Sunday, December 21, 2008


PADRE PIO: An Italian Friar who had the stigmata (duplicating Jesus’ 5 wounds)—
the only male to have these persistent bloody holes in hands, feet and side since Francis of Assissi. He spent his whole life hearing confessions;
People came from all over to confess to him & get his spiritual advice.
He died & was buried, and was later canonized.

Then a nasty man said he used to deliver carbolic acid regularly to the friary—
perhaps to keep the wounds fresh! But that’s only one man’s story.

Italians are devoted to holy corpses and bones. The friars dug Pio up and put him on display.And he was incorrupt—but they put a silver mask over his face..
an incomplete miracle?
Anyway, one Irish-American woman named Riley called one of her favorite opponents Mrs. Wright, complaining that Wright’s daughter-in-law had embarrassed Riley in front of her Protestant daughter-in law: “Your daughter-in-law has been failing to get pregnant, so I told her to pray to Padre Pio..he’s not canonized yet, so he needs miracles. So later she says,‘So much for Padre Pio; the prayers haven’t worked.’

So naturally I asked her if she’d sent the money.
“Why does he need money? He’s dead!”

There was a pause while Wright loaded her cannon; then she told Riley:
“That Protestant daughter-in-law of yours: I happen to know she’s a fallen-away
Catholic !”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

St (PADRE) PIO was a 20th-century Franciscan priest, the only male since Francis of Assissi to have the Stigmata (bloody holes in hands, feet, and side, duplicating Jesus' 5 wounds.)

Eating donuts after Mass one Sunday in Ft.Collins we met a man who said his brother was a navigator stationed at a US air-base in St.Pio's town, in WWII.
This brother bought a case of beer for Padre Pio. He said out of gratitude,
'What favor can I do for you?"

The brother said, "I'm going crazy from too many combat missions. I need to go home!"

The next day a top officer needed to fly quickly to the US. They needed a navigator,
and they picked this brother. He never had to return to Europe.

Friday, October 17, 2008


MY FIRST SUIT: When we moved to the big City, Mother realized I’d have to have
A suit to go to college. So she took me to Brown Shoe Store, and asked to see a suit in the $25 range, with 2 pair of pants.
The suit she settled on was the color of milk, with orange juice vomited on it.
She said, “I want the second pair of pants this length.” /Why?/
So my brother Leonard could wear the suit in High School./
“Say, that’s brilliant !”

Leonard would wear the suit to 10AM Mass, and then I’d put on the suitcoat
For 11AM Mass. Between our house and the church was a small store.
If both of us stopped in, the guy would say, “Wait a minute! How do you have time between Masses to change into that suit?”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


HOW WE GOT TV: We had none, but the Sorensens next door had a big one. The 4 youngest Lyons boys would sit on our stair-landing and watch games on S’s set (listening on radio).Sorensons considerately left their curtain open, moved the set near the window.

Finally we got a set. Unfortunately, Mother believed it was unhealthy to watch TV
in a lighted room, so living/dining areas were dark every evening. After college classes,(one hour from home to college) I’d take bus downtown Mpls from St. Paul and work for 4 hours in factory; then I’d come home to find dark area; Nancy and her future husband were always courting (for years!) in kitchen.
By odds, someone was sleeping in each bedroom, so I had to do homework in single bathroom—very busy!

Luckily, St.Thomas standards were very lax,
so I could do homework during hours on bus each day.


Charlie Lyons Coughlin, Leonard Lyons’ cousin

Became a millionaire/ hired to beat up on unions, he took over Briggs-Stratton corp.He donated a bell-tower to his almaMater, So.Dak.U, so he was then known as
‘Silo Charlie’.

I met him once, dropped in while hitchhiking around Milwaukee. His wife, Coletta , still did the cooking (awful!)—but he had a full-wall closet filled with shoes. (One significant feature of poverty is worn-out childrens’ shoes.)

He visited us once in Cresco, found out we had no radio, and donated a huge floor set which we used during my entire childhood. We then realized how rich he was, and resented that he did not give more to us.

A tragic/comic contact with my father:
We were desperate, so Dad took mother’s expensive wedding ring for collateral, and went off to borrow $1k from Charlie.
Charlie took the ring—but then he and Dad went out drinking, and Dad returned with almost no money, but a suitcase full of frozen ducks.

Charlie kept the ring for years, until Dad was more solvent, could pay back the loan. Mother never forgave him.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


1972/summer in Ireland:
In that year, I was eligible for my first SABBATICAL at Colo.StateU. We decided to go to Western Ireland, where expenses would be cheap.(My salary was about $8000 year. We chose the full year at half-salary instead of one semester at full salary.We were crazy, of course.)
I shipped over a duffel-bag full of books, thinking my research materials might not be available in West Ireland.
But a dock-strike in Britain kept them from being delivered till the end of the summer.

Forebearance-Credit goes to my wife Mary;
we took as baggage ALL the gear for the year in several bags, including one trunk. (Most Sabbatical wives insisted on having huge amounts of gear mailed over before they arrived.)

We flew into London, trained to Holyhead in Wales, boarded the ferry to Dublin at midnight, then sat there till it left at 7AM.
The engine-throb was so loud I feared for our hearing. Mary went into a panic at being 5 decks down. She said she feared for the children; but they were sound asleep. I told her that she was undergoing racial memory; her grandparents had come over from Ireland by steerage.

We arrived in Dublin during one of their worst summers; the temperature on 25 June was lower than it had been on Jan.25.

Turned out some friends had been able to line up an economical apartment for us in a suburb of Dublin.It was an hour by bus to downtown Dublin.

Other neighborhood children were still in school. We had no books, no radio, no TV.
Horror. I called in to a radio store and was told they did have a cheap radio for rent. I took the bus into town, only to be told, “yes we have one, but it’s not available today!” I was finally able to buy a used tube-radio for 25 pounds ($50).

We attended Mass at a tiny chapel,now so overcrowded that the men stood outside and read racing forms as they ‘heard’ Mass on a loudspeaker.
(The taverns opened only after Mass.)

Inside Mary got a shock the first week.
When the priest lifted his chalice for his Communion, the church practically emptied.
A fire? No..this was the moment when missing mass went from MORTAL sin to mere venial sin. That was the ‘transubstantiation’ that counted.


We had good luck on the phone. The handset was there, but disconnected. I bussed into town and was told that we couldn’t get reconnected for months. I came home to find out that the phone had been reconnected, by mistake, that day. Typical Ireland of that time.

Ireland then was like a 3d-world country today.
Our youngest was 3 yrs. Old,just toilet-trained.
The public johns were filthy.

So we spent a strange, deprived summer.
Our friends were helpful; their daughter babysat once for us; she said later the experience with American children was so awful she gave up babysitting altogether. (But later a US couple who took our kids for a week in Scotland changed their mind because of the good experience with our kids—they decided to have children. Go figure.)

One night Mary and I went to a ‘medieval feast’ at a ruined castle in Maynooth, a few miles away. I drank quite a bit. The Women had a tent for toilet; the men just pissed down the hill.
Unfortunately, I slipped and fell down the hill.

By the end of the summer, I realized I’d get little research done in Ireland. A student of mine had a brother I’d met who taught at Edinburgh University. I called him and asked if he knew of a super-cheap apartment in Edinburgh. It turned out he did, so we spent the last 9 months of the year in Edinburgh.


We flew from Dublin to Edinburgh. I decided to give the 3 kids (3, 5, & 7) sleeping pills for the flight. They slept soundly on the bus to the airport, then awoke, loud and bushy-tailed for the flight.Served me right.

I had gone over earlier alone to look over the apartment. It was on Dundas Street, near the fabulous Castle. But our flat was 75 steps up, no elevator and no fire-escape. (As I said we were crazy). It was in NEWTOWN (a square block of stone, built around 1800).

Inside it was majestic: 20-foot ceilings,
Two huge sitting-rooms and a large kitchen and a bathroom with a pull-up clothes-line to dry laundry. A tiny refrigerator; (the stairs were so cold you could leave food out there.)

The landlord was a Presbyterian clergyman,
With a Canadian wife. He had decided that God wanted him to be a Protestant worker-priest (holding a factory job) so he moved her to an awful town in France, with open sewage troughs.(That’s why their flat was empty.) (She stayed with him for the full nightmare year, and one year more after their return—then she dumped him.)

She was Canadian, so she insisted on warmth; they had a small furnace in the kitchen, consuming coal chunks in its stoker. In the magnificent entrance way, one door led to a coal-storage-room! (Turned out, ours was the only warm place in the square block; word got out among the mice. We were infested; they ate clothes from the dressers; when we came into the kitchen, mice fled from oven and cupboards into hiding.
One morning I sleepily pulled my pants over my pajamas and went to the kitchen for coffee; I felt motion in my pants-leg; the mouse had woken up slowly,just as I had.I undressed speedily and he fled.)
Needless to say, I worried that Mary wouldn’t accept this place; I was delighted when she said OK..what a heroine!
The coal was delivered by ‘black men’ (so-called because they never bothered washing).
Mary was determined to keep the place warm; we burnt 100 lb of coal a day in this vain attempt.
These ‘black men’
(weighing about 100 lb each themselves)
carried hundred-pound bags of coal-chunks up the 75 steps once a week. I heard later that such men died young.)
We were prepared for an awful system.
But we registered with a local MD.
One AM, our 3-yr-old had a fever.
I wrapped her in a blanket, and called a cab to go to his office. It happened that the landlord’s mother was in the hall.She said, “Where are you taking that child?”/’To the doctor’s office.”/
Scornfully:”We don’t take sick children to the doctor’s office!”/’What? Do you kill them??
More scornfully: ‘Call him; he’ll come here!’
He came up the 75 steps an hour later.
Later, the 7 yrold had an athsma attack in middle of night. It turned out that some doctors spent the night touring in a taxi, ready to make house calls at night !
Later, the 5yrold had infected tonsils.
We couldn’t get socialized help fast enough, so we went ‘private’. Because MDs knew that anyone willing to wait could get free care, the private doctor and hospital stay were incredibly



EDUCATION: Our part of NEWTOWN had turned into a slum; but city fathers subsidized ‘regentrifying’, so by ’72 it was middle-class again.
A taxi-driver told us it would be child-neglect to send children to a tax-paid school.
But we found out the school was far better than a middle-class US school ! The 7yrold in 2d grade was writing essays on Boadika, (the queen of Celts who actually defeated Julius Caesar once in battle!) The 3 yr old went to free pre-school; the 5 yearold was also writing and drawing precociously.

In ’71 we had foolishly sent our children to a ‘free-school’ back home with almost no rules.
In Edinburgh, the headmaster carried a belt around as a symbol of authority. The kids adjusted painlessly.

The tax-schools were actually run by the Church of Scotland—but with no interference except a prayer in the morning.

The Church owned most of the land in Scotland; you just leased your farm for 99 years; each year the value of your lease diminished.
This Church had huge cathedral-like buildings on almost every block—but they stood empty,
Because Scots had lost Interest in religion.

By ’72 they didn’t even go to Church to get married or buried!
But the one part of the old religion kept on was hatred of the Romish Church. Home Rule for Ulster? This slogan was all over: HOME RULE IS ROME RULE (at a time when the Pope couldn’t even rule the suburbs of Rome.)

A joke: The Cathliks is burnin’in Hell (as they ought to be,for their Papistical Mariolatry).
They cry out, “Laird,Laird, we dinna ken—we dinna ken.”/ A deep voice responds from Above:
‘Waal, ye ken noo !’
The Pope actually risked visiting a suburb of Glasgow. In a slum, a huge sign was erected:
Underneath, someone had put up a sign just as large; “LUCKY POPE!”

In many places you could read the graffito:
In response, in the men’s john at U of Glasgow, was penciled neatly:
A strange obsession.

We had a wonderful year in Edinburgh, though Mary got depressed during the long winter darkness.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHY: The students at an ordinary Catholic college (required to take many hours of philosophy and theology) knew in general what kind of answers would be welcomed by the dogmatic professors.

One answer: “These errors are pushed by the self-styled modren writers of the so-called Twenteth century.”/

Another answer: “Aquinas saw thru the errors of Marx the first time he read him.”
One of my stories won me an invite by a famous philosopher to lunch at the Oxford High Table (reserved for elite profs and visiting dignitaries).. Unfortunately, my children informed me that the Beatles had eaten there much earlier.

The story: This little girl got on the elevator with a woman dressed in a splendid sable coat.
“My,” said the girl, “You must have been a very good girl to earn a coat like that.”
“Honey, to earn a coat like this, you gotta be EXCELLENT !”

Thursday, June 12, 2008


At St.Joseph College there was a beautiful older woman
whose profession was virginity;Nursing was her hobby. There was also a
firmly-single atheist accounting professor (priests figured he could do no harm).

These 2 and I were to drive to Lafayette to see a show.
But I got sick; so these two had to (very reluctantly) travel in my car together.

Around midnight the accountant showed up: “Who the hell is the Little Flower ?
Your damn gas gauge malfunctioned; I ran out of gas in the deep country.
She gave me one suspicious look and cried out ‘LITTLE FLOWER, SHOW YOUR POWER!”

“Out of nowhere a state police car showed up behind us. I swear there were no head-lights! He drove me to get more gas. Who the f is the Little Flower?
Mayor LaGuardia?”

I explained that the Little Flower was St. Therese of Liseux, the nurse’s favorite patron.
Another time the nurse & I were driving to see a show at Notre Dame. She had been told that the Inn at NotreDame had no vacancies, but she insisted we try there anyway. (I planned to stay at the YMCA.)

At the desk we were told there was a last-minute cancellation,
so she could be accommodated.

I asked “Was the canceller a little French nun?”/No, it was a traveling salesman. But I wasn’t fooled by Therese’s disguise.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Democrats Work - Serve with the General

Democrats Work - Serve with the General


In Cresco, Iowa, Germans (Catholic & Lutheran) & Irish were big groups
(besides Bohemians & Scandinavians). Both G & I disliked Brit govt.
A Cresco song (to tune of MY COUNTRY, TIS OF THEE):



Tuesday, May 27, 2008

2-Wheel Hit-Gang

A neighbor was telling us about his volatile, alcoholic family.
One time an uncle threatened driver-father thru windshield with pipewrench—
with 3 children watching in backseat.

A relative moved down near Colorado Springs, got entangled in a motorcycleHit-gang
(cheap to scratch victim’s face, breaking leg costs more, and so on.)

This relative died young, had big biker funeral.
After the hearse came an ordinary truck on huge wheels, with his beloved bike mounted high in the back. Then came all the bikers; family last.

At last moment, wife threw expensive handguns into the grave with the corpse.

Friday, May 23, 2008

QUARANTINE: One kid got scarlet fever; they put ‘family’ into quarantine.
(In practice, the ones working for salary got exempted, could go live with relatives.
Unluckily, I was college freshman, got stuck. They found out later that ‘scarlet-fever quarantines’ were irrational, because one could catch scarlet fever from anyone with a strep throat.)

That left 5 youngest boys, including the patient, and wretched mother stuck in home FOR A MONTH! You want hatred? This was it.

One day it was Leonard & George’s turn to do the dishes. Quickly they started quarrelling and soon were struggling on the floor.
Suddenly Mother appeared in robe, looking like Lady Macbeth on a bad-hair day. Without a word she took the pan full of dishwater,
poured half of it on the miscreants (gaping at her, still on the floor).
Then she poured the other half on the clean dishes in the cupboard.
‘Wash them all!” she said and left.

And they did.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


A 6-yr-old relative just won $1250 in a lottery !
Gloomy Dan worries that the shock and the notoriety will temporarily unhinge her.
She announced that she’d give most to the Church,
because God obviously wanted her to win.

A clash between seeming Mere Meaningless Chance and
the Catholic belief in Particular Providence
(the belief that God controls every detail of your life).

I was reminded of 2 family incidents back in the Great Depression.
1) A beautiful 2-foot Shirley-Temple doll was raffled off. My one sister and her girl-friend got on their knees and prayed and prayed that one of them would win it.
The other sister didn’t pray at all—SHE WON IT !

2) A man called my mother, saying, “Your son Bob just won $200 at the theatre
at Bank Nite !”.[$200 then was more than $1250 now.]
/She wailed, “Oh,my—I forbade him to go to that movie !”
The guy said, “Maybe so, but he was in the front row!”

God is mysterious in His choices.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


General Lou Walt was an authentic war hero. He started out in WWII as a sergeant, got promoted up to general, then was commandant of Marines in Vietnam.
He took seriously the notion of capturing the minds and hearts of civilians;
so he was booted out of command, and left the service.

There was a student group of ‘Viet Vets Against the War’ at CSU; they were looking for a faculty sponsor, a peacenik veteran. (The administration insisted on a faculty sponsor, as someone vulnerable to punishment if the student-group got out of line.) The VVAW students recruited me as their faculty sponsor.

One Saturday I got a call from a VVAW student: Gen. Walt would be making a speech the next day at the Knights of Columbus Hall: “We have to picket that somabitch!” (It was widely thought that professor activists goaded the students into action; in reality, it was the other way around.)

I agreed, partly because the right-wing pastor of St.Joe’s had clashed with me in the past. I made up a poster, with 4 crosses in the corners, worded thusly:
“Whatever you do to Vietnamese children,
that you do unto ME!”

We stationed ourself outside the hall: myself,
a guy in marine uniform with one leg, and a small marine, in uniform, very twitchy.

Around the corner they came: a Boy-scout band in the lead, followed by a dozen beefy salesman-types, followed by the general and Monsignor Cavanaugh—who gaped open-mouthed at seeing me with my small entourage. The general was about 5’6 and equally wide, with no fat; I could have sworn his shoulders had corners.

The salesmen were all for attacking us; but
the general waved them down and came over, smiling, for dialogue. He asked the one-legged guy, “Where did that happen?” The guy admitted that he’d never got to Vietnam, losing his leg in a motorcycle accident in California.
Walt smiled and said, “Actually, we lost more men in highway accidents than from combat.”
Then the general quizzed the nervous little marine, who said: “I was at Pyong-DongPhu!” The general looked suspicious; “The marines were never at Pyong-DongPhu!”/
“YOU were never there, but the marines were !”

Seeing a uniformed marine talk back,
the general lost all civilian sophistication,
all general’s sophistication, and reverted back to pure sergeant.
A vein stood out on his bull-neck.
He and the youth began arguing about who had the most wounds.

I could see that in a minute, the boy would leap at Walt, so I said, “Gentleman-we can’t settle our disagreements by counting wounds !” Walt came back to his senses; he barked at me “Where were you?”/” Inchon in 1952.”/”That doesn’t count,’
he sniffed and returned to his cohort.

Now I had a perfect response, which I suppressed from sheer physical cowardice;
I was sure he’d leap right for my throat.

I could have said,
“Huh—at least we TIED OUR WAR !”

Saturday, April 19, 2008


The most precious items in medieval Siena were the bones of St.Catherine.
So when they went to war, they moved the bones to a secret place outside the city.
They won the war, and staged a triumphant procession to move the bones
back into the city.

She was a 3d-order Dominican, so the Dominicans marked the day of her return with a separate feast called the TRANSLATIO CATERINAE. (In Latin, TRANSLATIO means transference—of her bones).

Siena gave some of the bones to their war-allies.
While chanting the Office, at the end of every psalm, friars bow low for the GLORIA PATRI. That gives a chance to sneak in wise-acre cracks about the liturgy.

On this feast-day, Bro. Paul was next to me in the choir. He muttered:
“Poor Catherine; she lost a lot in Translation !”


A colleague of mine is a world-famous promoter of beastly rights.

He was caught by a student eating a hamburger.

‘You’re an awful hypocrite!”

‘No, I’m a sinner.”

‘Sinner? What’s that?’

Friday, April 18, 2008


COMING UP: some enthralling stories from Lyons
ancestors in long-ago Dakotas.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Some heterosexual men don’t want to BE cops,
but they like to HANG AROUND cops.
This can be dangerous.

Two Chicago cops illicitly used a cop-car
to drive to Northern Wisconsin to a gambling den.
A civilian cop-groupie was riding in the back seat.

Coming back, they speeded—of course—and a Wisconsin State Trooper made them
pull over. Ingeniously they explained that the guy in back had killed a cop, and they were rushing him back to Chicago.

Immediately the giant trooper pulled the poor guy out,
snarled, “Filthy-Cop-Killer !”
and laid him unconscious with one blow.

Monday, April 7, 2008


"Can I have the car to go out drinking?" asked the insolent teen.

"Don't hold on to your ass" said the Irish father;
" They'll grow together before that happens."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bishop Fitzgerald of Winona, MN, was raised in Cresco,Iowa. He had been a friend of my mother in his youth—so when I was a Dominican novice in Winona, he HAD to visit me, however reluctantly.

(One reason for his lack of enthusiasm was an earlier meeting we’d had when I was a layman. I visited his mansion in Dubuque,Ia; his mother had been maid to my grandmother Lyons. She grabbed my hand with one claw,saying “Be sure to tell your folks how good we got it here!” and showed me the bathroom faucets plated with gold.
He fumed silently.)

Monks/Friars have an edgy relationship with bishops; the priests in our friary were not best-pleased to have him announce the visit, but accepted.

I entered the room where he sat and threw myself prostrate at his feet. Then I got to my knees, and moved forward to kiss his ring. Then I stood up and we shook hands, and held a short conversation.

Eyeing the corpulent priests in the room, he said cattily, “I’m glad you joined the Dominicans; they eat well.”/

“Your Grace,” I replied, “My impression is that ALL clergy eat well.”

The interview ended shortly afterwards.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

When a mere millionaire tangles with a huge corporation..

ROBERT LYONS: My brother Bob ran a chain of car dealerships in Wisconsin,
worth several million dollars on paper.
Let’s call the car-brand ‘Acme’.

Bob somehow mortally offended a big Acme honcho in Las Vegas. (It’s said Bob punched him—before he joined AA.) These honchos said they’d ruin him, and they did.

They even forged orders sending him cars that wouldn’t sell. His empire collapsed.
But they didn’t understand that some Irish are too dumb to give in. He sued them.

(By this time he’d joined AA. He got legal advice from some of the prominent lawyers and judges in that group.)

Acme bought the judge. The trial took the longest in Milwaukee history. (Justice the tactic of big corporations.)Bob had 2 young lawyers;Acme had hundreds.

Even so, finally the jury brought in a verdict of 80 acts of wanton misconduct against Bob.
The judge reversed their verdict in one page. Bob had to sue to get his reasons, which were lifted right from the Acme brief.

Surprisingly, Bob had $ enough to finance an appeal. Ten years after the start of this affair, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found for Bob.
There’s a record of the decision which is a proud one to show to his grandchildren.


A LEGEND: St.Patrick was baptizing a warrior chief.
Afterwards, he noticed that his pointed crozier was stuck thru the man’s foot !

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“I thought it was part of the ceremony.”

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Lazy Dean Jones would ask other profs to lecture to his classes, then record the lectures to play again later.I consented to lecture for him.

I started out solemnly, deploring the unserious attitude in so many classrooms.
A student: “Don’t you ever tell jokes?”

“Hell, no.Students are frivolous enough !
However, if a humorous story illustrated well a philosophical point, that would be different:
for instance, to illustrate the difference between Kant’s HYPOTHETICAL imperative (Do A IF you want B), vs. CATEGORICAL imperative (Do A no matter what you want!) --
This story might illustrate that distinction:
Mrs. O’Malley came home bruised and scratched. She explained
to her astonished husband:
“The Doctor told me to bring in a Specimen.
I asked Mrs. Malanaphy if I could borrow hers.
She admitted she also didn’t understand;
but said I should ask the nurse Mrs. Murphy.”

Husband: “But you don’t get along with…”

“I know, but I was willing to forget the awful things that woman has said about me. I asked her how I’d go about getting a Specimen.

“She told me to go piss in a bottle!
I told her to go shit up a rope,
Student: “Did you tell THAT story to your class?”
“Oh,no, I wouldn’t dare—but this is Jones’ class!”

Friday, March 7, 2008


Origin of St.Josephs’ College

Run by the Fathers of the Most Precious Blood (students called them The Bloods).
Several chapters—begin with the Order’s history.

One interesting thing about the Roman Church (at least until recent mass exodus of clergy)
was that new orders of religious were now and then founded, but ALMOST NO ORDER EVER DISAPPEARED. (e.g., Trinitarians were founded by selfless men who offered themselves as substitute-prisoners for family-men Crusaders captured by the Muslims. You’d think when this function disappeared, the Order would fold—but no, centuries later, you could still find a few Trinitarians around preaching missions at parishes.)

The Fathers of the Most Precious Blood were founded by St. Gaspar del Bufalo, to preach to Italian bandits.
(Repenting bandits would be reassured by thinking of Christ’s redemptive Blood.)
But then bandits got too prosperous to care about the low-class Bloods—they were now preached to by Jesuits! So the Fathers of the Most Precious Blood nearly disappeared.

But in America a German priest lusted to found a new Order. The Vatican said no—so he hunted around for some nearly extinct Order and picked up the Bloods franchise.

He founded double-monasteries in Ohio
(priests & nuns in same huge building, but chastely separated—these strange buildings are now Ohio landmarks.)
Another chapter: Catherine Drexel was spinster member of famous wealthy family, a devout Catholic. Visiting Pope Leo XIII, she said US desperately needed an Order to care for Indians and Negroes. Holy Father said,”Kate, you’ve got the bucks. Why don’t YOU found this Order?”

She did found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. (She is now St.Catherine.)
They opened a trade-school for Indians in Northern Indiana, importing a few (desperately available) Precious Blood Fathers to teach there.
Then the govt. MOVED the Indians elsewhere!
Here was an empty school.

So the Most-Precious-Bloods founded a college there, St.Joseph’s.
(One residence is still called Drexel Hall.)

Two problems:
a) it is one of the few Catholic boys’ colleges not matched by a nearby Catholic girls’ school. When the Precious-Blood Fathers asked the Precious-Blood Sisters (now totally separate) to found a college in bleak NorthWestern Indiana, the nuns said Sure, for a million bucks. No deal.
(A nasty rumor said that some students sought female companionship in Gary whorehouses.

There was a prof who was a convert to the Church, thus not a real Catholic. So the boys who had VD were not embarrassed to borrow money from him to pay for treatment.
Once he stammered, “You know there are ways to protect you from sexual disease!”
“Please, Mr. Kilmer—I can’t use a rubber—
I’m Catholic!”

b) A big problem for saints wanting their Order to educate the poor: these Orders usually end up teaching middle-class youths; they smell better. So St.Gaspar ordered his priests NOT to discuss intellectual matters at table..a problem for college profs. They simply ignore this rule.
St.Joe students were mainly Catholic workers who wanted college to get from factory to office, who couldn’t get into Notre Dame, but whose mothers insisted they attend a Catholic college.

St.Joe's Today

ST.JOE’S NOW: I taught at St.Joe’s for about 5 years.Each semester I taught 250 students ThomisticPhilosophy,in 5 sections. I used multiple-choice tests, e.g.
“Matter is to Form as (a) God is to the angels…”

(Actually, because students had to ‘spit-back’ the textbooks, they had to read carefully. Thus they got a better education than many students at a State University, at infinitely lower costs.)
Fr.Weisser CPPS was ‘tough’ dean of discipline, who occasionally belted college students.

His aide was ‘Silver Bullets’, a moron who worked cheaply and was given a gun.
Whence the name? When students would climb the water-tower, he’d shoot at them,
but always miss-- a source of amusement, not fear.

Weisser bought a two-way radio in his crusade
to catch erring students in cars.
(He was deputy sheriff, violating canon law).
He gave S.B. a car with radio, then took off in his car, saying
“Calling Car # 1 ! Calling car #1 !” No response.

He came back exasperated:
“Why didn’t you respond?”
(A group of students had gathered around S.B’s car,
sure there’d be entertainment..)

‘Father!” protested S.B. ‘YOU’RE car #1—I’m car #2 !”
Mary Wright Lyons was with me at St.Joe’s.
One priest ran off on his motorcycle with a druggist’s wife.
There was a sudden opening in the English faculty.
They talked Mary (with her MA) into filling in.

Mind you, these were youths who volunteered
to attend one of the very few Catholic colleges
without a matching girls’ college.
They were the type who would join marines.
They weren’t happy to face a prof. who was six-months pregnant.
They tried not to look at her.
Mary was raised with responsibility for
14 younger siblings/cousins in the duplex.
She was not impressed by male bravado.

St.Joe students were sports-mad
(what other entertainment in Rensselaer?)
We attended a basketball game with Valpraiso College,
a civilized Lutheran school.
As the game ended, it looked like a riot was beginning.

Mary (6 months pregnant) jumped up to stop the riot.
Luckily there were many students there we didn’t know
who were related to Mary.

A football player rushed up, saying “I’m your cousin!”
and hurried her out of danger.


To wake students up, I once remarked that Jesus and Mary were like most poor
Middle-Easterners (Jesus slept outside on the ground)—they probably had lice.

An ‘F’ student ran to the dean, Father Maziarz,
to denounce me as a heretic.

Maziarz responded, “Lyons is not a heretic; he’s a horse’s ass.
One reason to take theology is
so you can tell a heretic from a horse’s ass.”

Creative St.Joe student

Fr.Ranly was the resident priest at St.Joe’s Drexel Hall. But he was there as spiritual counsellor; discipline was up to senior students in the Hall.

One day they came to him quite upset, saying that a student, to win a bet, had eaten a turd. Ingeniously he called on Fr.Weisser, Dean of Discipline—but Weisser cunningly said, “This is not a matter of discipline—there’s no college rule against eating turds.”

Whereupon Ranly called in the student and said,”Are you troubled? Did you—uh-on one occasion—uh—I’m not condemning you, just trying to understand—

“Of course not !” said the student.”I ate a BabyRuth candybar speckled with 7-up;
and I made $50.”

“All of which is going to the missions.”

My Evaluations

My Evaluations:
I got plenty of friendly student-evaluations
in my 50 years of teaching;
But some of the unfriendly ones showed
more creative spark: e.g.

‘I’m Irish and Democrat—
but I still can’t stand you.”

“Mr Lyons expresses his ideas very clearly—
many he should not express.”

“I thought Prof. X was worst teacher ever
until I met you.”

“I don’t like you living like a king just because
you know the outdated doctrines of dead men. “
(King of impoverished land!)

In ethics course: “Ha, ha—
in spite of all your efforts,
I still know right from wrong!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


From the time the Catholic English conquered Ireland until the Reformation,
the Fitzgerald Clan ruled Ireland on behalf of England.
(Then they lost power as Catholics themselves.)

In 16th century one Earl Fitzgerald burned down the great cathedral at Cashel.
He was arraigned before King Henry VIII (still Catholic).
Why did he do such an outrageous thing?

“Sire, I would never have burned the cathedral
had I not thought the bishop was inside!”

Henry roared with laughter and dismissed the charge.
In 20th century, I was,as tourist, at a Fitzgerald stately home.
The guide was, as is often the case, one of the few high-toned Protestants
left in Eire.
I said, "My Iowa grandmother's maiden name was Fitzgerald. We'd like to think we're related to the noble Fitzgeralds."

"That's very possible; they left bahstuds all over Ireland."

The Odd Saint

Martin Sheahan (cousin to Mary Wright Lyons; brother to CookCountySheriff Mike Sheahan): He was no flaming liberal. Neither of his Southside-Chicago parents was friendly toward blacks. He ranted over Dem.Party’s close association with gays.
But on a Sunday afternoon when he saw a heavy black woman trapped in burning car, he immediately stopped and rassled her out to safety.Then he went home, went in to take a shower, and died of a heart attack at age of 50.After his death, the family heard from people they didn’t know, whom Martin had helped in one way or another (the best criterion for saintliness).MARTIN AND THE SHRINENear 117th st.So, stands perhaps the ugliest church in the city. It wasn’t a parish church, but a shrine to the Sacred Heart (who built it?)
They had a super-late Sunday Mass, so all the young rogues of the Ryan/Sheahan/Wright clan went there. The place was full of super-ugly, life-size statues.
The local pastors complained because attendance at the shrine meant less income for them. Cardinal Cody (infamous for allegedly giving a huge amount of church money to an allegedly incestuous cousin)—Cody ordered The Shrine closed and sold off the statues (who would buy them?)[We always wondered if rogue-priest-author Andrew Greeley had Cody in mind in his book titled THE CARDINAL SINS.]
Martin Sheahan was enraged at Cody’s move. He appealed to the Vatican, and finally, the shrine had to be re-opened and the statues bought back !So after his funeral (at his parish church), the long, long cortege detoured past The Shrine.The doors were opened and the bells rung in honor of TheShrine’s saviour as the cortege passed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

O MOM…In the Irish section of Port Glasgow,Scotland,
a wedding involved two mothers-in-law who didn’t get along.
During the reception, one took off her high-heel
and attacked the other.

The groom was heard to mutter: “Oh, Mum…you PROMISED ! “

Friday, February 29, 2008


Regina Owens Lyons (raised in a small town)
was dining with prosperous son in a posh restaurant.
"George, there's a fire at that other table."

George, in a patronizing tone:
"Mom, that's OK. That's flambe."

"A fire in a napkin?"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

FROM KATIE HARRINGTON MAZER: (her mother's memorial to bro.Geo.Owens, at his death):

My First Memory of George, died April 18, 1987, By Ruth Owens Harrington

Beautiful golden curls. How mad everyone was when Jenny Craig (our live-in) or Regina? Had his hair cut.

George telling me there was no “santa” and our standing on the stairs unseen watching the family prepare for Xmas with “Santa” gifts. We never let on we knew-

I admired him so much - I followed him and his friends around (much to his dismay) and dared anybody to attack him. I was bigger and could lick any of those guys.

The downtown business men all were captivated by him and couldn’t spoil him enough. In those days, we had the freedom of the whole town and could call on anybody.

I will never forget the day when I was alone at the front of the house and saw a ragamuffin kid pulling a wagon with George in it, mortally hurt. He had jumped out of a barn loft and landed on his stomach. Those days they had no antibiotics and he lay close to death for days (maybe weeks.) ( I remember the house was darkened and the telephone muted). It was peritonitis. We think that was the cause initially of his kidney loss,

We were together in the same classroom - I in first grade- He in third.

One day he was absent - Sister said “where is George”, - I didn’t know– I could hardly get home fast enuff to tell mom, he didn’t go to school! Again I waited in the front yard to greet him when he got home. He got there on the back of a big flat dray (horse-pulled). I yelled, “Boy, are you going to get it”. When you misbehaved in school those days, you received double punishment- one at home and one (I mean a licking at school) the next morning. Old tender hearted Geo H looked at him and said, “Annie, (Mom) I think he has mumps - He better not go to school”. Boy, how lucky!! I was relieved too, I didn’t want anybody to put a finger to him.
from Dan: In Uncle George's last days, he got off a great example of BLACK Irish humor: "How good God is, to send us such pain that we're glad to die."

Thursday, February 14, 2008


From g.Walhovd:
If You Grew Up In Rural Wisconsin:

*You know how to polka, but never tried it sober.

*You know what knee-high by the Fourth of July means.

*You know it is traditional for the bride and groom to go bar hopping between the reception and wedding dance.

*You know the difference between 'Green' and 'Red' farm
machinery, and would fight with your friends on the playground over which was better!

*You buy Christmas presents at Fleet Farm or Farm and Fleet.

*You spent more on beer & liquor than you did on food at your wedding.

*You hear someone use the word 'oof-dah' and you don't break into uncontrollable laughter..

*You or someone you know was a 'Dairy Princess' at the county fair.

*You know that 'combine' is a noun.

*You let your older siblings talk you into putting your tongue on a steel post in the middle of winter.

*You think Lutheran and Catholic are THE major religions.

*You know that 'creek' rhymes with 'pick'.

*Football schedules, hunting season and harvest are all taken into consideration before wedding dates are set.

*A Friday night date is getting a six-pack and taking your
girlfriend shining for deer.
*Saturday you go to your local bowling alley.

*There was at least one, if not several, in your class who had to help milk cows in the morning. And/or smelled like it.

*You have driven your car on the lake.

*You can make sense of 'upnort' and 'baatree'.

*Every wedding dance you have ever been to has the hokey pokey and the chicken dance.

*Your definition of a small town is one that only has one bar.
*The local gas station sells live bait..

*At least twice a year some part of your home doubles as a meat processing plant.

*You think that the start of deer season is a national holiday.


In Korea, I interviewed hundreds of GIs back from all over the front, wounded or crazy—sending them back to front if they had completely recovered. I got a better picture of the war than those in combat, because I heard stories from all over the front. Perhaps the saddest story was this:

A young, rangy Appalachian farm-boy showed up, ready to return to the front. He had enlisted even before he finished HighSchool. He was so brave and skilled, they made him a sergeant on the front line.

He said, “You’ll notice that now I’m just a private.” (I hadn’t wanted to mention this.)

“We were going up an awful hill, with Chinese waiting for us at the top. We outnumbered them, so it wasn’t quite a death-trap.

“One guy was seized with terror. I drove him up the hill with the others. He dropped dead of a heart-attack. After the battle, I got reprimanded.
“But jeez, many others died that day; driving him forward was a small risk I felt I had to take.

"So I demanded that they break me back to Private; I was not going to take the extra responsibility if they wouldn’t back me up.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tribune had a contest for this honor.

Opra, Bill Murray, and Mayor Daley were beat out by Sheriff Mike Sheahan
(cousin to Mary Wright Lyons).

They said there was some vote-tinkering, but that’s an authentic Chicago election.


from Jon Richards:

"Hallo, Mr. Sarkozy!This is Paddy down at the Harp Pub in County Clare, Ireland.
I want to inform you that we are officially declaring war on you!"

"Well, Paddy," Sarkozy replied, "How big is your army?"

"Right now," says Paddy, after a moment's calculation, "there is meself,
me cousin Sean, me next door neighbor Seamus, and the entire darts team
from the pub. That makes eight!"

"Well I have 100,000 men in my army.”

"Begoora!" says Paddy. "I'll have to ring you back."

Paddy calls again. "Mr. Sarkozy, the war is still on.
We now have some infantry equipment--
two combines, a bulldozer, and Murphy's farm tractor."

Sarkozy sighs, amused. "We have 6,000 tanks and 5,000 armored personnel carriers.
Also, I have increased my army to 150,000."

"Saints preserve us!" says Paddy. "I'll have to get back to you."

Paddy(next day). "Mr. Sarkozy, the war is still on! We are now airborne!
We've put 2 shotguns in Jackie McLaughlin's ultra-light --
and four boys from the Shamrock Bar have joined us!"

Sarkozy cleared his throat. "I have 100 bombers and 200 fighter planes.
My military bases are surrounded by
laser-guided, surface-to-air missile sites.
I have increased my army to 200,000!"

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph—I’ll call you back.”

Paddy.the next day: "Top o' the mornin', Mr. Sarkozy!
We’ve had to call off the war."

"Why the sudden change of heart?"

"Well," says Paddy, "we had a long chat over a few pints of Guinness,
and we decided there is no fookin' way we can feed 200,000 prisoners.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


A friend attended a High-Church Anglican music conference.
The teacups were so expensive he didn’t dare touch one.

Unlike Roman abbesses, who are controlled by some cardinal,
Anglican abbesses are at the very top of their heaps.

An ancient abbess approached a young bishop.
“Bishop, I understand you oppose women priests.”
“Yes, Mother, I certainly do!”
“Well, the only thing your priests have that my nuns lack is a penis.
I’ve been attending Mass for over 80 years, and I’ve never seen one of thoseUsed in the liturgy.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ye Amadan!

A man said to MD, “I like Norwegians.”/”That’s a social problem, not a medical problem!”/ “No I want you to make me into a Norwegian.”/
“Forget it; that’s a tricky operation; I’d have to remove a good part of your brain.”

/”OK I can pay; I’ll find another MD.”/ “Wait..think it over for 2 weeks;
if you still want this, I’ll do it.”

Patient awoke from anaesthetic. Md:”I told you this was tricky; my scalpel slipped, I removed 90% of your brain!”

“Ah, ye Amadan! Ye Niver Did!”


from Jerry BAker, formerly of Cresco, Ia:

The late Jean Hall, believed that the "snakes" thatSt. Patrick drove out of Ireland were really a kind of cult with a serpent as its symbol. The "dragon ships" of the Vikings had that kind of symbol carved on their prows.

The famous battle of Clontarf, between the Irish and the Vikings, took place on April 23, 1014. It was both St. George's Day and Good Friday. St. George, a solar symbol, is noted as a slayer of dragons, a kind of serpents that may in this case represent cold weather.
The battle ended with the Vikings still in possession of the cities, and the Irish still in possession of the rural areas.

When King Aella of Northumberland captured the Viking Ragnar Lodbrok, he had him thrown into a snake pit.

Subject: St Pats

The reason the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day

The reason the Irish celebrate "St. Patrick's Day"
is because this is the day when St. Patrick drove
the Norwegians out of Ireland.

It seems that some centuries ago, many Norwegians
came to Ireland to escape the bitterness of the
Norwegian winter. Ireland was having a famine at the
time, and food was scarce. The Norwegians were
eating almost all the fish caught in the area,
leaving the Irish with nothing to eat but potatoes.
St. Patrick, taking matters into his own hands, as
most Irishmen do, decided the Norwegians had to go.

Secretly, he organized the Irish IRATRION (Irish
Republican Army to Rid Ireland of Norwegians). Irish
members of IRATRION passed a law in Ireland that
prohibited merchants from selling ice boxes or ice
to the Norwegians, in hopes that their fish would
spoil. This would force the Norwegians to flee to a
colder climate where their fish would keep.

Well, the fish spoiled, all right, but the
Norwegians, as every one knows today, thrive on
spoiled fish. So, faced with failure, the desparate
Irishmen sneaked into the Norwegian fish storage
caves in the dead of night and sprinkled the rotten
fish with lye, hoping to poison the Norwegian

But, as everyone knows, the Norwegians thought this
only added to the flavor of the fish, and they liked
it so much they decided to call it "lutefisk", which
is Norwegian for "lucious fish".

Matters became even worse for the Irishmen when the
Norwegians started taking over the Irish potato crop
and making something called "lefse". Poor St.
Patrick was at his wit's end, and finally on March
17th, he blew his top and told all the Norwegians to

So they all got in their boats and emigrated to Iowa,
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, or the Dakotas ---- the only
other paradise on earth where smelly fish, old
potatoes and plenty of cold weather can be found in


This drunk guy knew the stairs creaked;
so he laddered up to 2d story bedroom.
In the morning he asked wife if she’d heard him.

“Yes, I heard the ladder & the window opening;
I prayed it WASN’T you!”

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The worse a sinner, the longer his purgatory.
“When they close down Purgatory
on Judgment Day, they’ll ask Uncle John
to put out the lights.”
About 3 obnoxious relatives: “Their room in Purgatory
has Hawaiian climate.
Their presence is suffering enough.”
A woman-driver was exasperated by traffic.
Her forceful mother said,
"Offer it up for the most abandoned soul."

"If you don't pipe down,
YOU'LL be the most abandoned soul,
right here on this corner."

Saturday, February 9, 2008


GUNS: 2 OF THE RYAN relatives faced off with guns at a southside tavern. Neither fired./ One relative was paid by one tavern to go to the tavern up the street. Then the first tavern would wait for patrons of the other one to file in./ One relative, a retired cop, an alcoholic, would wear his gun to family gatherings./

One relative went with his sisters to LasVegas.
Immediately he disappeared. As the sisters were in the returning plane, a cop car pulled up with this relative in handcuffs. He was freed and warned that he got away with it only because he was a former cop; he must never return to LasVegas.

He got on the plane, announcing,
“I want everyone here to make a perfect act of contrition !”
Then he vomited into his sister’s lap.

This was all quite a shock to Lyons, a boy from a small Iowa town.


Regina O. Lyons: One of the beautiful Owens women—Dad fell for her when she was 12, but waited. Oldest of 11--the mother said, “I did the work, Regina the worrying.” She suffered from generalized anxiety, looked for specific, finite dangers to explain her anxious feelings.

They had 7 children in 9 years. Gingy died at 11—they never recovered. (At her deathbed, Gingy said, “I see Jesus & Mary coming for me—why are you crying?”
Regina replied, “They’re not coming for me; I have every right to cry.”

Then they had 2 more !

Regina was a woman of unbelievable stamina.
She had a 2-acre garden, canned all the vegs for winter. She also did most of Dad’s office work, while he drank.
When she was 3d yr in college, her father lost all his wealth in land-collapse in 1925. She went to Kansas to teach. They thought ‘Owens’ was a Welsh-Protestant name.
She was about the same age as the Alta,Ks. seniors. They asked her, “Do nuns wear boxes on head to hide horns?” She said no, but then got thinking: “Why ELSE wear a box on your head?”

She took a train to another town for Sunday Mass. She started 1st graders dancing; Baptist preacher said, ‘They’ll want to dance later!”
She said, “They will anyway.”

She caught preacher’s daughter cheating, wouldn’t back down. Superintendent warned her, “We’ll have to move you; your landlady is threatening to kill you.” One year was enough.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I entered the army on the feast of OurLady of Mt. Carmel (I was spitelfully happy when the Vatican later abolished this fictional feast).
In basic training, I would have been tempted to suicide if not Catholic.

I encountered a sergeant who was a complete sociopath. When we practiced digging up landmines (with booby-traps underneath) I never succeeded without the booby-trap clicking. Then he made me run around, rifle overhead, shouting, “I’m dead—I’m dead!”

One good thing: after a long campout,we had to put our tent and stuff together quickly. He confiscated my bayonet (not quite quick enough); that meant that for the rest of Basic, I watched while the others did bayonet training.

RIFLE PRACTICE: The worse you did, the better score you got (they figured you wanted to be disqualified for Korea). I’d see the bullet plow up the ground, then see ‘bullseye’ marked.

I was already bald. When we lay down to fire, the metal helmet fell right down over my eyes—so I skewed it to one side. The awful sergeant screamed at me; I stood up, tried to explain—but he screamed again; so I lay down and fired blind—with more bullseyes.

I got the 2d highest medal. When I came home for leave, my father—a great shot himself—said,“I never thought they’d teach you to shoot! We’ll have to go hunting.” My parents couldn’t believe the corruption of the process. My mother said, “You must learn to accept honors gracefully!”
We were punished for sick-call. I got a terrible cellulitis in one swollen leg. I was told to load up all my gear (including bed), haul it all to supply room, then take a bus to hospital.

Horrified, they slapped me in bed for a month, dosed with antibiotics. The head nurse was a terrifying redhead. One farmboy, back from Korea, had his genitals shot off. (Army makes men, indeed! Landmines were designed to wound in that way.)
After dark, he’d weep; she held his hand.

After 3 weeks, I was allowed to walk around.
In the hall, I met a guy in bathrobe, with a guard on either side.
I recognized my sergeant.

He was restrained from lunging at me.
“That’s the som-a-bitch! That’s him! I told him to straighten his helmet.
He stood up and pointed his rifle right at me!”

Devout as I then was, my toes curled with pleasure to think I had pushed him over the edge into total madness.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Don't malfooster me

Speaking of Mavourning, Grandma (Genevieve) Wright frequently used the word "malfooster." The most common usage was, "Stop malfoostering that child!" My parents always wondered where she got the word but could not find it in any dictionary. In college, when I was reading Ulysses I came across the word "foos" and a footnote said it was probably a reference to "fooster," which is Irish for fussing, dawdling, or wasting time. We guessed she added the mal- prefix just to make it negative.

But the construction wasn't hers. I recently searched for malfooster on google and found this entry in Cassell's Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins :

Banjaxed, to be. An Irishism meaning 'banged about; smashed' and introduced into popular British speech by the broadcaster Terry Wogan in the early 1970s. Possibly from Dublin slang of the 1920's. When he wrote a book called Banjaxed(1979), Wogan supplied this definition of the verb: To hornswoggle, corpse, knacker, rasher, caramelize, malfooster, malavogue,powfagg, keelhaul, macerate, decimate, pulverize, make rawmeish of...

And I also found this definition at under an alternate spelling:

mallafoosther, mollafoosdar
// v. to give a beating (to someone) < F mal + Ir. fústar. 'If you don't stop that messing I'll mallafoosther the both of you'.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mary (Wright) Lyons and
Julie (Wright) Haverty.



A collegian, still half-drunk/hungover,
staggered into the confessional and passed out.

The priest hurried to revive him, said:
“You’re overdoing Lent.
I want you to quit fasting!”

Saturday, February 2, 2008

needs Phonics !

A little girl told her mother,
"My imaginary friend uses F-word."
"What IS f-word?"

Friday, February 1, 2008

Want to talk Irish? Repeat over and over, fast, these 4 words:

Mortal Sin

‘Horsehoof’ for an Irishman means ‘embellished story’—so no criticisms will be allowed here if some details have been modified in memory.

3-year-old Sean, just trained, was annoyed that his mother spent too much time on the phone, ignoring him. So he strode from the bathroom stark naked, announcing simply,
“I decided not to wipe.”
She got off the phone to modify that decision.

Hearing this story, I said, “Wow! He precociously displayed
2 of 3 components of a mortal sin—sufficient reflection
and full consent of the will !”
The mother said, “What? You think that wasn’t serious matter ?!”


He outlived 4 of his 11 children, and 3 of his dozens of grandchildren.
But he was always cheerful; went to Mass every morning.
But he wasn’t always saintly.

His first wife died; the children thought he’d spend his days baby-sitting.
Bob Lyons was in Chicago in the Navy.
On Wabash Street he saw a photo of Geo.H, with a strange woman !
Turned out he’d married her secretly.

She was very meek; but his new mother-in-law was a terror.
After a drive,she’d say, “You never take me anywhere.’
Also, “I’d like to see an atom-bomb land on your bald head.”
Served him right for shocking his children.

When I reached 21, the other factory-workers insisted
that I drink with them.
Coming home on streetcar, I got to Grampa’s corner,
got off just in time to vomit.. Later he said,
“Vomit on my lawn any time.What are relatives for?”

The Owenses had a super-strong musical streak.
We had to invite him at every visit to get his fiddle
from the car and play. He was awful.

One day I joined him in a big Rosary procession down Hennepin Avenue,
hundreds of people praying for collapse of Soviet (It worked!)
Afterward I asked why he didn’t introduce me to his friends:
“Who’d want to be known as grandfather to a bald-headed coot like you.”
He was sinfully vain.

Luckily he died before a grandson disgraced us all
as a right-wing(twice-elected) Governor.


Mary Lyons remembered a story from EdinburghSCOTSMAN
(recalling a clipping from 100 years ago:)

A really good police chorus
inexplicably failed to pacify
a starving crowd of Dubliners by singing,
“Come back to Erin, Mavouning, Mavourning!”
I got a few days leave. My mother decided we needed a family picture.
My father had no eyebrows (he picked them compulsively).

Mother said, “We can’t have you pictured this way; this may be the last picture of our whole family!” (I gulped.) So she took out some black shoe-polish and painted in GrouchoMarx brows on my father. (Years later, he still got angry if reminded.)

I shipped out of Seattle. They made us empty our duffle-bags, to make sure nobody was taking along an extra machine-gun. Unhappily, they found a brassiere in my bag; I suffered quite a bit. I figured there was just a mixup with the sister’s laundry.I called home the day before I shipped out, and my awful brother-in-law asked, “Did you find my extra present?” I snapped at him an obscenity, then realized Mother was on the phone also. I hung up immediately.

They also found in my bag 2 volumes of The Basic Works of Aquinas (I hoped I’d get so bored in Korea that I’d read them.) This time I wasn’t present, and they got ready to confiscate the books—but a friend said, “You can’t take away his spiritual reading!”/ The officer snapped, “Why can’t he read a pocket Bible like everyone else ?” But he left the books (I never got that bored.)

The last day we heard they weren’t giving any passes to get off the base. There were buses leaving for town all the time—what could they do to us—send us to Korea? We all went AWOL.

I said to my group: “Let’s stay away from the port; that’s where the MPs will be looking for us.Let’s go to a movie.” I was laughed to scorn.
We went to one bar where a fat, middle-aged woman pulled a rip-cord and stood naked: all strip and no tease. An older Eskimo woman, her face covered with sores, drank with us. She had an armful of books and assured us she was a college-girl.

I was standing on a corner, explaining drunkenly to another Catholic guy why, since he was in his second marriage, his child was illegitimate in the eyes of the Church. He began yelling, the MPs hauled us in; we spent the night in an awful drunk tank.

I called home that morning; my father told me that his cousin was chief of police in Seattle;
I said he shouldn’t brag about that.
We took off in a calm bay—wise-acre sailors showed a movie involving Betty Hutton weaving back and forth. Outside the bay, an awful storm, heaving seas. The whole ship was quickly covered with hot dogs.

My memory is 27 days on the winter Pacific (surely not!)
I vomited every meal I tried to eat. We were so intimidated I never even thought of sick call.
I’d have starved lying in 4th bunk up among 5, if others hadn’t brought me hard-boiled eggs.

After a few days, I could stagger to the deck, carrying my steel helmet as a precaution. A wise-ass sergeant said “Buddy, it’s all in your mind.” / “No, it’s all in the helmet.” I showed him.

A couple of GIs were interesting. We were told each day how far we were from Seattle and how far from Yokahama. This black guy said, “I don’t care about those distances. I want to know how far DOWN it is!”

This same guy shook his head when told we would miss Sunday by crossing the dateline. Sure enough, a terrible storm came up and we missed Monday instead. He nodded wisely and said,
“I done tol’ you—you don’t fuck wid de Lawd’s Day !”

Another fellow was one of a group of prominent scientists being shipped to Korea. He was 7th-DayAdventist: “I won’t do combat !”
We got to Yokahama, then transshipped to Inchon, Korea. I had a 3-profile for athsma and near-blindness, so I was to work behind the lines.
The Captain in the Classification/Assignment office said,
“You were a philosophy major; that means you like people!” I didn’t correct him; I got a job in that office interviewing GIs back from the front line (30 miles away) wounded or goofy. If they were well-healed, I had to send them back to the front-line.

One black guy said, “You can’t send me back; I’ve got a vision-problem !” / “Nothing shows on your record!”/ “I got a vision-problem; I can’t see that shit !”/ “You’ll sure never get out on psycho grounds; you’re eminently sane.”
I asked the Captain: “What will you do with the half-dozen top scientists in the casual area?”
/”OmiGod—a typo!” (Scientists’ MOS differed from infantrymen by only 2 digits.)

He called top HQ in Seoul. A sergeant there had a general in his control (don’t ask how.) He said, “Send them to the front lines to get them killed before the mistake is discovered.” My captain refused, so the sergeant said, “Assign them to me.”

The Adventist from the ship was made a combat medic—with a shorter life-span than infantrymen.

Our mail wasn’t censored, but it never crossed my mind to tell my family so they could tell a Congressman.

“War is a demented enterprise, with personnel and policies corresponding.”
(Most sensible people--like myself--are not very dedicated; most
heroically dedicated people--like bin Laden--are not sensible. Rarely do
you meet a person both heroic & sensible.)

Fifty years ago, in 1952-3, I was stationed at an army office in Inchon,
Korea (after Inchon was reconquered from the Chinese.) On a hill was the
'French Church'. The 8-foot statue of the Virgin-with-child in front was
shot up by bullets, with the Virgin's face missing and the Baby's head
blown off; the roof on the church was blown in.

Next to the church was an orphanage for little girls, run by a French
order, the Sisters of St.Paul of Chartres. This institution was actually
run by a stout Irish nun of that order from Belfast, Sister Philomena, in
her 50s, with a half-dozen Korean nuns assisting.

Before the Korean war, French nuns were in charge of the orphanage, with
Sister Philomena merely the music director at the church. These nuns had
been in Inchon since before the 1930's (Sister Philomena since 1934); they
were placed under house-arrest by the Japanese occupiers during WWII; they
nearly starved; then, when liberated, their metabolism was so improved
that they swelled up obesely when the Americans swamped them with food;
they had to be hospitalized to adjust finally.

THE KOREAN WAR: When the Communists took Inchon in 1950, they killed all
the French nuns. It just happened that Sister Philomena was on an errand
in Seoul that day; she was flown out by the Americans, and later returned,
assigned to run the orphanage--after Inchon was retaken by the Americans.

(Note that Philomena came back, even with the French nuns murdered, and
the Communist Armies only 30 miles away!)

"I really should find the burial places for those nuns; they count as
martyrs", Sister Philomena told me, " but I figure live orphans are more
important than the bones of martyrs." I got to know her right away,
fascinated by her brisk attitudes toward life. Here are my disjointed
memories of this woman.

There were about 50 orphans there, from new infants to 6-year-olds. The
infants were in cardboard boxes on the floor in the halls, sucking on
beer-bottles- with-nipples. There was a 'lazy-Susan' front door. The
whores would throw out the half-American babies into the streets; Good
Women wouldretrieve them and carry them up to the orphanage, where they
would place the baby in the 'lazy Susan', ring the doorbell and run. I was
there when the doorbell would ring and half-dead babies showed up.

A hospital ship in Inchon harbor treated wounded allied soldiers
helicoptered in from the Front Line, about 30 miles away. The hospital
personnel were forbidden to come ashore, because the air in Inchon was
infected with various diseases. (Typically, I was sick as a dog for my
first week in Inchon; since then I've been immune to almost all germs.)

(Korean farmers then used human excrement as fertilizer; it was picked up
by 'honey-buckets', for instance from GI toilets, then hauled out to the
country in 'honey-carts'. The smell was an awful 4th dimension of
experience that I never got used to.)

However, one doctor did get to know Sister Philomena, who arranged that
her agents in boats would pick up the rich garbage from the hospital ship
and sell it (to be fed to pigs or people) with the money going to the

This doctor got the idea of feeding the new babies on milk mixed with
outdated transfusion-blood from the hospital ship; this mixture had
almost-magic properties for reviving the discarded babies; she said he was
writing a research paper on the subject.

The Korean parish-priest at the 'French church' was jealous of the money
that went to the orphanage from GIs. When he heard of this baby-saving
strategem, he protested to Philomena that St.Paul had forbidden the
drinking of blood. She looked down at him and replied, "Yes, St. Paul said
a lot of dumb things about women, too!"That ended that.

They also tangled when she managed to get a few American officers to adopt
the more beautiful infants; he said that Canon Law forbade her to hand
Catholic infants over to Protestant parents. She said, "Right--but Canon
Law does not insist that I have these children baptized at all. If you
interfere with these adoptions, I'll wait to baptize the children until
they're older; then the young infants can be adopted by anyone." The
priest was reduced to fuming silence.

One of her adoptions made a story that ended up as a movie. She
temporarily housed a small boy rescued from the front line; he was
'adopted' by a whole Navy ship. In the end, a Navy doctor had to leave the
service to adopt the boy--who grew up to be an American doctor.

SENTIMENTAL? The captain in my office sneered at my admiration for this
nun. "Sheer sentiment!" he snapped, "Instead of caring for orphans, she
should be handing out condoms to the whores!" I said that she was about as
sentimental as a supply sergeant.

In fact, when I reported his remark to her, she said,"Sentimental! If I
gave in to sentiment, I'd drown these half-breeds, as indeed some of the
Korean nuns have suggested; only Catholic principles restrain me. No
Korean man will ever marry them; we are nuns raising whores. The French
take in their bastards; the Americans deny the whole problem."

I finally got the captain to visit the orphanage; he had never seen his
own new baby at home; he got one look at the babies in cardboard boxes,
burst into tears, and fled. "Emotional!", commented the nun later, "Those
emotional types never come back."

One day she told me, "When I see these Yanks marching to their ships to go
home, my eyes tear up. But when I think of the babies they've left me, my
eyes go dry."

She had read of the 'Bellevue' case, where orphans who got no cuddling
actually died just of the deprivation. So she and her overworked
assistants tried to find time to cuddle each child a little each day.

The older girls (up to age six or so) seemed normal; when any man showed
up, they ran to touch your hand or tug at your pants-leg. The nuns taught
them how to dance gracefully, so they could perform for visiting Yanks who
might contribute. (It occurred to me that such skills might help also in
their later unsavory careers.)

I never heard where the older girls went, or where boy-babies were sent (I
heard these were sent quickly to another orphanage somewhere.)
SHREWD PROVISION: Sister Philomena worked assiduously every possibility of
outside help. She got some army official to secure for her an army 'APO'
post-office address. That way, she was sure of mail reaching her--"When
mail is addressed to you in the Korean system, that just gives you a
'first-bid' privilege"--and also people in America could send her supplies
with cheap postage.

I gave her my mother's address, and soon Mom received a nice letter citing
certain pages in the Sears-Roebuck catalogue that specified exactly what
supplies she and her friends at home might send. (Some supplies were sent
to me to forward; when a box of heavy linoleum tiles arrived on top of
other soldiers' cookies, there was trouble.) Skimming through the Sears
catalogue, Philomena said, "I don't understand how middle-aged American
women can spend so much time standing around in their corsets."

[Part Two Follows ]

MY BAD DECISION: I decided to help her fund-raising by doing some off-key
PR work. Knowing the fascination U.S. Protestants then felt for sinful
nuns, I spread the word that she was really known as 'Hot Phil', and ran
guns which she cadged from American soldiers--she smoked cigarettes, and
showed a little leg.

This ploy worked: soon, many GIs and officers were trudging up the hill to
the orphanage out of curiosity; there they didn't meet 'Hot Phil', but
they met this interesting woman who served tea and cookies (to the
officers who were likely to make real contributions)--she herself drank
only the tea: "We don't eat between meals."

This PR work (and her own personality) brought in a lot of money; soon she
was able to build a big new orphanage which was finished just before I
left; I heard later that the orphanage in later years handled at least 400
orphans, with 33 nuns.

Indeed, the movie featured a tough 'Sister Philomena' who played poker
with the sailors; I figured that this legend was my doing. However, I
should have expected that such a bizarre story would eventually have some
unpredictable bad results.

As the money came in, the awful Korean government got interested, and a
functionary showed up to announce the orphanage would be taxed. Philomena
looked down at him, and said, "You tax this place and I hop a plane to
Belfast the next morning, leaving you with all these orphans." He backed

She didn't win every battle. Other 'orphanages' nearby complained that she
was getting all the lucrative garbage from the hospital ship--U.S.garbage
was incredibly rich!-- whereupon, of course, the ship commander heard
about this deal to his horror and ordered all the garbage to be thrown
into the sea. "Ordinarily, I would never wish spiritual misfortune on
anyone," she confided bitterly, "but I really resent those phony
orphanages who interfered, and that officer who took the easy road."

She and the Koreans didn't get along very well. "I've been here for 20
years, and they still won't admit I can speak the language!" she would
say, and then shout "EEDEWAH!" (COME HERE!) to some hapless child, in a
heavy Irish brogue.
TOUGH STANDARDS: She held the American army in genial contempt. "No
discipline", she remarked drily..she admired the Japanese army which ran
things efficiently until 1945 (even though they had half-starved the

For instance, the Japanese just rounded up any wild children in the
streets and sent them to a 'pound'; the parents could reclaim them;
otherwise they were raised with iron discipline.

The GIs on the other hand, would hand out food and candy to the kids in
the street--so the wild boys would not stay in any orphanage; they ran
away and then perished in the streets from malnutrition and the cold.
"These soldiers love the admiration they get from the children," she said,
"just like they'd get from dogs."

She thought the American Navy was foolish not to have a 'grog ration',
since the sailors showed up in Inchon obsessed with alcohol. "Over the
years, I saw the French sailors head right for the whorehouses; but the
Americans get so drunk so fast they often never get to the whorehouse;
they're piled like cordwood and loaded back on the ships."

"I hear that every Christmas all your sentries are drunk," she said.
"These GIs have apparently never heard about George Washington and the
Hessians! You're lucky I hate the Communists; I could tell them how to
take Inchon back. When I think that this army is all that stands between
me and the Communists-- I have my running shoes ready beneath my bed."
(After all, she had narrowly escaped once before.)
AFTER THE WAR: After 16 months I was able to leave Inchon and return home.
My family and I continued to send her supplies for a while. We didn't hear
from her, so we eventually lost interest. I heard from another ex-soldier
that, after the war, she had come through Boston, on a sort of triumphal
tour of all her fans there, and also to place five half-breed orphans
there for adoption. Then the story was that she returned to Inchon. (He
sent me her picture, which has an honored place on my wall.)
But around 1957 I was in Chartres to see the cathedral, and my eye fell on
a building labeled, in French and English, "Sisters of St.Paul de
Chartres: Motherhouse". I went right up and asked for a nun who spoke
English; I asked her whatever happened to Sister Philomena who ran the
Star of the Sea orphanage in Inchon, Korea.

"It was terrible," the nun replied with a grave face, "Some awful person
spread the rumour that she was a criminal, a gun-runner--after all her
good work there, she was expelled from the country!"

Receiving this fist in the belly, I staggered off, wallowing in shame and
guilt. I hadn't foreseen the intensity of American bigotry and Korean
resentment, which used my preposterous myth to eliminate her.

Indeed it was years before I could tell anyone this story. I didn't even
think to ask what happened to her later; I did find out much later that
she worked for years in America before she died.

Later I consoled myself that this way, Sister Philomena didn't die on the
job, but spent her last years in comfort. But she didn't return in
triumph. Not that the nuns believed the slander, nor her family, but
I plan now to send this shaming story to her Order, to clear her name
altogether. (Only the nuns of that Order never replied to my inquiry.)

I can only hope that, facing this final humiliation from my bungling,
Sister Philomena grew from a hero into a saint.
posted by daniel at 10:10 PM


In Depression years, Dad sold Insurance Policies, I sold magazine subscriptions.

One Thanksgiving, it looked like No Turkey.

Age 12, I sold some subscriptions, embezzled all the money temporarily, bought a turkey.

Dad embezzled temporarily, ALSO bought a turkey.

One turkey returned, 1 embezzlement avoided.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gen Wright was pretty deaf, so her voice was loud.

Lyonses were with her at restaurant supper;
a lull in conversation around us.
She got thoughtful. We should have worried.
She announced loudly, "If I live to be 100,
I'll never approve of oral sex."
Bo Wright said we heard it wrong; she must have said
"I'll never improve on.."

Luckily, Lyonses are incapable of embarrassment.
Mother Regina: “OK, 1st of month, time to change underwear.
Danny change with Bob; Leonard with George, Jimmy with Dave.”
Babe Chambers (sister of Genevieve Ryan Wright’s mother) was youngest of 22 CountyClare siblings from 1 mother; (Still called Babe at 90.)

Custom was that youngest daughter stayed home to care for parents. (Babe had to.)

But her youngest were twins, Susan and George.
Susan saw prospect, fled to England. That left poor George.

He brought home a fiancée. Babe said, “You can marry when I die.” Fiancee fled. Babe died after 90.

George still lives, an aged bachelor. He plays fiddle at local taverns..”They like me; they know I’ll be sober the whole evening.” (He belongs to Irish ‘AA’, the Father Talbot Society.)

When we visited them in BallynaKelly in ’72, they went over to the tavern to get the food for high-tea. (Why should every house have a separate refrigerator?)
They had no indoor toilet or even a kitchen faucet (a pump outside).
Our 7-year old daughter asked, “How do you do dishes?”/ “We’re so rich we break them after every meal.”

Since Babe died, George has installed all the modern conveniences.
Mike Ryan was large Police lieutenant in Chicago.
He was dying, roaring in pain.
His little wife said, “For God’s sake, Mike, offer it up for the Holy Souls.”
He roared in reply “Offer it up your ass !”

We’d like to think those were noble last words.
We welcome people with interesting stories (Irish, family, war stories,etc.)

This Blog

I created this new blog for Dad as a place to put his non-political posts. He suggested opening it up to our extended families. This new group blog is for family stories/Irish stories/any old kind of story. Since we've all kissed the blarney stone, I'm expecting some great material.