November 2nd the Feast of All Souls

I have been so overcome by the present in the last couple of days, that I have to distract myself from the obsession with the past and my attempt to make readers who did not live it, try to understand why so many catholics, free ranged, prolapsed and otherwise are so connected to their “formation” – willingly or not!

November the 2nd is the feast of All Souls. On this day, traditionally, we remember and pray for those who have died and who are perhaps languishing in purgatory (“a place or state of punishment where some souls suffer for a time before the go to heaven” – Green Catechism circa 1950’s and something I remember because of the alliteration I think). November 2nd is the birth date to my beloved brother Paul and our beloved grandson Darcy and I learned today that it was also the day the a beautiful Aunt of an extended member of the family died, peacefully and gently, just as she had lived her life.

I am a firm believer that connections with loved ones are eternal. I am a firm believer too, that it is the story that lives forever. Treasuring our story, sharing it with love, sometimes,indeed often, with challenge and always with hope is what makes us eternal. While the story remains told, through the story tellers, we remain!

Only one of the people in the  oldest image in the collection I have used remains alive. My only, dearest Sister. But looking at the picture I can tell you of Mary Kathleen, my Grandmother who lived till she was 99, who changed her name from Mary Anne to Mary Kathleen because she thought her given name was too plain, who was severely admonished by Newcastle City library because she ripped pages which contained improper language out of books she borrowed , who had one eye removed at the age of 92, who was the first person to refer to me as a “good woman” when at the age of 19, my Mother (also in the picture) had to inform her of the impending birth of my first child – conceived long before the sacrament of marriage was administered.

I can tell you of the other woman in the picture, Mary Patricia, who was always known as Pat and who, upon the arrival of her first grandchild, the one mentioned in the previous paragraph, decided she was too young to be known as Grandma and became “GrandPat” forever after.   A staunch Catholic she, together with Dad, prayed every night that they would be gifted with vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Four of the six of their children received”the call”, something that gave my parents mega star status in the parish. I was the first one NOT to get the call. Other things were destined for me! But Mum (and Dad) stoically and lovingly “let go” of their children at the ages of 16 – 18 as they embarked on their own journeys and they became loving Matriarch and Patriarch to the two generations who have come after their children.

The little curly headed, coat wearing child ,breaking free  while his mother was perhaps trying to hold him back is my brother Peter who grew up to be brilliant in every aspect of his life. Academically he could do anything, a brilliant musician, composer,conductor, singer, pianist, organist, writer  and priest. His image features elsewhere in the collection of photos. Brain cancer robbed him of his sight, his intellect and took him away in such a painful manner leaving behind wounds which I do not believe will ever heal. He baptised my children,he married two of them, he encouraged them to be the best people they could be – and they are. There is a thick cloud of melancholic silence that surrounds this story but the children will tell it to theirs and truth rather that evil will prevail.Peter died on September 11th 2014, 7 years to the day since that terrible cloud descended on him and all of us.

My Dad is there too – the dapper fellow posing for Mum on the beach – Jimmy’s Beach I believe. The story teller, the newspaper bloke, the music lover, the disciplinarian, the one who encouraged all his kids to reach for the highest goal and who became the most beloved GrandKen to his Grandchildren. He is there with his oldest Grandson Ken and his youngest grandson Joe – our sons each one of whom loved him, as did all his grand children.

Alzheimers got him and took him away from us to the point where he remembered nothing of his own life. He lived to see his first grandchild , Gabrielle Grace. Dad was a newspaper editor and on the day her mother took the beautiful Gabbi, aged about 4 months up to see him in the nursing home he said,

“And who is this?” I replied “This is your first great grandchild, Gabrielle.”

“Oh, Gabrielle. G -A-B-R-I-E-L-L-E” spelling it out like he was back at work “is that right?”

“Yes, Dad, that’s right!” He repeated the exercise three or four times more and then came the last version,”G-A-B-R-I-E-L-L-E” and looking at the bundle of pink frills smiling on on his lap in the bed he took our breath away by adding “B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L”!

And I am there too in those grainy black and white images. Sheltered under the arm of my big brother Paul. A surly, curly headed about 3 year old, wearing my emotions all over my face, a trait which has continued into my dotage and sporting a “Dad’s haircut” up a tree while Dad, who was a wonderful photographer encouraged me to smile. Mum would have spent an hour and a half getting what was left of the ends of my hair to flip and to shine, after washing it over the laundry sink having previously “conditioned it” with her special recipe of olive oil and kerosene, a mixture which made me hesitant to be near naked flames for many years!

Paul was the oldest of the tribe and he was the protector, Leaving school he became  a Marist Brother. He left. He married the magnificent Jackie and their two daughters Sophie and Millie  are inspirational, intelligent, beautiful young women. Paul lived with motor neurone disease for 19 years. He died on March 25th  2016, the feast of the Annunciation which coincided with Good Friday. A brilliant educator, committed to public education, he achieved an inspirational level of respect across a wide range of people. His memorial at the Great Hall at Sydney University was attended by luminaries from every walk of life. Both he and Peter were awarded the Order of Australia. To be asked to speak at his memorial has been one of the greatest honours of my life.

And at the piano is my mentor and great friend Sharon who died in January 2016. She was Peter’s soul mate and his greatest and best critic. In her autobiography “Blood on the keys” she describes him as the great platonic love of her life and it was a reciprocal arrangement! Sharon had the capacity to shoot from the hip and hit right between the eyes every time. She definitely did not suffer fools gladly! She railed against the Catholic Church being more totally out of range than free range and in the end, in her inimitable form, insisted on receiving the last rites from a priest and being buried from the local Catholic Cathedral. She had a list of celebrants who were absolutely NOT to be invited to preside and her choice of celebrant, a wonderful , dear good friend of Peter’s came to Newcastle from Moree to do the gig!

And then there are the living! Our children, Patricia Grace, Kenneth Charles, Megan Elizabeth and Joseph Charles. Not only have they brought us joy in their childhood but they continue to bring us love and wonder through the choices they have made as adults. Patricia, married to Jeff is Mother to Gabrielle, Eliza and Darcy and her marriage to Jeff brought us the gift of our bonus grandchild Joshua. Patricia, known to all as Trish, spoke with such heartfelt dignity of her beloved Uncle Paul in the Great Hall of Sydney University, holding the assembled throng of “luminaries” spell bound! Ken,brought us the astounding Carrie! Beautiful, talented, dancer and mother of our grandson Oscar who is so much like his Father it is often like watching a re-run. Of course he is also like his Mum, much more comfortable with singing and dancing than his Dad ever was. Kenneth, known to all as Ken,carried his beloved Uncle Paul into and out of the Great Hall having been unable to attend his Uncle Peter’s funeral.  Megan Elizabeth brought us Chris and their little boy, Jacob, our youngest grandchild is something else! Talking before he was three, he reminds me of the stories Mum would tell of her first born Paul who was talking at birth (almost) who was inquisitive, adventurous and full of energy. The gene continues. In addition to his mother’s Irish, German, English heritage, his Father’s connection to the Wiradjuri people makes him a truly unique addition to the family tree!

And then there is Joseph Charles. Freshly graduated from uni. A writer with the skills of his grandfather. Patient, gentle,  who spoke the acknowledgement of Country at his Uncles Paul’s funeral and who, with his two sisters, helped carry Peter to his place of rest, remains attentive to his “ageing parents” making all the connections of history and spirit which are so much a part of what makes each of us “eternal”.

When Mum and Dad were married on Boxing Day 1942, Mum’s bouquet was like a waterfall of frangipanis. Every Boxing Day there would be sprays of frangis around the house, having been picked from the big tree in the front garden. Most of us have managed, at one time or another to have at least one frangipani tree in our gardens. I have included the picture of the flower in my own front garden because to me it represents all the words I have written here and what I believe life and death are about. The stunning, simple beauty of the flower, the subtlety of the changes in colour from the centre to the starkness of the white majority are like life’s changes to me resting as they do on the truth of the blackness  of the onlooker’s experience of the loss of a deeply loved on in death. I find comfort in this image.

Even though much of this wordy, wordy post has focussed on the past it is the living who will keep the story alive. It is the genetic connection but more than that it is the spiritual connection that enables this. It is the noticing of the traces of those who have gone before us, a piece of music, a flower, a moment of silence, a flickering flame, a passing shadow, the sound of birds, the timing of same,the smile on a young face, the colour of sparkling eyes and stillness that moves us to wholeness and gratitude.

I’m not sure if that is God, and many of those who have come after me would say, without fear, it absolutely isn’t but it is something!

Ooops to the Bells and Smells!

In my last post, I managed to get so completely immersed in the memories of trying to maintain my balance on a forward sloping organ stool while keeping the swells open with my knees and the bellows going like the clappers, that I overlooked the role of the bells and smells in Benediction!

To be in control of either of these implements was a pretty big gig for an altar boy!

The thurible ( incense holder and swinger ) is still used in liturgical celebrations as are the bells but at Benediction they came into their own. The thurible was loaded just before the Priest ascended the stairs of the altar to approach the monstrance and elevate it in blessing for the congregation. Father would give it a good swing or two at the start of this process and then hand it to the altar boy who would maintain the swing throughout the duration of the blessing. Incense fumes, depending on the heavy handedness of the Priest could take out every asthmatic within 30 feet, making eyes water and throats close!

The Bells were used at every Mass – the warning bell, the bell for the elevation of the host, the bell for the elevation of the chalice and the time to get ready for communion warning bell. Heaven help the altar boy who missed a bell or who rang the bells too long or who couldn’t get the “donger” in the bells to work properly making the bells sound insipid in the extreme. The biggest gig for the ringing of the bells occurred on Holy Saturday night when The “Gloria” was sung ( Gregorian chant of course) for the first time since the beginning of Lent. This usually took about 5 minutes and the altar boy had the incredibly important job of ringin’ those bells from start to finish!

As an aside, the tradition of ringing the bells at Mass started with nothing to to do with reverence or respect. In fact it happened because of lack of reverence and respect.  Hundreds of years ago in the big Cathedrals where Mass was said in Latin and all the action was restricted to around the altar, people used to gather, get bored and chat, do business etc. As a means of settling the din to let people know that communion was approaching bells, not little ones but great big clangers, would be sounded as a means of getting them to shut up, pay attention and look at the raised Host and Chalice! Crowd control has always been an issue!

Benediction provided a good sort of partial practise for Holy Saturday night because the bells had to be rung from the time the priest lifted the monstrance and made the sign of the cross ( usually three times for those on the left, those in the middle, those on the right of the congregation) and turned around and place it back on the altar.

One of my sons who has been free range in his catholicity since in he was in year 10 and is now 43, hovering on the cusp of 44, attributes his highly successful career in theatre, specifically lighting and stage design to the theatrical immersion in the Catholic Faith “forced on him” by family history!

Bells, Smells and Organ Swells

Each of the 6 children in our family learned the piano and each of us, with differing degrees of success, spent some time as or in support of the Parish Organist. Prior to the Second Vatican Council ( mid 1960’s ) music at Mass was not the usual thing. It was only after changes to the Liturgy as a result of Vatican II, and the arrival of the Living Parish Hymnal that community hymn singing took on the pedestrian format of singing every time someone walked. Entrance procession – stand up and sing. Offertory procession, sit down and sing. Communion queues, dawdle to the altar and sing. End of Mass, stand up and sing.

Prior to Vatican II, community singing was not such a big thing. The Mass was in Latin with little involvement from the congregation. Father stood with his back to the congregation, there were “fences” (communion rails) that marked the beginning of the sanctuary and some of them had gates! The only time English was heard was when the notices were read or during the sermon. Occasionally the solemnity of the feast would require a “High Mass” during which Mass Parts would be sung. This would bring the choir into action. At Christmas time, Holy Week, Easter, Ordinations, Funerals of priests and religious the singing would be done by the well rehearsed choir – usually in Gregorian Chant.

Generally, there would be music at weddings more often than not by a soloist and usually in Latin – Ave Maria (Schubert version preferred to Gounod’s because of something in his translation which cast aspersions on Mary ever Virgin. No reference at all to his stealing of Bach’s Prelude in C major), Panis Angelicus, O Perfect Love. Not even a hint of anything secular!

However, twice a week in the parish I grew up in grew up in, we attended Benediction. It was held on Thursday and Sunday evenings and it was where new organists in the family were broken in! There was a set playlist – it never varied.  O Salutaris Hostia, Tatum Ergo, “O Sacrament most Holy” and Adoremus in aeternum. (I’m not sure about the Latin spelling. Apologies to anyone who is offended!) We had the Benediction Manuscript at home which contained a hand written copy of each of the above. It was a good gig to be broken in on because it was usually attended by less that 50 people so making a mistake was not widely broadcast – much!

The organ was not an organ, it was a harmonium, much less ornate than the one pictured above but with the added 20th century technology of an electric motor.It was housed in the “choir gallery” which was located at the very back of the church. Access to the gallery was via three steps – hardly constituting a Choir Loft! There were a few pews for singers who might turn up for benediction and the “Choir” who were installed for the special occasions!

The “organ” was a beast to be tamed. The electric organ was very noisy and had to be turned off between “numbers”.When it was turned on again it made a sort of swishing noise like an industrial vacuum cleaner. A correct combination of stops was written somewhere in the Bendiction Manuscript and the volume was sort of controlled by the swells. In the picture above, these are the two timber things sticking out at sort of knee level below the keyboard.The organ stool sloped forward for reasons I could never fathom as a 9 year old. It meant that if you had difficulty with the swells as you tried to separate them with your knees and bring them back in, there was a strong risk you could overbalance, backwards or forwards and end up on your bum on the floorboards.

The most challenging requirement was the “solo” at the elevation of the  monstrance. The monstrance was a beautiful receptacle into which was place the consecrated Host. The Body of Christ no less. At the high point of the ceremony, the priest, clothed in a most beautiful cape, and wrapped in an extra glorious giant kind of stole – the name of which I have forgotten – lifted up the monstrance, turned to face the congregation and blessed those present. Meanwhile, the big gig for the organist was happening.

Prior to the mounting of the stairs to the altar by the priest, the organ would be switched off and all stops pushed in and one new one pulled out. I wish I could remember its name but I can’t. The poor organist would then begin to pump the bellows – those big flat things at the bottom of the  picture above. Air would swoosh swoosh in in time to the organists feet.The use of the swells was necessary but fraught with lethal possibility! Imagine if you can, pumping your legs like a bat out of hell, while spreading your knees on a highly polished wooden stool that sloped forward!

The other thing that had to be remembered was to play the entire “O SacramentMost Holy”one octave lower than it was written on the music having pulled out the correct stop which transposed the music up two octaves and added a sort of heavenly choirs of angels tremolo special effect! This stop did not work below middle C. In fact, should you happen to cross over middle C it had the reverse effect and every note played should as if it was lower than the ninth gate of hell shattering the special effect of the ethereal sounds as the monstrance was raised! I only did it once! That was more than enough!

Spiritual Bouquets and ejaculations

image-4I can almost hear the exclamations and perhaps even outrage at the title of my offering today. However, remember, the purpose of my prose is to enlighten those of you who were not fortunate enough to be raised radical catholic in the era 1950 – 1959 in the hope that some light can be shed on why it was we did the things we did. Trust me, I will not scandalise you ( or my upbringing ) too much I hope!

Catholics in the 1950s were, generally speaking, not real well off.  There were a number of reasons for this of course but to me, as a kid it was because we weren’t liked very much and we did not like anyone who wasn’t a catholic very much either! This was a quandary for me. I knew that if I behaved myself, did all the right things, did not commit mortal sin and die before I went to confession to have it expunged from my “soul” I would get my “treasure in heaven”. In year 2 this meant as much ice cream as I wanted accessible 24/7 for the rest of all eternity. If however, I died in the state of mortal sin – perhaps having missed Mass on a Sunday ( snowballs chance in hell in my family ) or eaten meat on Friday then it was the highway to Hell at the speed of light and Hell was pretty terrible. “Imagine” on Irish imported PP told us in our First Communion Class “ all day long in fire without water, without food for ALL ETERNITY!  GOOD GOD it was enough to make you behave yourself!

I had no non-Catholic friends but I had a truckload of non catholic relatives! Both my maternal Grandmother and my Father were “converts”. I used to worry about my Nanna and my Uncles, Aunties and cousins who were good Presbyterians but I was comforted in the knowledge that all good people, who had the misfortune NOT to be members of the one true faith would be nearly as happy Catholics in eternity in a lovely place call Limbo which was just like Heaven but God wasn’t there. The other “hereafter place” that I learned about was Purgatory  “ a place or state of punishment where some souls suffer for a time before they go to heaven.” 

I can just remember having an advertisement shown to me by my Mum at the end of which was “Catholics need not apply”! Of course the other reason why tykes tended to hover just above the bread line was the size of their families! I felt almost apologetic my entire childhood because our family – Mum,Dad and 6 children only filled one pew in the Church on Sunday!

So, the point of all of that recollection is to set the scene for birthday gift giving. My own children were spoilt rotten on their birthdays in comparison to the meagre pickings of my own childhood! I have four children which is a bit of an embarrassing total considering my heritage and I was a “working outside the family home” mother so we always had money for birthday presents…oooopppssss- a very necessary side comment here otherwise my second daughter will cry fowl. I NEVER had money for her birthday because it is in the first week of January which coincided with school holidays and the Christmas overspend fallout. I was a teacher and my employer used to pay a lump sum payment at the end of  the school year which included the holiday loading and the first pay in January, so she used to get promissory notes. She would have been much more happy if the practice of Spiritual Bouquets had not died out I think!

A Spiritual Bouquet was something that Nuns were particularly good at crafting. On the back of a “Holy Card” would be written, using exquisite penmanship sometimes coming close to the illuminated manuscript of The Book of Kells, a list of “things” the giver was giving you in honour of your birthday, your First Communion, your marriage, your graduation – whatever.

To Dear Little Louie.

In honour of your birthday I will offer

10 Masses

10 Holy Communions

15 Rosaries

250 aspirations

300 ejaculations

God bless you sweetheart.  Your loving Cousin, Uncle, Friend, Brother, Sister etc etc etc 

Hallmark had nothing on the holy card industry!

Explanations – and aspiration could be “St Joseph…” indeed any saint “pray for us An ejaculation was “a short, sharp prayer” “Jesus help me”. Indeed it was not until I was in year 7 and Sr Agnes pulled down the blinds in the classroom after lunch one day to tell us about the mystery of reproduction – circa 1962 – that I was introduced to another definition of the word!

New to this

It is as though I have received a new toy and I am about 8 years old again. All I want to do is play with it!

So the title of this entry is for all of you who may be reading this – in your HOARDS- and perhaps were not as fortunate (blessed in the Catholic vernacular) as I was to be born into a rabidly Catholic family in 1951! I will attempt in less than 500 words to enlighten you about some of the seemingly inexplicable things about being Catholic and this old!

Actually, I think my age and gender are really significant in terms of my understanding of my upbringing – how’s THAT for a “parenthood” statement! I remember the 60’s which of course means I didn’t do drugs. I remember the growth of the women’s liberation movement – so well embraced by the clergy then and still – NOT! ( brief aside…cynicism is a demon with which I wrestle and sometimes I let it win!) I remember the publishing of the Female ……person without genitals, the word for which I cannot spell , and how I needed to look it up in the dictionary to find out what it meant! I didn’t burn my bra for fear of knocking myself out and in spite of at that the age of 65 when I remove my bra my breasts nearly cover my navel….GET TO THE POINT LOUISE! It was those years 1951 – 1960 (inclusive) that  gave our generation of tykes – especially women – a unique set of experiences that are totally beyond the understanding of our children and theirs. So my next few posts will be an attempt to context some pretty odd practices from our past!

THE COVERING AND UNCOVERING OF HEADS.  In our current climate of fear of difference and radicalisation of youth, much has been said about the covering and uncovering of heads. When I was a child, most men wore hats. Not beanies, not baseball caps but proper business stetsons. My Dad who was a journalist never left home without his hat and he had several of them. He travelled to work by bus and sometimes when I was in high school, we would catch the same bus together. Every time we passed a CATHOLIC Church, Dad, who always sat near the window would discretely make the sign of the cross with his thumb over his heart and then doff his hat out of respect,as did every other catholic man wearing a hat on the bus! They would wear their hats to Mass on Sunday and take them off before entering the church. Different set of rules for women and girls of course. A woman couldn’t enter the church without covering her head. This was great for the millinery industry of course! Hats for all females from bonnets, to little girl hats, to masterpieces of fashion design to scarves and berets and the most exotic of all Mantillas!

I remember when the film Cleopatra came out, the Womens’ Weekly did a segment on how to wear a scarf in the style of Cleopatra’s head dress! It was brilliant! Directions followed properly resulted in a fashion statement to die for. Slightly off the mark? Fashion Tragic!

The doors of the churches were open from dawn to dusk and we were expected to “make a visit”

Every time I pass a Church, I always make a visit. So when I’m dead and carried in, Our Lord won’t say ‘who is it?’” How’s that for a happy little ditty in the year 2 classroom! Of course, should you be female and passing a church sans chapeau a handkerchief would suffice. This was why every good little girl carried two hankies – one, usually plain cotton perhaps  a floral print, the other often linen with crocheted edging going far beyond chain stitch and treble, pressed to within an inch of its life with razor like fold marks. The first was for sneezes and the second for head covering in case a church should pop up on your journey! But sense of responsibility to make the visit outweighed even a hankieless state! Caught without one, you could whack your right hand into the holy water font, bless yourself and plop you left hand over your head which allowed you to enter the church. Visits were always brief of course!

Stay tuned for “Spiritual Bouquets……aspirations and ejaculations”






This is my third attempt at starting a blog. The title came to me at about 4.00am two days ago. Having recently been successful in logging on to the the Australian Government website to complete the census, on the day it was supposed to be completed  which makes me a very, very special little Aussie) I had to wrestle with the “Religion” question.

Encouraged by believers and non believers alike I was in a quandary! Yes!  We really have become a completely secular country with commitment to the footy team replacing commitment to and belief in a particular religious tradition. Sadly, my local football team is the Newcastle Knights and they have been on a steady trip down the gurgler for the last few years since being taken over by a multimillionaire who went broke and a GOD in the coaching field who brought a demigod player with him and still couldn’t get the team up so I decided against naming footy as my religion.

“Give me a boy till the age of 7 and I have a man for life” or something like that is a quote I remember from one of the great Saints about how to capture souls in the name of God. Well, I guess that applied to girls too (if you have read this far you need to know I refuse to accept male pronouns as generic references to both genders)  because the tykes certainly had me for my entire formative life, but I could no longer put “catholic” so I opted for “Christian”.

But truth is, I cannot ignore my catholicity – it would be like ignoring my blood type. So I am stuck with it but in deference to my experience as a catholic and the reality of my reproductive organs I classify myself as free range and prolapsed in my faith practice!

My Mother was 98 when she died.The day before she died, she held my hand and thanked me for being a good daughter. Looked into my eyes and said “you always belonged to me”. I wear her words around my neck  as a symbol of my religion!

My name is Louise – “every little breeze”