John's Canadians

the Irish Connection

We were very conscious of our Irish roots, mostly because many of the expatriates visited our home.  Martin Kavanagh, a younger man than Dad, a raw-boned teacher of Latin and history, and author, in Brandon, would turn up.  Kit, his beautiful wife, had worked for the Irish republicans in London and had smuggled messages to Irish prisoners, according to Mother.  Their son Kevin became CEO of Great-West Life.  John Shelley, a bachelor, chartered accountant, loomed as a "character" from the West of Ireland. He was Mary's godfather, so the friendship extended over many years;  his booming voice would rattle the windows as he stepped through the front door and called, "God bless all here!".  His mother and sisters, Ellie and Rose, lived with him.  Ellie was receptionist for Dr. McNulty who tended our health needs and used the dining-room table to remove John's tonsils, among his procedures.

Then there was Frank Gilligan, an Irishman with a young family, also a  protegé; he would come to help polish the floors in slow motion;  in memory we can still see him scratching his head and saying, "Now where the divil did I leave that whisk".  And another character, "Chub" O'Donnell, a maternal relative of Dad's, a permanently impoverished confidence man, who, during one bitter winter, used the money Dad had given him to buy adequate shoes to buy gifts for us children.

Many of the Jesuits had Irish roots and they came over regularly to play bridge and, Mary testifies, to enjoy Mother's lemon squares.  (Mary says, "I have a distinct memory of being under the bridge table at Father Fillion's feet.")  The priests loved getting Mother as a partner because she had an uncommon skill at bridge, irritating Dad by whistling under her breath as she considered strategy which he considered a gross breach of ethics.

the empty nest

Suddenly it seemed, in the war years, John was the only one left at home. Ted was employed as a geologist in northern Manitoba.   Des had entered the Jesuit novitiate.  John worked briefly at the Winnipeg studio of Radio Station CJGX Yorkton, spent a year at CJRC Winnipeg then joined the CBC.  Frank was about to join the Canadian Navy as a signalman;  Mary attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart on Westgate Road.  We felt the war in small ways:  gasoline and liquor rationing, our first run at recycling (residue cooking-fat kept in tin cans), and much rhetoric about savings bonds and patriotism.  John had been exempted from military service for health reasons.  His broadcasting work brought him in touch with numbers of young air-training recruits, mainly from Australia and New Zealand.  Mother adopted them, darned their socks and sewed on their wings when they graduated.

In 1939, Patrick and Mary Louise celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary as Des graduated from U. of M. and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Guelph, Ont. Shortly before he left for Guelph, Des and John joined their father to the CNR station to greet Walter Burke-Gaffney S.J., appointed to St. Paul's College to teach English and Latin. As they walked along the sidewalk to the front door of the old college, Des whispered in John's ear, "He's just a squirt, isn't he!"  This of one of Canada's preeminent astronomers!

During the next few years while he was posted to Winnipeg, Uncle Walter's presence filled some of the emptiness created by the others.  That same year, as president of the Manitoba Council of Professional Engineers, Patrick delivered a paper entitled "The Engineer and the Body Politic," a CBC radio broadcast address, published by the Manitoba League for Adult Education.

In 1945 Patrick was elected president of the Dominion Council of Professional Engineers, and delivered a paper entitled "The junior engineer's place in society" to the graduating engineering students of the Maritime Universities, Halifax;  published in the B.C. Engineering Society journal. For the 25th anniversary of the journal of the Quebec Corporation of Professional Engineers, he wrote a paper entitled "The Dominion Council of Professional Engineers:  its origin and functions."

Final Years

In 1947, in a letter to Ted on December 21, Dad wrote: "Mary arrived home Thursday in the best of spirits.  She will be 21 on the 19th of next month and will graduate in May.  Isn't it appalling -- my baby!!"

Two events brought great comfort and pride to Patrick and Mary Louise in their declining years: in September 1949, Mary entered the Society of the Sacred Heart, Albany, N.Y. –  they travelled to Albany in 1952 when Mary took her first vows. Also, in 1951, Desmond was ordained at the Jesuit Seminary in Toronto and returned home to say his first Mass at St. Ignatius with his brothers as acolytes.  We have a set of excellent photographs of this occasion, to be found in John's files.

Dad retired from Johns-Manville in 1953 although he continued private consulting with departments of the Federal Government. Towards the end of the decade he became increasingly troubled by health problems, caused mainly by poor circulation.  Mother rearranged the dining room to install a bed so he could avoid climbing the stairs but eventually he was admitted to Grey Nuns' St. Vital Centre where he and Mother celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary surrounded by family including Walter Burke-Gaffney S.J., Desmond, Helen and five of her children, and Mary, RSCJ..Patrick, 77, died quietly July 16, 1964, in Taché Hospital, St. Boniface.  He was buried from St. Ignatius Church which he had helped build, with one son celebrating the Mass, his cherished daughter beside his widow and the other three sons as pallbearers.  Mother continued living at 779 Jessie Ave., keeping the beds ready for any of her children who might be passing through, and cheerfully certain she would be rejoined in heaven with the man she loved.  She died 13 years later, in 1977.

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