Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hang On, St. Christopher

I was not raised Catholic. But my grandmother—my mother’s mother—converted to Catholicism in college, along with her sister.

Grandmother and her sister were raised in Laramie, Wyoming, a town with an Episcopal cathedral, but they were sent off to college at an all-girls school, St. Mary’s in Indiana. The story goes that they were so impressed by the beauty of the church and its ceremonies that they converted.

Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus was canonized right around the time Grandmother was at St. Mary’s. These medals are a set that belonged to Grandmother; Mom brought them home after Grandmother died. My sister has them now, along with a rosary that was Grandmother’s.

Mom jotted a note that she kept with these medals, referring to Grandmother’s “blue medal,” noting that Grandmother had mentioned it in a diary. Mom’s note mentions seeing her cousin’s similar “blue medal” once, which her cousin had inherited from Mom’s aunt: Grandmother’s sister.

As near as I can tell—and I’m no Catholic, so don’t count on me to get it right—the “blue medal” is the St. Christopher’s medal pictured above. I do not know why St. Christopher’s medals are so often colored blue, but they seem to be.

From her note, I think Mom understood the “blue medal” to be the whole set, or maybe the cloth badge. Mom may have understood it more clearly than I.

St. Catherine Labouré was canonized in 1947. I don’t know anything about Grandmother’s faith or how she came to have these particular icons.

I believe the small blue medallion next to St. Catherine’s medal is tied into Catherine’s story. I will let you go look up the longer version of what it all means.

I am pleased to see the automobile on the back of one of Grandmother’s St. Christopher’s medals, since it had something to do with why Grandmother and her sister ended up at St. Mary’s instead of at the University of Wyoming.

Mom always said the two young girls were sent to St. Mary’s because just then all the young soldiers from World War I were coming home, and Grandmother’s parents didn’t want the girls exposed to the Spanish flu.

True, the Spanish flu epidemic was a real concern, and it ended up taking more lives worldwide than all the warcraft of World War I had.

But Mom’s cousin told a different story. The story she had heard from her mother—Mom’s aunt—also involved two young girls, and a lot of soldiers returning home, and an automobile. And yes, the soldiers were all being housed at the University of Wyoming. But in Mom’s cousin’s story, the event that got the girls sent to St. Mary’s didn’t involve the flu.

Grandmother’s father was the first Ford dealer in the state of Wyoming, so his daughters had access to cars. I have heard other stories of their adventures on the road. The stories sound as if the two sisters knew how to have a pretty good time.

Often decisions are made for more than one reason.

One way or another, Grandmother ended up at St. Mary’s, and if she hadn’t, she probably wouldn’t have owned the St. Christopher’s medals.

On the medals, St. Christopher is usually depicted carrying a child across a river on his back. (Everyone knows “christopher” means “Christ-bearer,” right?) I guess the reason he’s the patron saint of travelers is that he got Christ there safely.

He is also the patron saint of surfers.


Kangamoo said...

The story I remember my mother telling was when her mother took her to the Catholic church in the morning, her father would not speak to them the rest of the day.

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