EDITED AND PUBLISHED BY REV. FATHER BOLTON
OF ST. AMBROSE’S CHURCH. NEWMARKET, BRISBANE
OF ST. AMBROSE’S CHURCH. NEWMARKET, BRISBANE
A HIGH MOUNTAIN HOME
I was a nurse in a children’s hospital for twenty -seven years. I specialised in Children’s complaints and was regarded highly by the hospital board. Indeed they asked me to apply for the matronship of the vast hospital but I refused, for I did not like office work or the exercise of authority.
For the last four years I have nursed in the surgical section. There was one ward set aside for diseases of the brain. I asked to be appointed to that ward. Most of the children there had little speech or they spoke in a blurred fashion. They fascinated me but some months ago I found myself silently crying when they wheeled one of the mites to the operating theatre. To me death seemed to go wheeling along with the child. It was my duty to prepare the youngsters for the operation. I would dress them tenderly in clean white pyjamas, and make sure that the hair of their heads was entirely shaven off. Their heads were then bound around and around with white cloths like parts of a burial shroud. The percentage of deaths was very high. Without the operations death would have claimed most of them, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to present a professional poise when I knew that few would return to the ward and that nearly all would die on the operating table. The final blow which sapped my confidence happened a short time ago. A child of seven years was hospitalised in my wing. Her name was Mary. The diagnosis on the chart read “suspected tumour of the brain.” Her long hair curled in a most natural way. All my experience told me that the little girl was going to die. She differed from the others in one respect. She had a beautiful voice. There was no blurring of the spoken word for her voice was distinct and melodious. The mother told me that they lived in the high green mountain country of Gippsland, Victoria. The father was a timber-getter. They were fairly poor.
It was nearing Christmas and city organisations came with presents and toys for the children. Groups of young boys and girls mostly from Church bodies went around the wards and sang Christmas carols. One afternoon during one of the entertainments I stood near Mary’s cot and she whispered that she could sing a song but it was not a Christmas carol. It was a Catholic hymn. 1 asked the leader of the group to let Mary sing. Mary sang and silence came down on all. It was angelic and one of the young visitors afterwards said she thought she was listening to an angel of Bethlehem. The voice was high and clear like the notes of a bird. May I repeat the words of the hymn.
Lovely Lady dressed in Blue
Teach me how to pray;
God was just your little boy
Tell me what to say.
Did you lift Him up sometimes,
Gently on your knee;
Did you sing to Him the way.
Mother does to me?
Did you hold his hand at night,
Did you ever try
Telling Him stories of the world,
And, oh, did He cry?
Do you really think He cares,
If 1 tell Him things,
Just little things that happen
And do angel wings make a noise?
Can He hear me
If I speak low,
Does He understand me now,
Tell me, for you know.
Lovely Lady dressed in blue,
Teach me how to pray,
God was just your little boy,
And you know the way.
The nurse resumed her story and told how she prepared the child for her brain operation. She was certain that the child was not going to return to the ward, but the child did and grew well. “I guarded,” she said, “the spark of life night and day.”
The child is back in her high mountain home and is completely restored to health, “for,” said the nurse, “1 went back with the child to the lonely place and did all I could and left only when I knew that there was no further danger.
The mountains are high, vast and silent. Huge giant trees are everywhere, and these trees hold a silence which is awe inspiring. Everything is in direct antithesis to the great city hospital and its constant bustle and movement. The family possessed only the bare necessities of life, but in that high green mountain home I found something spiritual which I intend to hold for the rest of my life.
She said she had made a vow that if God gave life to the child she would become a Catholic. God gave life so she wished to become a Catholic. She had “lots of time” for she had retired from active nursing. She liked saying the Rosary for Mary always wore her Rosary beads around her neck.
“OUR TAINTED NATURE'S SOLITARY BOAST”
The hospital was not large. It was a small brick building on the south side of Brisbane. A matron, two assistant matrons, and some trained nurses were responsible for its efficient running. It was different from other hospitals for it treated solely diseases of women. From the highways and byways of the city inmates came to its portals. Some were brought forcefully by the arm of the law and some came of their own free will. Although the use of modern drugs was unknown (the year was 1929), it was most hygienic and everything tended to keep it that way. The matron and her two associates who were very skilled nurses had been chosen for their firmness and capacity to deal with emergencies. They had no religious beliefs. A young girl who was known to all and sundry by the name of Eileen had been admitted and she had persistently asked permission to fix at the head of her bed a rather large picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
The Sisters wondered how the other girls would accept the holy representation. “Do not worry about me,” said Eileen. “I can defend myself and what I own.” A nun had sent the girl by post the holy plaque for Eileen had been a child of an orphanage. She was bright, intelligent and renowned as a wonderful mimic. The nurses had been astounded at a repeat performance she had given of a bitter quarrel between two of the inmates of the hospital. The voice of one girl was deep, loud and raucous-the other voice was shrill, high and quick, yet Eileen’s mimicry of both was perfect.
There may have been a reckless air about everything she did or said but when she spoke of Our Lady a gentleness and holiness came to the fore. No doubt she recalled the holy life of the orphanage. She had a good audience because the three nurses knew the blasphemous ways of most of their charges and it was rare for a girl like Eileen to raise her voice in honour of holy ways. Tears were in the girl’s eyes when she said the words “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” The high- sounding words came from the girl without any ostentation. The matron afterwards wrote down the words and was surprised to find out that the renowned poet Wordsworth wrote them. The picture of Our Lady was fixed at the head of Eileen’s bed but the jeers of the others were soon silenced by the quickness of Eileen’s bitter words. The staff heaved a sigh of relief.
It may have been only a small flag exerted in honour of holiness but it was a defiant and proud gesture in a world of fallen and degraded humanity. The matron and the sisters were attracted to Eileen. Her courage was something unexpected and appealing. Whenever they got an opportunity they veered conversation towards the Holy Mother of Christ and endeavoured to find out what that devotion meant. It was a new line of thought for them, and they held many a discussion. For those who practice the natural virtues it has been rightly said that virtue attracts and evil repels. These three nurses had led spotless lives but now Our Lady represented a heavenly ideal for them who came in daily contact with the consequences of sin.
Eileen told them that she would not have fallen into evil ways if she had remained true by prayer to Our Lady. Having left the orphanage, being lonely and afraid she was an easy victim to evil friends. She knew she was making excuses but she knew also that her sole hope of redeeming herself was to go back to her devotion of the Mother of Christ. The nurses were impressed. It seemed as though Our Lady was using spiritually the appeal that Eileen made, to give them the gift of faith. They became friends with a nun in neighbouring convent and were able to get solutions to their many questions. They talked and talked about their problem and read a diversity of Catholic books. They attended a mission at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and finally embraced the Catholic Faith. On visitation the government auditor of the hospital noticed the pictures of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on the different tables of the Sisters, but made no comment. He was not a Catholic. One of the trained nurses told him the story of the triple conversion, and he it was who wrote this letter.
The big Colonial homestead with its wide verandahs overlooked a large lagoon which was surrounded with weeping willow trees. The lagoon had always been accepted as a sanctuary and was always full of wild bird life. The sheep station was immense for there was a muster of over 20,000 sheep on the property.
The year was 1931 and it was the sixth day of January. Living at the homestead besides the father and mother were two sons and five daughters. They were an excellent Catholic family and had great devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. There were pictures of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in every bedroom and the one on the mantle-piece over the fire-grill in the dining-room was framed in a magnificent antique silver frame. It was beautifully embossed. The mother and younger son were holidaying in Brisbane for the young man was shortly going to celebrate his 21st birthday. The rest of the family were gathered together in the home on the night of January 6th and were admiring a photo of the younger boy, which had been taken in Brisbane and posted to the homestead. It was a good photo and portrayed the young man who was educated, refined and a lover of the outdoor Australian way of living. The youngest girl said she would get it framed before the 21st birthday celebration. “Get it framed before they come home” said the father. For some reason the girl neglected to do this and discovered the omission the day their mother and brother were due back. They searched everywhere for a suitable frame but in vain. Then the youngest girl took the silver-framed picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour off the mantle-piece and substituted the photo of her brother in place of Our Lady. The result looked very good. The others offered no comment although they had misgivings. This solution of the difficulty did not seem right. In the bustle of cleaning the house to welcome the holidaymakers they forgot what had been done. The mother on arrival quickly noticed the substitution and was upset. She held her peace and made no comment that the substitution did not please her for she did not wish to hurt the feelings of the family who only wished to make her arrival home as happy as possible.
That afternoon the young boy took his horse and gun and rode off to shoot kangaroos with young friends. In the excitement of the chase he was accidently shot and died within a few minutes. The homestead was appalled at the tragedy. In the full joy and vigour of youth, the life of the young boy was ended. The mother was demented. She blamed the substitution of the photo of the boy for the picture of Our Lady. The youngest girl who had made the substitution was also irreconcilable. They both felt guilty of a hideous sin. When the priest came to the dead boy at the homestead, he heard the story of the substitution which seemed to cast a dreadful shadow over all the family. He told them it was wrong to make a mountain out of a thoughtless act but their grief was terrible to witness. The mother could not control her sobbing and became really ill. Priest after priest told her she was unwise to make a great evil out of a small incident which was essentially a gesture of affection of a sister towards her brother on the occasion of a great day in his life. The mother died. The father procured another silver frame-an exact copy of the original and on the mantle-piece in the dining-room the two pictures were placed-Our Lady and the photo of the dead boy. Everyone was unhappy. The family knew that they were unwisely enlarging their sense of guilt because no disrespect to Our Lady had been intended, but that the youngest girl in her youthful affection had only considered honouring her dead brother for his 21st birthday. The years went by. The eldest son became a priest in a religious order and two of the girls became nuns. The old father always kept flowers near the two pictures and became more and more puzzled and depressed with advancing years. His great consolation in life was to go each year to Brisbane and attend Mass said by his son and heard by his family.
NOEMI THE PATRONESS
The doctor asked the priest “Do you know who is the patroness of mothers-in-law?” “No,” said the priest, “and I have been a priest for forty years.” The doctor then told his story.
“I have been a doctor since 1932 but until recently acknowledged no formal religion. The Bible has always been acceptable to me and has been my “Rule of life.” It was sacred in my parent’s home but I have always realised that on great controversial points there was need of an appeal court which could not err. The great questions of life and death demanded clear infallible truth and I know that truth can only be one. I became a Catholic but it was example and not argument which brought about my conversion.
“My wife died over twenty years ago and left me bereft with three young children-all girls. The youngest was a baby of eight days. I was alarmed at my desperate plight but my wife’s mother came to my home and rescue. She took charge. Many told me that the set-up in the home would not work but it did work because my mother-in-law was a remarkable woman. She was wise and courageous and all her wisdom and valour came from her Catholic Faith. Her model was the Mother of Christ. Confronted with a puzzling situation she would ask herself how would the Mother of Christ act? The children called her Mother and after a time I also called her by that privileged name. Her ways were kind, direct and unassuming. If I lost control and was over-severe with the children she took them in hand and brought them back to proper behaviour. They are now adult and are well-educated. I have always believed that life has no finer experience for a parent than to watch the personality of his own child growing into adult state-the blossom into a bud and the bud into a flower. I watched my own grow and gave them every opportunity. My mother-in-law said evening prayers with them before the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. I did not interfere for I had nothing to offer. The problems of life have been part of my profession so it was a dilemma for me to be outside my own personal problems with my own goodwill freely given. “With my own goodwill freely given”-how I pondered over these words. Here was something spiritual. Here was something that I, with knowledge and experience, could not better. My pride was given a jolt but I was honest enough to admit I could offer no improvement.
“For a long time I searched for a parallel to my own case and then I found it. It was in the Old Testament in the book of Ruth. For those of you who do not know the Idyll of Noemi and Ruth, let me tell it. On account of famine Noemi, an Israelite, left her people and with her husband went to the pagan and hostile land of Moab. She had two sons who married Moabite women. After some years her husband died and then her two sons. Knowing she was growing old and would be lonely she thought she would go back to her own people, but Ruth, her daughter-in-law, said she would go with her. Noemi consented and they journeyed back.
Famine no longer plagued the land. Peace ruled and golden grain was in the fields. Golden grain in old Biblical times meant contentment-no hardships and no war with its fires and burnings. Ruth became a gleaner of the grain and married Boaz-Noemi’s kinsman. Ruth, when she told Noemi that she would leave her Moabite people and go to the land of Israel used immortal words that have glorified affection for the aged and lonely. Let me quote the words-”Whether thou goest, O Noemi, I will go, where thou dwellest, I will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, thy God my God.” Noemi was the prototype of my mother-in-law and both were held in great affection. I was of the people of my mother-in-law (her blood was common with mine to my children) so finally I became convinced that I wished to accept the rest of Ruth’s words “Thy God is my God.”
“I, too, like Ruth, changed my allegiances and I became a Catholic. So to those of my home I can now say “Thy people are my people, and Thy God is my God.” I say a daily prayer from the book of Ruth “Mayest I too receive a full reward from the Lord to whom I have come and under whose wings I have fled and seek shelter.” My joy is heightened when I realise that the genealogy of Ruth lead directly to King David and thus on to Mary “of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.” It was on account of this (divine genealogy) that the Book of Ruth was written.
When she was a young woman she had often become depressed. She suffered the obsession that she was damned. Her hell with its blazing fires and devilish figures was very realistic and deeply affected her outlook. In her sleep dreams gave her lurid nightmares. Her intelligence was of high standard for she obtained her B.A. degree at the Queensland University without difficulty. She married and had four fine children. After her marriage the depressive fits began to occur more frequently and her life very morbid and miserable. Her close relatives and most of her friends were non-Catholics. Her husband who was a businessman of high integrity and wealthy was indifferent to any religious appeal.
She became ill an d after many discussions a doctor suggested that she go for a time to St. Margaret’s Catholic hospital at Ryde, New South Wales, which was conducted by the nursing sisters of the Little Company of Mary, for the mentally deranged. Good health came back slowly. Her great joy was to go each afternoon to the beautiful Benediction Ceremony in the Convent chapel. She thought it was heavenly. One of the nuns gave her a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and told her to recite daily the prayers printed on the holy picture. She did not appreciate the picture for some time and then the full beauty of the ideal dawned on her troubled mind. The mantle of the Mother of Christ gathered her in its wide and kindly folds and gave her heavenly shelter and comfort in her darks depressive fits. She grew well and was told she could go back to her home. Whilst at the hospital, she read voraciously everything she could about the Catholic Faith. Christ’s Church began to appeal more and more. On her return to Brisbane, she often went secretly to Benediction in a Catholic Church and always said her prayers to Our Lady. After a number of years she was stricken with leukaemia and sullen and hopeless depression again settled on her mind. She told one of her few Catholic friends that she wished to become a Catholic for she was convinced it was the sole portal to redemption. A priest was called to her home and found her well instructed. He gave her all the Sacraments and afterwards she lapsed into unconsciousness. Her husband who had been in the “South” on a business trip exploded in anger when he heard that she became a Catholic through the agency of a priest. . He was vicious in his denunciations. To him the conversion smattered of trickery and was performed with excessive haste. His wife, he said, did not fully understand what had been done. She had always despised everything religious. He would arrange cremation of his wife at death. Nothing more could be done for the wife remained unconscious. Although the doctors did not expect the wife to rally, she did and all her faculties returned. She was at peace. She told her husband that he was to accuse no one for she had desired to become a Catholic for many years but was afraid to take the necessary steps. The fear of death finally forced her to do so. She got her first opportunity at the Ryde Mental Hospital. She knew that her depressions and dark thoughts of damnation could be destroyed by Faith. The hand of Christ in the Catholic Church always stretched out to her. The Mother of Christ lighted a road through life and freed her of anxieties. She could hear the howls of the demons behind but as long as she thought of Our Lady she was happy and knew her future lead on to heaven. No one had influenced her in her decisions or suggested that she become a Catholic. The obsession of damnation came from the knowledge that she was outside the fold of Christ’s Church. The husband was astounded. He could scarcely believe that the mind of his own dear wife had been in such a turmoil about religious matters but he did everything to make happy the last days of her life. He admitted that he had blamed wrongly the Catholic friends of his wife. She died. Although he is not a Catholic, he now carries a picture of Our Lady and understands the reason why the foot of Christ’s Mother is firmly placed on the head of the Serpent.