Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Wondrous Love Is This?

What Wondrous Love Is This

(American Folk Hymn; Words: At­trib­ut­ed to Al­ex­an­der Means.
Music: From The South­ern Har­mo­ny and Mu­sic­al Com­pan­ion, by William Walker
New York: Hast­ings House, 1835)

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

This wondrous hymn, "What Wondrous Love Is This," is still sung in churches throughout Appalachia; indeed, it is sung throughout America and the world. The magic of this song might come in part from the repetition, which functions almost like an incantation or a mantra. It also comes from the melody, with its haunting modal or "mountain minor" character. And surely it also comes from the powerful words. Most often this song is listed without composers, but I found an attribution (as seen above, Alexander Means and William Walker). The song seems so timeless that it feels like one of those anonymous folksongs that have been around forever.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I Reveal When the Universe Was Created (via a Poem)

“Mrs. Dempsey’s Big Secret: The Day the Universe Was Created

Mrs. Geraldine Dempsey, my ancient, white-haired 3rd Grade teacher,
Opened the classroom door, peered down the hallway
To see if anyone was snooping around, then
Closed the door and wrote this date on the blackboard: “4004 B.C.”

Under that she did some arithmetic: “4004 + 1956=5960”

And under that she wrote: “Sunday, October 23, 9 AM”

“4004 years before Jesus was born, boys and girls.
This is the year God created the universe.
Don’t tell anybody. This is a secret that you mustn’t reveal,
On pain of mortal sin.

It happened on October 23, at 9 in the morning.
I have that on good authority,
Bishop James Ussher of Ireland.

And if you do the arithmetic, boys and girls,
You’ll see that the universe is 5960 years old.”

Who knew that in St. William’s,
That parochial school on E. 260th in Euclid,
The universe’s biggest secret was revealed

At 9 A.M, Friday, October 23, 1956,
By our ancient Irish teacher
Who still believed in the fairies
Turned the saints to the wall when they didn’t answer prayers
And taught us all she knew about a medieval world soon to end?

(Robert M. Coughlin
September 12, 2005)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bishop Richard Lennon Damages the Cleveland Catholic Diocese

Last week, Bishop Richard Lennon announced the closing of some 52 parishes in the Diocese of Cleveland. Many historic parishes will be closed and then consolidated with other parishes. The consolidated parishes will have to change pastors and change their names. For instance, St. Robert's in Euclid will close their church and consolidate with St. William's (the parish I grew up in). Then a new pastor will be appointed at St. William's, and the name of this 60-year-old parish will be changed (the joke is that it will be changed to St. Billy-Bob's). The City of Euclid, with some 50,000 residents, will close 3 parishes. Historic St. Paul's will close and merge with St. Felicitas; St. Christine's will close and merge with Holy Cross; and as mentioned, St. Robert's will close and merge with St.William's. No Roman Catholic parish in Euclid will have the same name (this name change doesn't affect the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes or the Byzantine Catholic Church of St. Stephen, institutions outside the authority of Bishop Lennon). I am sorry to hear about St. Paul's, because it's the Mother Church of Euclid. But it no longer has a neighborhood around it, and the church building itself is extremely modest. What does bother me is that the cemetery behind St. Paul's will no longer be guarded by the school and church. My grandmother, Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick, is buried there, as are many, many other relatives (Broughan's, Fitzpatrick's, Sweeney's, and so on).

I am much more concerned with the closure of historic churches and architectural treasures within the City of Cleveland and in inner-ring suburbs, in particular the closing of St. Colman's, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. James (in Lakewood), and St. Peter's. St. Colman's is being closed despite the overwhelming recommendation of committees which worked on these issues. It is an important historical treasure as well as an inner-city parish that reaches out to so many different constituencies: Latinos, poor, elderly, the hungry. It is pastored by Fr. Bob Begin, a prophetic presence in the city for many decades. St. Ignatius of Antioch is a West Side landmark and architectural treasure. And the closing of St. Peter's, the oldest Catholic church in the diocese, breaks my heart. St. Pete's is one of the most progressive communities in the region, with no debt, and a dynamic community (http://www.historicstpeters.org/index.html). The pastor is Fr. Bob Marrone, a gifted leader, and the church is a monument to the German Catholic pioneers of Cleveland. My great grandparents, Cornelius Coughlin, born in Ireland, and Lizzie Ierg, born in Germany, were married there in the early 1880's. The parish serves both the middle class and the poor of the area. It was put in a "cluster" with St. John's Cathedral in a process that can only be described as rigged--the fix was in! Let's hope the appeal process is not also fixed!

Catholic bishops have tremendous power, and Bishop Richard Lennon is an outsider, who doesn't adequately understand the history or culture of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese the way retired Bishop Anthony Pilla did. What kills me is that we Clevelanders built and paid for these parishes, and yet we have almost no say in whether these parishes survive. Tearing down these temples of prayer, community, and history will greatly damage our community as well as individual lives. And it will ultimately do no good for our diocese or the Catholic Church in general. What it has done is to sow anger, discouragement, and even hatred. Whose Church is this? Is it just the church of bishops?

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Laetare" Sunday: "Rejoice O Jerusalem!

Yesterday was what we used to call "Laetare" Sunday. The Latin term "laetare" means something like "rejoice," and seems to derive from the entrance antiphon which begins, "Rejoice, O Jerusalem!." In a few weeks, we'll sing the words of an Easter song, "Christ is risen from the dead, laetare alleluia . . . ."

One of the readings yesterday (I think the responsorial psalm) recounted how "by the streams of Babylon we wept, remembering Zion"). This made me remember the Negro spiritual, "By the Rivers of Babylon," which was sung so beautifully by Linda Ronstadt. The line from Psalm 137:1 goes, "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion" (American Standard Version).

The congregation at St. Mary's in Painesville sang a beautiful song during the mass, "What Wondrous Love Is This." This song is a standard in the Appalachian Mountains, where it is sung in a modal style (a style often called "Mountain Minor"). There is hardly a more beautiful song, and the most beautiful version of this song is by the American treasure, Jean Ritchie, of Viper, in Perry County, Kentucky. Our recessional hymn was another standard of Appalachia, "Amazing Grace." In Appalachia the sung is sung somewhat differently, often in a mournful call-and-response style that makes our northern Catholic style look so stiff.

All in all, the mass yesterday, celebrated by Fr. Joseph Callahan, was very beautiful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona Duit! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Here's how to pronounce the Irish: /LAW AY-luh PAWD-rick HUN-uh DIT/ which, word-for word, means "Day of-feast of-Patrick happy to-you," that is, "Happy St. Patrick's Day!"

Cleveland's St. Patrick's Day parade was observed by some 400,000 people on the most beautiful March 17th in Cleveland history, with uncharacteristic blue skies and temperature around 70 degrees. Alas, I was teaching during the parade. The evening of March 17th was spent at the East Side Irish-American Club in Euclid, Ohio, where we heard the band "Fergie and the Bog Dogs," with Johnie Ferguson, his son, and my friend John Connell (aka John Mac Connell), from County Cavan, Ireland. Johnny Mac has a very beautiful voice, and plays a fine button-box accordian as well as guitar. John teaches math and staffs the math lab where I also teach. John is married to Marlene, the most-Irish Slovenian on the face of the earth--"more Irish than the Irish! John has told me that my Fitzpatrick ancestors are probably from County Cavan. We haven't pinpointed that for sure. My Mother thought the Fitzpatrick's were from somewhere near Dublin. Of course, parts of County Cavan are not that far from Dublin!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Flann O'Brien's "An Béal Bocht"-- “The Poor Mouth”

This past week I've been reading an amazing book, An Béal Bocht, “The Poor Mouth," by the smarty-pants genius of Irish literature, Brian O'Nolan (aka Flann O'Brien and Myles na Gopaleen, among unknown other pseudonyms!). For now, I'll call this author Flann O'Brien. The book is a comic critique and parody of the Gaelic literature that came out in the 20th Century of the remaining Irish-speaking regions (known as the Gaeltachts) of Ireland. These areas are almost all on the western fringe of the island, from Gweedore and the Rosses in County Donegal, to the Galway Irish-speaking regions near the Aran Islands, down to the Gaeltacht of County Kerry near Dingle (the Corkadhuine Peninsula). This Gaelic literature includes the books "Peg"by Peig Sayers, and "The Islandman" by Tomas O'Crohan. These books are valuable glimpses at a disappearing world, but they often exhibit a woe-is-me attitude that gets old. Flann O'Brien has great fun parodying this Gaelic literature. The danger in writing a book like this is that you are mocking something very fragile. You wouldn't mock the Jews who survived the Holocaust or the half-dead Irish who survived The Great Hunger of the 1840's. So Flann O'Brien was treading on dangerous ground in this book. He hits his target square on, but it takes a mature reader to know how to handle a book like this.

Would I recommend the average person read "The Poor Mouth"? Probably not. But if you are committed to understanding Ireland, its history, the Gaeltachts, and the struggle of the Irish language, this is an important book for you.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Abraham Sacrificing Isaac; The Transfiguration

Yesterday's mass had astonishing readings. The gospel was that amazingly strange story of the Transfiguration. The only equivalent I can imagine today is if certain reliable witnesses said that they had encountered aliens and were abducted to their UFO--then came back to tell the story. Think how we would respond to that tale!

The epistle was one step beyond that. In my mind, it is the most astonishing story of the Old and New Testaments. In Genesis 22:1-19, Abraham is told by God to take his beloved son Isaac up Mount Moriah, bind him to an altar, and sacrifice his life as a holocaust to the Lord. Isaac obeys this command, and as he prepares to slay his son, an angel/messenger in effect stays his hand. Abraham spots a ram caught in nearby bushes and sacrifices this ram instead of his son.

The story is more poignant if you think how long Abraham waited for a child. In her old age, Sarah bears Abraham the child Isaac. So Abraham is told by God to sacrifice what he has most longed for and loved.

What does this story mean beyond the literal level? Certainly this story is about faith, obedience, and trust. I wonder if it also tells us some things about the evolution of human beings. There is movement from the sacrifice of humans to a god, to the sacrifice of animals to a god. And then, in the New Testament, Jesus offering bread and wine as the sacrifice (bread and wine transsubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus). Of course Jesus offers up his own life, but unlike Isaac and Abraham, no angel saves Jesus!

Human sacrifice is no longer acceptible; neither is animal sacrifice. God does not want such sacrifices anymore! Human sacrifice was once very common, and it probably still exists in certain places in the world. There is poignant evidence of human sacrifice in pre-historic Ireland and other northern European countries. Sometimes people were sacrificed and then thrown into peat bogs, where their bodies have been preserved by the unusual conditions in these bogs: acidic water, cold temperatures, and the lack of oxygen. The poet Seamus Heaney has written wonderful poems about these sacrificed bog people (see "Tollund Man," "Bog Queen," and similar poems). For additional information on bog people, check this Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bog_body

Here is a thought that I have. If you hear a voice asking you to sacrifice your child, that voice comes from a false god. Do not obey that voice. A true God would never ask that. This seems so obvious, but ever year we hear about a mentally ill parent hearing the voice of God to sacrifice his or her child; too often they follow through and slay their own kids. A true God would never ask for that kind of sacrifice. That type of command comes from a false god!

Here is a translation of the Transfiguration story:

Matthew 17:1-9 (New International Version)

The Transfiguration

1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."

5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

6When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." 8When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Here is the story of Abraham and Isaac:

Genesis 22:1-19 (New International Version)

1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"
"Here I am," he replied.
2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"
"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.
"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"
"Here I am," he replied.

12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram [a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring [b] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Irish Surnames and Naming Traditions

In America we are used to a fairly constant pattern of names. People get a first name, a middle name, and a last name (surname). Sometimes they go by a nickname or shortened version of their name. One of my brothers is named "James Fenton Coughlin." His nickname is "Jim" or "Jimmy." Catholics and members of some other religions also get a confirmation name. My confirmation name is "Patrick."

That pattern is not present everywhere in the world, and in some cultures it is very different. In many places it is not unusual for a brother and a sister to have different last names (this can happen to Russians, Lithuanians, and Irish, to name just a few).

Wikipedia has an interesting article on Irish naming customs that shows the amazing complexity of this issue. We don't fully trust Wikipedia as a source, but generally I find it pretty good. Here are some passages from that Wikipedia article:

"Irish name"
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

A formal name consists of a given name and a surname, as in English. Surnames in Irish are generally patronymic in etymology, although they are no longer literal patronyms, as Icelandic names are. The form of a surname varies according to whether its bearer is male or female, and in the case of a married woman, whether she chooses to adopt her husband's surname.

An alternative traditional naming convention, not used for official purposes but generalised in Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking areas, consists of the first name followed by a double patronym, usually with the father and grandfather's names. Sometimes the name of the mother or grandmother may be used instead of that of the father or grandfather.

A first name may be modified by an adjective to distinguish its bearer from other people with the same name. Óg "young" and Mór "big" are used to distinguish father and son, like English "junior" and "senior," but are placed between the given name and the surname: Seán Óg Ó Súilleabháin corresponds to "John O'Sullivan, Jr."(although anglicised versions of the name often drop the "O'" from the name). Adjectives denoting hair color may also be used, especially informally: Pádraig Rua ("red-haired Patrick"), Máire Bhán ("fair-haired Mary").
In former times the word Beag/Beg, meaning "little", would sometimes be used in place of Óg. For example, the grandfather of James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, Maryland, was Luke Mor Gibbons, and one of his sons (an uncle of Cardinal Gibbons), was known as Luke Beg. This did not necessarily indicate that the younger Luke was small in stature, merely younger than his father. Sometimes beag would be used to imply a baby was small at birth – and premature – particularly when the baby was born less than 9 months after marriage.

A man's surname generally takes the form Ó (originally "grandson") or Mac ("son") followed by the genitive case of a name, as in Ó Dónaill ("grandson of Dónall") or Mac Gearailt ("son of Gerald"). A son has the same surname as his father. A daughter's surname replaces Ó with Ní (reduced from Iníon Uí "daughter of the grandson of") and Mac with Nic (reduced from Iníon Mhic "daughter of the son of"); in both cases the following name undergoes a mutation called "lenition." Thus the daughter of a man named Ó Dónaill has the surname Ní Dhónaill and the daughter of a man named Mac Gearailt has the surname Nic Gearailt. If, however, the second part of the surname begins with the letter C or G, it is not lenited after Nic: Nic Carthaigh, Nic Gearailt.

If a woman marries, she may choose to take her husband's surname. In this case, Ó is replaced by Bean Uí ("wife of the grandson of") and Mac by Bean Mhic ("wife of the son of"). In both cases bean may be omitted, in which case the woman uses simply Uí or Mhic. Again, the second part of the surname is lenited (unless it begins with C, in which case it is only lenited after Uí). Thus a woman marrying a man named Ó Dónaill may choose to be use Bean Uí Dhónaill or Uí Dhónaill as her surname; a woman marrying a man named Mac Gearailt may choose to use Bean Mhic Gearailt or Mhic Gearailt.

If the second part of the surname begins with a vowel, the form Ó attaches an h to it, as in Ó hUiginn (O'Higgins) or Ó hAodha (Hughes). The other forms effect no change: Ní Uiginn, (Bean) Uí Uiginn; Mac Aodha, Nic Aodha, Mhic Aodha, and so forth. Mag is often used instead of Mac before a vowel or the silent fh. Ua is an alternative form of Ó.
Some names of Norman origin have the prefix Fitz, Latin filius "son", such as Fitzwilliam, Fitzgerald, and so forth.

In Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) areas it remains customary to use a name composed of the first name, followed by the father's name in the genitive, followed by the name of the paternal grandfather, also in the genitive. Thus Seán Ó Cathasaigh, son of Pól, son of Séamus, would be known to his neighbours as Seán Phóil Shéamuis. Occasionally, if the mother or grandmother was a well-known person locally, her name may be used instead of that of the father or grandfather. If the mother's name is used, then that of the maternal grandfather (or potentially grandmother) follows it, for example, Máire Sally Eoghain.

These names are not used for official purposes. Often a nickname or English version of a name is used in their composition where the person would use a standard Irish form in formal circumstances. For example, the prominent sean-nós singer Seán Mac Dhonnchadha; Seán Mac Dhonnchadha is perhaps better known as Johnny Mhairtín Learaí.

The Irish have a traditional system for naming children: the first son is named after the father's father, the second son after the mother's father, the third son after the father, the first daughter after the mother's mother, the second daughter after the father's mother, the third daughter after the mother. Any further children are named by the parents' choice.This has led to some spectacular names being made more common, for example there are plenty of Assumptas and Perpetuas, and many girls were named after Saints Theresa and Bernadette in the 1950s shortly after they were canonised. Many families still adhere to this way of naming children, although it is becoming less common nowadays with the influx of more secular names from the world of TV and popular music. Traditional names, like Gráinne, Áine and Cathal, or Irish versions of Norman names, such as Seán (from Norman French Jean), Siobhán and Sinéad, are also very common. It's possible for several cousins to have exactly the same name, eg. Daniel Murphy, if all their fathers were brothers, and they are named after the same grandfather. To avoid confusion a pet name may be used, or a middle name eg Daniel Patrick may be called Dan Pat, and Daniel John may be called Danny John. Though it has been seen in older high class families where family records are present that the child's name can be that of an ancestor or famous person, such a thing is most prominent in the isolated families, such as the Mac Diamadas of Limerick and the Mac Gillachs of Donegal whose families have dated back to the 10th century.

The article goes on, showing even more complexity in Irish naming traditions. One thing that I would like to investigate is the application of traditional naming customs to my genealogy research.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Genealogy of Fitzpatrick and Coughlin Families

I've found some interesting genealogical sites. One that gives basic information for all Irish surnames is http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/surname/. For the name "Coughlin," this site shows the distribution of the name throughout Ireland and the meaning and history of the name (the site will do this for many other Irish names as well; I've also tried it for "Crowley," "Sullivan," and other family names).

Another fascinating website is for those of Fitzpatrick ancestry: http://www.fitzsoc.com/ . An interesting feature of this website is the DNA research that Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick is doing. Here is what is said about Dr. Fitzpatrick and her studies:

"The Fitzpatrick DNA study coordinator is Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick PhD, author of Forensic Genealogy and co-author of DNA & Genealogy. Colleen is actively recruiting new participants for the study. If you would like to participate in any of these studies you are invited to contact her at cfitzp@aol.com and you can visit her website at http://www.forensicgenealogy.info/"

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Poems for Very Early Spring

Song of the Turtle

“and the song of the turtle is heard throughout the land.” Song of Songs 2:12

our spirits hibernating
like our brothers the bear
our sap slow and deep
our thoughts turned in

but what’s this?

a turtle coos victory over death
the earth quickens
sends out magic crocus
forsythia explode
ecstatic mirror of the sun
redbud promise
dogwood dance under the April moon

our sap is running
our love is blooming
our spirits dancing
to the turtle’s magic song

(Pippa Passes, Kentucky
February 1979)

February’s Dream

the snow lies thick upon the earth
the groundhog saw his shadow
the nights are long and bitter cold

but I have watched closely
and have seen some signs:

the morning concert of chirping birds
tree twigs turned a shade of red
silver maples’ pregnant buds

I have felt the quickening
first hope in this hard winter

I look for the crocus
and remember the birth
of a love

(Pippa Passes, Kentucky
February 1979)