My Aunt Rosemary is my mother’s oldest sister. She is also my godmother. I consider myself fortunate in this regard because I was born into the Catholic faith, and while my father was one of the churchgoing faithful throughout my childhood, my mother could only grudgingly bring herself to go along with a Catholic upbringing for my brother and me.
And Rosemary–along with perhaps her brother, my Uncle Donald–is probably the most devout of her generation on my mother’s side of the family. Grandma and Grandpa Cahill sent all six of their children to Catholic schools for at least a portion of their education. My mother was thoroughly disenchanted with it all by the time she left high school, but Aunt Rosemary has gone to church consistently to this day.
Often, Aunt Rosemary has told me she thought when I was young that I would grow up to become a priest. I attended Mass with my father starting when I was about six, and I was fascinated with the Bible readings each Sunday. I even read the Bible on Sundays after church. I remember my First Communion and the party afterward when she, Uncle Bill, and their children–a brood of six cousins, five of whom were older than I was–came to our new house in Jackson, NJ. I was keen on Sunday school that particular year, and I took well to the preparation for this sacrament, so that might be what made Aunt Rosemary think I might be cut out for the cloth.
As any good godparent, Aunt Rosemary gave witness to my baptism and kept an attentive eye on me until my Confirmation. Perhaps with that work done, though, there remained afterward a unique yet understated connection. It was more than just the holidays, which seemed particularly warm and festive at Aunt Rosemary and Uncle Bill’s house in the hills of Morris County, New Jersey, though those times were important to me. Particularly after my parents split, it seemed almost as if I got to see Aunt Rosemary on more family occasions since my parents amicably saw to it that my brother and I remained connected with all of our relatives. Rather than remain home on some special occasions as we did in earlier years, one of our parents on any given holiday would take us to see family, and on my mother’s side, the venue was almost always Aunt Rosemary’s.
When, as a young man, I lived in Pennsylvania, I would drive back for holidays and drive a kind of circuit to visit family. I would usually visit Aunt Rosemary and Uncle Bill as my final stop before driving home. There were a few reasons for this, including the fact that their cozy dining room was always just the place for cake and coffee. Also, however, to be present later in the evening as the festivities were winding down gave me just the right doses of sarcastic ribbing from my cousins, along with time at the table simply to talk, perhaps with an extra cup of java to keep me awake on the long drive home. Aunt Rosemary took such interest in my career, and over the years, I even brought some of my girlfriends with me to meet her, and she remained cryptically silent regarding each one. I always wondered what she thought of them–or whether she still held out hope for the seminary.
And no matter where I lived, a package of Aunt Rosemary’s soda bread would arrive at my home a few days before St. Patrick’s Day.
When I got married the first time in England, my godmother was there. Then I moved to within a half an hour of where she lived. When the Millenium came, I attended a party at the clubhouse in the neighborhood where she lives. In some of life’s low moments, Aunt Rosemary and Uncle Bill had me stay with them. And many of my happier moments were dinners at their house. When I married the second time, I had a home where I could host them.
I have always admired Aunt Rosemary for her strength and energy. Always involved in choir, Irish dancing, and organizations in her community, she was always cooking for some event or other, always attending this function or that, always having tea with a group of friends. Uncle Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and suffered a long decline until he sadly passed. He required a great deal of care, as well as patience for some years. I can only imagine how hard this must have been for my godmother, but she never seemed to slow down or to show the strain.
I, an introvert, have a different nature entirely. For some years, work and my father’s declining health put such demands on my time that I could not bring myself to go out much, nor did I feel inclined to entertain guests as I had often done. I did not see my relatives much, but when my father was hospitalized during a trip to Italy, my godmother accompanied my mother to Verona, and we all spent several days together. Two years later, my father passed away and I happened to be in Ireland when she and her daughters were on a driving tour there. I was on the east coast; they were on the west. We decided to meet in Athlone, almost exactly half way. During a dinner, we noted that we seemed to see each other more in foreign countries than at home.
Since then, funerals have seemed to compete with happier occasions for my opportunities to see my godmother. Still, on the Irish-American side of my family, we honor our departed with feasting and good times. And on every occasion, abuse from my cousins is part of the revelry. Moments with my Aunt Rosemary, like the one pictured, are the greatest reward.
Perhaps my dear aunt has forgiven me for stepping away from the Church. Some–not all–of its representatives have proven poor ministers for a spirit far vaster than many of us can imagine. And still, for all of this, I continue to admire my Aunt Rosemary for her faith and devotion, which find their way into so much of what she does.
I don’t think I would have made as good a priest as she has a godmother.