Rocky Roots: Visiting my Ancestors' Parish in Ireland

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"Adventures of a Rosary Family" by Erin McCole Cupp (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2017 Erin McCole Cupp. All rights reserved.

I have a relative who is into genealogy. Like, really into genealogy. Like, so into genealogy that I’ve had cousins complain about having their emails spammed with obituaries and family tree updates from before the Civil War. It’s a lighthearted family joke, like, Oh, here comes another family history report, tee hee hee!

For me, though, the discomfort with these reports goes deeper than just smirking annoyance. I’m working with Our Sunday Visitor right now on a book of spiritual practices for survivors of family abuse and dysfunction. While even I won’t say that my childhood was pure torture, any memory of the “good times” is connected to people who also caused me bad times.  Remembering where I’ve come from fills me with pain, not warm fuzzies; with shame, not pride.

Since starting my journey to heal the wounds my childhood left in my heart, I’ve been to Ireland twice. Thanks in no small part to the family genealogist, I have visited the parish church where ancestors with my maiden name were buried. I had to ride through gravel roads no wider than a single car, up and down sharp hills made of stone and scrub, hills possessing no great height but making up for that lack with their sheer frequency. I’ve seen not the one but the three cemeteries attached to this parish, all three filled with headstones of various ages, about one quarter of which are chiseled with my uncommon maiden name.  I’ve stood in these cemeteries in the mists blasted in from across the wild North Atlantic, cold even in the deepest pit of August’s dog days.

I’ve noticed that even the oldest stones in these lots are no older than the mid-19th century. There was no Catholic church in Ireland before then. Not a legal one, anyway, not for centuries. What’s more, that which isn’t stone in this part of Ireland is salt mud, covered by tides as often as not. The parish property is no exception. County Donegal is beautiful, but given the harshness visible there even now, I can imagine why my ancestors thought they might need to leave and start again somewhere new, even if it meant leaving every single thing they knew.

We use shapes to mark where we have been, where we are, and where we’d like to go. Cemeteries and family trees loom behind us. Both cast the shadows of past sins grown into present pain, the pain of those who hurt and, without careful purpose and great faith in God’s power to save, often begin that cycle of sin and destruction for the next generation.  It is for just such kinds of pain that Our Lady gives us another shape, another cycle: her Rosary. Especially the practice of the Family Rosary, if we wish to break the cycle of family abuse and dysfunction, if we really desire that the buck stops here, we can’t just leave behind the old country of deprivation, hurt, neglect, and degradation. We must start a new cycle, one of faith, hope and love. We must have something to turn to. The mysteries of the Rosary give us new memories, holy memories, our true, loving Mother’s memories of the redemption of her own Son’s pain at the hands of the cruel and selfish. And by his stripes, we, too, are healed.

I remember walking through those cemeteries and for the first time having hope about my family’s story. As I prayed for the souls of long-passed McColes, I could hope that they were praying for me, too, and for all those McColes between us, even those still living today. If we believe in the communion of saints, then we believe our ancestors may be in a position to intercede for us; we may never have known them, but they know us and, if they are in that communion, love us more perfectly than any other family member on earth ever has done.

Our origins may be joyous or painful. We may have walked a wide, sunny path to get where we are today, or we may have had a harsh, rocky hike through rain and fog. Where we come from is part of us, but it is not our whole story. When we bring Mary into our families, however broken their foundations, we can walk with her into her Son’s eternal life.  

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

To Ponder:

What are some of the hardships that your ancestors experienced, especially in regards to their faith? How does that color the way you see your family of origin as well as your relationship with your own children? With yourself?


Copyright 2019 Erin McCole Cupp

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About Author

Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mother, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates somewhere out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. She's working with Our Sunday Visitor on a book about parenting spirituality for survivors of family abuse and dysfunction. Find out more about her novels and other projects at ErinMcColeCupp.com.

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