Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fearless Females: A Strong Catholic Foundation

The March 10th prompt for Fearless Females asks what role religion played in the family.

The Catholic faith came into our American family with the marriage of Maggie Gilgun and Horace Colman in 1881. Church records at St. Mary's church in Cooperstown, NY stated that it was a "mixed" marriage because Horace was not Catholic.  He had been baptized as a child in the local Episcopal church.  Maggie and her family came from England about 1863, but their background was Irish Catholic.  Maggie's two children, Will and Bess, were raised in the Catholic faith.

Aunt Bess enjoyed playing the piano. She was the pianist for her cousin's home wedding when she was only 12.  She played a duet at her high school graduation entitled "The Dragon Fighter." Her father reportedly forbade her from playing in "public" places, but he must have relented when she was named organist at their church in 1902.

My mother remembers sitting in the choir loft while her aunt Bess played when she was young, in the 1930s.  

Bess' brother Will married Sara Meeneghan, whose parents were Irish Catholic immigrants from western County Mayo.  The Meeneghan family were often hosts to the priests for a noon meal after Mass at the mission church in Springfield, NY. My grandmother sponsored the stained glass Sacred Heart window behind the altar when the church was built.

I often reflect on the suffering and discrimination the Irish endured for being Catholic, as well as what my Polish ancestors from my paternal side went through. It puts some perspective on the mistreatment of other religions, which continues today.

(Newspaper clipping from The Albany Journal, January 11, 1902, page 11, accessed at
(Photo from on the closing of the church)

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