times.

Mom praised God by singing and was a member of the choir in both her northern and southern parish homes. In a few journals we found after her death, she often wrote about going to Sunday Mass or being upset when she was running too late to make it to daily Mass. It is difficult to find a page where God or the Church or a saint is not mentioned. Mom was always praying for various family members and their intentions. She always remembered loved ones on the anniversaries of their deaths.

Mom had lots of purses. Each inevitably contained butterscotch candies (or just their gold wrappers) and one or more holy cards or medals. Mom was also very fond of finger rosaries. We found several in her jewelry box along with the large cross she wore as a eucharistic minister to the sick, and her pyx. A well-worn copy of Butler’s Lives of the Saints was a fixture in her bedside table with several small devotional booklets and more butterscotch candies.

Whenever we drove past a Catholic Church, my mother would bless herself. She taught her four daughters to do the same. Mom pointed out a Marian altar on a hill high above the highway going into the city and she always blessed herself when passing there.

Mom traveled to Ireland twice to see where her parents grew up. She arranged to have Masses said for them during her stays, and of course she visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in her father’s childhood home, County Mayo.

Mom loved people and often struck up conversations with other shoppers in stores, though she claimed to be shy. She felt sorry for strangers, and did something about it. She once picked up a hitchhiker and drove him and his heavy luggage to the bus station, something she warned us never to do! Mom worried about her alcoholic brothers, did all she could to save them and mourned their early deaths. She was the loving caregiver for her parents in their old age and infirmity.

When my mother was dying, I made sure she was anointed by a priest because she would want that more than anything. My sisters and my dad prayed Hail Mary’s at her bedside. It was all we could think to do for her. It was what she would have wanted us to do.

My mother was proud to be Irish Catholic and she was faithful all of her life. Her beliefs colored how she thought and everything she did. I know that her prayers brought me back to the Church she loved. In her journals, she frequently wished that her daughters would set aside petty differences and remain faithful to the Church.

Mom left many religious articles that I will always treasure. Rather than being superficial and sentimental, these sacramentals are tangible reminders of mom’s deep life of faith. I am glad that I see that now.

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