MIDNIGHT MASS ON CHRISTMAS EVE

by 

Mary Curran Razor  (1981)

     At Christmas I always think of Grandpa Curran.  For me, his spirit pervaded the austere rock building of St. Irenaeus Church. As a child my religious training was intertwined with the oral family history about him. Our family pew was the third from the front on the right hand side of the church, near the statue of benevolent St. Joseph.  To my childish mind it seemed that the spirit of Grandfather William M. Curran occupied that pew.

     According to cousin Howard Mickelson, Grandpa had had a red beard despite his black hair which later was brushed with grey.  Although a barrel-chested Irishman, Grandpa (or Dada, as his children called him) had been considerably weakened by malaria.  “It’s my malaria,” he would have to announce dolefully to the foreman when he missed work because of the recurrent fever.

     Before the malaria, Grandpa had been sturdy enough to be a blacksmith. His mother, Margaret, was related in Ireland to the long-lived O’Connells who were active into their 90s…but life as an immigrant with a large family had worn Grandpa down.

     For a time he’d been a police officer at Prophetstown, Illinois.  One Christmas, filled with whisky and good will toward men, Grandpa had let all the inhabitants of the local jail free for Christmas.  In turn, Prophetstown had freed Grandpa from his job!

     Now it was December 24, 1920 — the first holiday season since my parents’ marriage. The whole clan had gathered together on 19th Avenue North (where the bridge now crosses the Mississippi in Lyons).  As a superstitious aunt always remembered, there were thirteen places set for dinner. 

     This included the four grown daughters and my father, the sole surviving son.  His brother, Johnny, had died in the influenza epidemic during World War I while my father, William F. Curran, Jr., was oversees with the Rainbow Division.

     It was also the era of Prohibition. Grandpa enjoyed good Irish Whiskey, but Prohibition made him an instant tee-totaler.  “I’ll not drink rot gut!” he said.

     This Christmas was an exception because his daughter gave him some home made wine. After savoring his glass of wine, Grandpa decided to walk to church for Confession.  The others would join him later for Mass and Communion. 

     When my parents filed into church for Mass, there was Grandpa sleeping soundly in the pew.  His hand was resting quietly on the arm rest.

     “Shall we wake Dada?” my father asked.   My mother (Lillian Alvis Curran) had just buried her own beloved parent. “No,” she said.  “He’s tired and it’s a long walk in the cold. Let’s let him sleep until time for Communion.”

     The pageantry of High Mass continued in the packed church. It was time for Communion.  “Wake him up,” my dad whispered to mother. She touched Grandpa gently on the hand that was still resting easily on the pew. Instantly she knew…but the tired old figure didn’t move from its slumped posture near her.

    Rather than cause a commotion while the aisles were filled with communicants, she said softly to her husband, “Let’s let him sleep.”

    And sleep he did, forever, “in the bosom of Abraham,” as the graveside services remind us.

    After the church was cleared, they contacted the parish priest (Father Commerford?) who was still in the vestry.  He gave Grandpa the last rites. A sudden heart attack had liberated Grandpa Curran’s soul from his weakened body…and he truly spent that Christmas home with God in Heaven.

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  Are you a descendant of Grandpa Curran?  Please contact us.

Do you have a story or photos to share from St. Irenaeus?  Please submit them to info@StIrenaeusChapel.org.