Mrs. Christopher Gleeson

Mrs. Christopher Gleeson
There was a smallish leather box on my mother’s dressing table when I was growing up. It held some old newspaper clippings and a few medals, which I used to play with. They belonged to Mum’s uncle, who was a chaplain in World War II, but our houseful of girls didn’t pay much attention.

The box has moved to my old bedroom now. I found it while snooping for photos over the holidays. If I’d noticed that the lid said ‘Croix de Guerre’, I didn’t know then what that was. It also holds a surprisingly modest Bronze Star. According to the obituary inside, he was chief chaplain to the US 6th Army. He was with the troops when they landed on the Normandy beaches and he accompanied them all the way to Berlin. He was the only US Army chaplain to make full colonel.

There was another yellowed obituary in the box:

    Mrs. Gleeson, wife of Mr. C. Gleeson, Shallee
    Deceased was nursed through an illness of some duration with assiduous care by her faimly [sic], of whom she gave three to the religious life and two to the nursing profession, and to whom she was devoted.
    Gentle and unassuming, deceased was beloved by all who knew her, and to her son, Rev. PJ Gleeson, and to the members of her family, great sympathy is offered in their bereavement.

Yet another, shorter clipping read:

    Death of Mrs. C. Gleeson, Shallee
    The death occurred on Thursday of Mrs. Gleeson, Shallee, Killoscully, to the great regret of her family. Deceased was mother of Rev. Father P.J. Gleeson, California, who visited his homeland last summer, and to whom and the members of his family, great sympathy is offered in their bereavement.

Mrs. Christopher Gleeson, first name unknown, was my great grandmother. Deceased was also mother to ten other children, a fact passed over by the papers. There’s a shaky letter dated 1934 in the box, written to her daughter the nun. She describes her illness, and praises God in every sentence her old-lady copperplate—”God willing…Thank God…May the Lord protect us.’

She might well have agreed that all that needed to be said about her life was that she had spawned a priest. Genetic failure, memetic triumph.