Letter-Stories In Honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Part 6.


It has been rightly said that the best immigrant to land on Australian shores was the Irish Mother. She was holy and the strength and endurance of her holiness rested securely on the love she cherished for the Mother of Christ. She brought to the rough ways of men who toiled in the cities and wide-open spaces of Australia a great antidote to anything unholy or evil.
Scattered around Fortitude Valley and Spring Hill, Brisbane, were numerous Irish families and their homes which exist today were wooden gable-structures with attic rooms. The kitchens of these houses were large with great fire-stoves where gatherings for young and old took place at night and where the darkness was dispelled by happy talk and ballad song which harkened back on the wings of memory to the distant Irish homeland. Many were devoted to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour for this devotion was widespread throughout Ireland and the Rosary was always said after the evening meal. Most unmarried immigrants did not possess their own homes but lived in single rooms in residentials. No better example can be unfurled of Irish hospitality in the early days than the bright open fire-places in the kitchens of those who possessed homes and the wide open hands of the Irish mothers who greeted in kindness every new exile who came to their doors. Here hearts were warmed for the struggles ahead. If they died, the Mothers of the Irish homes took the bodies to their kitchens where they rested until the horse-drawn hearses took them to the Church. The idol of these kitchens for a number of years was an Italian priest named Canali. One of his most poignant stories is told about an Irish girl who died in a residential and was unknown. She was brought to one of the kitchens but no one claimed her. For what reason she came to Australia remained unanswered. The Italian priest has left on record that many people thronged the gable-house in Warry Street, Valley, to view the body of the girl “beautiful in death with raven black hair and a complexion of white alabaster, but there resulted no definite information about her identity. Amongst her belongings was found a prayer-book with four holy pictures of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and her name was on each picture-Mary Dwyer, Dublin. The Italian priest said he sought and obtained from his Archbishop permission to read the burial service. Practically every Irish Catholic in the Valley and Spring Hill in the year 1907 went to the funeral and they did so, said the Italian priest, not only for love of their own unknown, but because she carried amongst her belongings the “Watchword of Holy Ireland”-the picture of the Mother of Christ.
The Sisters of Mercy at the Catholic orphanage near the cemetery at Nudgee tolled the Chapel bell when the funeral appeared with its unknown dead. They sent four altar boys and a cross bearer from the orphanage to help Father Canali at the graveside and made sure that three little orphan girls dressed in white laid a cross of Shamrocks on the grave.


Down where I live on a farm on the alluvial flats of the Logan River, Brisbane, there are swarms of large red-black snakes. They grow to eight feet in length and are as thick as a man’s wrist. They move forward very quickly, but it is suicidal to go behind them for they can stiffen and hurl their bodies backwards like poisoned arrows.
In my home there are my husband and six children. My husband, who is a prosperous farmer, took great delight in telling everyone who visited us that he owned a big tiger-tawny cat and that no one could coax it away from him. He did not feed it. I fed it. All he did was carry it and rub its head with his huge farmer’s hand yet the cat followed him around the farm. It took no notice of anyone else.
We are Catholic people and I have a Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in my home. Each night the Rosary is said in front of the Shrine-the picture of Our Lady, the lighted candles and the two vases of flowers. The Picture came from Germany with my parents. My husband was rebellious, but I fought him on the issue mostly for the sake of the children. He always tried to make a joke of the devotions and would bring in his arms his cat to the prayers to annoy me. “The cat and I,” he would say mockingly, “pray hard. The cat better than I.” He often fell asleep whilst the Rosary was being said. Some months ago in the hot days of December I placed my baby of eight months in the motor-car lean-to at the back of the House. The child could crawl. The big cat was nearby. Suddenly I knew something was wrong. The child was crawling towards a huge black snake-sideways towards it. I ran, but the cat moved more quickly. It caught the black head of the snake in its jaws and ripped its body open with great hind claws. I snatched up the child. It was all over in seconds. Now when the Rosary is said these nights there is no mockery from my husband. The great big “goof” loved and loves his own. The big cat still comes but my husband leaves it alone until the prayers are completed.
May Our Lady of Perpetual Succour ever guard my home and children.


She had practised often the trick of the beckoning finger. The top joint of her index finger appeared to be the sole movement of the beckoning. It was difficult to do. She was a beautiful girl and her name was Mary. She was dressed in shining white with a large red hat. She now stood at the intersection of the two main streets of Ipswich, Queensland. Everyone glanced at the radiant girl who bore the impress of refinement and education. She was beckoning to a young man who looked angry and grim. She knew he was annoyed but her woman’s intuition knew also that she had him “hooked.” He came at her beckoning. His name was Peter. “What do you think I am,” he said, “a French poodle ?” “O no, dear Peter, I think you are a great footballer-a great fullback.” He played fullback for Ipswich in Rugby League. He seemed placated but on guard.
“Peter,” she said, “there’s going to be a mission at St. Mary’s and I want you to come with me each night. How about it?” He looked at Mary and said, “You know that I have not been inside a Church since I was a small boy.” They glanced at one another and both knew it was a moment of great consequence. He looked into the depths of her large black eyes, was lost, and said, “We’ll go!”
They went to the mission every night. Mary asked the old missioner how she could get Peter back to his church.
The fault, she said, was his parents. The missioner gave Mary a leaflet with prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. “Recite these prayers,” he said, “every day, and Our Lady will bring him back to the practice of his Faith. Mary promised. Six months after the mission the same missioner was kneeling near a confessional in St. Mary’s Church. Night was approaching. The Church was empty except for a young man. The priest wanted an evening paper, so quite unconsciously he beckoned to the young man with his index finger, moving only the top joint. He had learnt the trick from Mary. The effect was electric. The young man jumped up and went into the confessional. The priest was startled, but he also hurried into the confessional box and heard the boy’s confession. It was Peter. He married Mary and became a wonderful Catholic. He always told his friends that it was a beckoning finger which led him back to God, but Mary has her doubts, so she makes him say every evening the Rosary before the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.


His name was Nicodemus and he came by night. The old priest always chuckled when he thought of Nicodemus. He compared him to the Nicodemus of St. John’s Gospel, who also came by night. St. John was the sole one of the four Evangelists who mentioned Nicodemus in his Gospel and he mentioned him three times. It seemed that St. John was not sure of this dark character who waited for the cover of darkness to pay his visits to Christ, but in the end it was Nicodemus with Joseph of Arimathea who placed the body of the dead Christ in the great tomb.
The man who bore the famous name mentioned by St. John often called on the priest but he did not wish anyone to know it. So he came by night and he said he had his reasons. A suspicion was crystallised into a certainty in the mind of the priest by a number of small incidents that this Nicodemus who was an American, belonged to an Evangelist party which was holding prayer meetings in Brisbane. He always brought to the priest a prepared series of questions on Christ and the Gospels. The priest answered all the questions to the best of his ability and gave the American many Catholic books. He also gave him a Catechism but one night the questions solely concerned the Mother of Christ and on this question the priest grew eloquent for he took pride that here he was on holy ground that he knew and loved. He explained to his visitor the special homage that Catholic people give to our Blessed Lady because She was the Divine Mother of Christ who was God as well as man. He explained the doctrine of the Fall of our First Parents and of Divine Redemption through Christ. The visitor was impressed. He asked question after question. The priest before he left showed him his shrine of Our Lady of P.S. with the vases of fresh flowers and candles. He lit the candles and the American with the enthusiasm of his race said the shrine was beautiful. He came often but now wished to talk only of the Mother of Christ. The Story of Bethlehem, he said, now shone with a new meaning and a new truth. The priest gave him Bing Crosby’s record called “The Small One,” and the American said that every night he heard the patter of the little donkey’s feet on the cobble stones of Nazareth leaving for Bethlehem with the Divine Mother and her unborn Babe. He revelled in the stories of Lourdes and Fatima. Lourdes brought tears to his eyes. He could hardly believe such a place existed in this world of evil and strife.
Six months after his last visit the priest received a postcard from Lourdes with the words : “From your friend- Nicodemus.” A month ago he got a long letter. It told how the American who sang well, had attached himself to the Evangelist group because he wanted a job. He said in the letter that the Revivalist preacher was a sincere and holy man, that he liked prayer meetings, but he knew little about Christ or the Gospels. The leader of the Revivalist group was a sickly type who often asked Nicodemus to lead the prayers or singing when he was incapacitated. He always went to a Catholic priest when he wanted to get religious knowledge on something he did not understand. He knew Catholic priests in every large city of Australia, New Zealand and America, but he always visited them by night because he didn’t wish the priests to know what he did for a living or to be recognised visiting a priest by anyone who frequented the revivalist meetings where he preached. He was now back at Houston, Texas, and was teaching English in High Schools. He had become a Catholic and was now ashamed of the contempt he once had for the things of God. It was the Mother of Christ who gave him his Catholic Faith. In his hungry soul, realisation and acceptance of a Heavenly Mother filled a great need and was heavenly manna in his gipsy and haphazard way of living. He asked for a prayer at the priest’s shrine when the candles were lit before the Mother of Christ. He would always be proud of his name-Nicodemus-because although St. John said that Nicodemus, perplexed and perhaps ashamed, came to Christ by night, he liked to think of the great service Nicodemus did for the crucified Christ. “Bound It in linen cloths with spices, and placed It in a new sepulchre wherein no man yet had been laid.” The “It” was Christ’s dead body.


The old nun gave a holy picture to both the old men. It was a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. One old man was a good Catholic, the other one had practically forgotten his religion. The bad Catholic was coarse, mean and given to saying lewd and obscene things. The old nun visited the wards of the General Hospital every week where the two men were lying. She came from the big Convent in the city, and it was her duty to visit the sick. The old men were very sick. The nurses thought that they both would die within a short time. The Sister in charge of the ward was a young lady dressed in shining white, with a resplendent white veil. She looked healthy and very capable. The nurses and patients liked her. “What have you got there?” she asked the old men; the good Catholic said that the nun had given each of them a holy picture of the Mother of Christ. The bad Catholic said he could not understand the picture and the Sister told him to die as he had lived-keep a stiff upper lip-not to be a coward. She did not believe in superstition and she thought the pictures very ugly. A few days later, the good man was very ill. The Sister sent for the doctor. Whilst the doctor was coming the Sister brought the bad old man to the bathroom. Then, suddenly all the nurses were rushing about, the Sister lay on the floor but the doctor knew life had gone. Apparently the Sister had died from a heart attack. The old men recovered and left hospital. They used to meet on occasions, and both prized in a special way their holy pictures of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour which had upset so terribly the sister in charge of their ward and who had died so quickly. The old must die; but sometimes the young die before the old.


It is twenty-five years since I took an appointment at the Brisbane General Hospital as a resident doctor. I had just passed my final examinations at the Sydney University Medical School. University life, for some unholy reason then, as now, was often wild and uninhibited. It was fashionable to drink, and drink heavily. I did so with others, and in the end became an alcoholic. Do you know what an alcoholic is? Well, I could not live or exist without drink.
My family lived on the land in New South Wales. They were good Catholic people, honest, sober and industrious. My mother, when she finally learnt my condition and outlook, was horrified. She had spent a small fortune on my education and there I stood looking tragedy and disgrace in the face. When I was appointed to the Brisbane General Hospital, and before I left my home, she made me promise to go to Mass every Sunday and to say the “Memorare” each day in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Although I then disliked holy things, I did it for her, who had done so much for me and who, to me, was and is the greatest and finest person I ever met.
I found it difficult to keep that promise. People drank a lot on Saturday nights in Brisbane twenty-five years ago. On Sunday morning I was generally sick and stupid. A Jewish doctor friend of mine used to give me a hot bath, dress me, though dazed, and send me in a cab to St. Stephen’s Cathedral for the 11 a.m. Mass. My Jewish friend knew I had one anchor in “the Mass and the prayer.” I told him so. “Lose your anchor,” he said, “and you’re finished.”
After three years I began to improve. 1 centred all my effort on the prayer to Our Lady and the Sunday Mass. I often think what I owe to that Jewish doctor. Today I am a successful doctor, with a good wife and family. Drink for me is a curse and I have not taken a drink for seven years. My Catholic Faith is dear to me; above all is my love of Our Lady-my Heavenly Mother. Surely I was blessed with two great mothers The Heavenly Mother of us all, and my own great Mother who loved that Lady under the title of “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.”


Her name was Mary and she came from Western Queensland. There was no suitable work in her western town so, after obtaining a brilliant pass in the Junior University Examination, Mary took a position in the Commonwealth Bank, Brisbane. She was a pretty girl, happy, good and loved by her girl companions. Indeed, everybody liked her for she was very thoughtful in dealing with others. Her mother gave her a parting gift of a large picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. She came to Brisbane with a girl friend from her own home town. It was high adventure. Her relatives got them board and residence in a home at New Farm, Brisbane. On her dressing table was the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and Mary said the Rosary by the Shrine every evening. She got friendly with two boys-one was from the Bank where she worked, and the other was a traveller for a large firm. Both had cars and were outwardly good types. Mary liked them both. Then an upheaval occurred. The traveller was dismissed from his position on account of embezzlement of “collected funds.” His court sentence was suspended but he was given a bond. He found it difficult to obtain another good position. Mary felt very sorry for him. She often took him to a Church where the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was said. She encouraged him when he was depressed but the boy went slowly downhill. He began to drink and then one night he caused an upheaval at Mary’s boarding house. He wanted to go to a “show,” but Mary determined to stay at home. He began to shout and make a noise. The other boarders were upset and Mary was told that if it happened again she would have to leave. It happened again and Mary was told to find other accommodation. It happened at the next and the next boarding house, and all the time the boy was deteriorating and becoming more like an animal.
Mary went and interviewed a detective at the C.I.B. who gave her some sound advice, reprimanded the boy and gave him a warning. Still, Mary felt great pity for him and asked a priest for advice. He told her to persevere in the devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
The erstwhile traveller was becoming very low and cunning. He pestered Mary for money. She became more worried and hid from him in another boarding house at Teneriffe. One afternoon he watched her leave the bank, followed her home and told her he would make a noisy scene if she did not go out with him that night. Afraid of another upheaval Mary went with him and was driven to a park on the outskirts of Brisbane. There she was shot and he committed suicide. It seems sordid but all Mary’s friends think otherwise. Mary was a great apostle for the devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour amongst her companions. The Picture of Our Lady was the most noticeable feature of her room. She constantly spoke of Our Lady. Her death seems pointless, but its stark tragedy brought her father back to the Faith. Her bank companion became a lay brother in a religious congregation, and her girl companion became a sister in a missionary order . . . Who can fathom the ways of God?