null's blog null's blog en-us Fri, 16 Nov 2018 14:42:06 PST Fri, 16 Nov 2018 14:42:06 PST Bishop John Timon  The purpose of this blog is to uncover persons of excellence who helped make a city great, a community of excellence, and have a strong message for us today. The first one I will focus on for several installments is John Timon.   Bishop John Timon and His Lessons for Our Time The Influence of Timon’s Family John Timon, the first bishop of Buffalo (1847-1867) may have achieved more than any churchman of his era. So why have so few of us ever heard of him except as half of the name of a South Buffalo High School? I learned of Bishop Timon while researching a book published last year and am convinced he has something to say to modern day Buffalo struggling to emerge once again.  What made John Timon the extraordinary figure he became?  His family has generally been passed over by historians, possibly for lack of sources on his early life. There is a plausible explanation for the Timon family migration from County Cavan, Ireland, but with only background historical evidence to back it up. So let’s imagine the circumstances of their leave-taking. In 1796, James Timon crawled out of bed one morning, looked at his pregnant wife and three daughters, and did what Irish people had been doing for centuries and would continue to do right up till today. He decided to emigrate. Irish Catholics were again rising up against their British masters and the residual effects of Penal Laws passed by the London and Dublin parliaments, limiting their access to education, land ownership, business ventures, and political participation. While some of these laws had been repealed by the early 1790’s, the Irish remained second-class citizens and suffered in every phase of their lives. Caught between warring factions were ordinary folk like the Timons, just trying to keep their land, feed their children, but getting robbed, burned out, and murdered in the random violence raging throughout the island. Like most of his kind, James may have held a small tenant farm. Possibly, he worked in a dry goods shop in Belturbet, County Cavan, where he was born north of Cavan City, or in Mullahorne, south of Cavan City, which his son visited many years later. For the next two months, James would have pressed his debtors for repayments, sold or turned over the tenant rights to his land to a neighbor, and with his wife, Margaret Eleanor Reddy Timon, stowed away horse feed and dried vegetables. Then in August of 1896, he hitched up a horse he had recently purchased and started the week long trek to Sligo, the nearest and safest port of embarkation. The trip was made longer by the need to avoid areas of battle.          Figure 1. County Cavan, Ireland   James was a very self-assured man who traveled in Ireland in the course of purchasing for the store he tended. He had gained confidence in his own skills and instincts. He was possessed of a positive outlook in spite of life’s many challenges and encouraged his wife and children: “Our trials will soon be over and we will be in the land of opportunity.”   In Sligo, a week after arriving, James found a timber boat that carried the family in steerage to Philadelphia a month or two later. Such voyages were dangerous and uncomfortable sailing in makeshift quarters in the hold of a sailing ship across cold and stormy waters. Eleanor was sick throughout the crossing as she was pregnant with John. Weather and waves permitting, James brought the family on deck and humored them with stories of ancient Celts and bizarre Cavan characters.   From Philadelphia, they made their way inland eighty miles, a week’s journey, to Conewago in Adams County.   Figure 2. Conevago Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania   Immigrants often sought out family members, who could help them get started in the new world. Can you see the puzzled, hesitant look on the faces of cousins when the family appeared at their door? They kept them for a week then found them lodging in an abandoned farmhouse. James found work wherever he could, persuading the general store owner to employ him. At the end of 1796, James read in a Philadelphia paper that a French army, 15,000 strong, was hovering off the west coast of Cork near Bantry Bay preparing to invade. Inspired by the French revolution the United Irish Party had conducted a decade of diplomacy in Paris, prodding the French military to invade Ireland and join Catholics and allied Protestants in throwing out the British. But then a day later, the same paper carried the news that a violent storm had pummeled the armada causing the French to lose heart and turn home. On February 12, 1797, a son was born to the Timons, John. He was tiny but strong and healthy.  (to be continued) 2016-04-07 15:25:40 Uncle John John Donohue and Friends: In what does greatness consist? In a recently published book, HIMSELF, John Donohue played a key role in the life of the protagonist, Patrick Donohue, his younger and more spectacular brother. John was every bit as good a baseball player but without the flash of his brother. That element in his character caused John to go unnoticed throughout his life. At a classmate's funeral mass, the priest mused about his forty year friendship with my classmate Ted Rog. Ted had been a priest for fifty-one years. According to Father O'Neill Ted repeated the same things day in and day out. He got up early, prayed, celebrated mass, and went about his duties as pastor or teacher with humor and a desire to serve.  At seventy, he retired but kept doing the same work as before, now without portfolio. When cancer struck at seventy-seven, he made little fuss out of his dying process, using his last days to meet with family and brother priests to express his gratitude for their many happy days together.   While a priest in Olean, NY, I brought communion to Hugh Laughlin on First Fridays. Hugh had had a stroke twenty years before. His wife, Mary, fed, clothed, bathed, toileted, and otherwise tended him every hour of every day from then on. She did it with such grace I barely noticed her ministrations while I hung around to chat. And she received nothing in return because Hugh could barely think an intelligent thought or pronounce an intelligible word. I gave my parents much trouble in my first thirty-five years but have come to realize they gave me all the opportunity I needed, more than I deserved, because they maintained a stable home life for forty-five years. They were not perfect partners. My father was difficult for my mother to abide by, but she did and he was by her side faithful in every way through seventeen years of cancer. He died two years after her because he could not live without her. Now back to John Donohue, my great uncle… John knew tragedy, usually in the form of death. At seven, both of his parents died in a cholera epidemic in Rochester and he and his brother Patrick were brought to Buffalo in 1849 by a grandmother, Maire Joy. She could not adequately feed both boys, who complained nightly after dinner that they were still hungry. Because he was older she chose John to farm out to an aunt. It crushed him ... for a month. John left school after the sixth grade and went to work at fourteen shoveling coal from barge to dock, sixty-six hours a week. Heavy work fashioned a powerful man out of a skinny boy. He waited to enter the Union army until his brother reached eighteen. Then in 1862 with Patrick he joined an all-Irish regiment, the 155th New York Volunteers. He was wounded in his very first major battle at Spotsylvania Courthouse in May 1864 and was offered a permanent furlough from service. He came home for a six-week convalescence but returned to his regiment to protect his brother. He survived the near continuous battles of Grant’s Overland Campaign right through to Appomattox. This is more notable since as corporal, he was by rank the color guard for Company I and an obvious target across every field he fought on. John’s captain and sergeant testified in their depositions in support of John’s pension claims that John was a skilled soldier who saved many in Company I. His brother told his grandmother the first night home he owed his life to his big brother. At discharge, John received a $2 pension for his wound. He married Johanna Mahoney in 1868. A first son, Michael, was born in 1871 and died a year later. Of his four adult children, two died of TB before he did. John worked as a weigh master and bridge tender for forty years bearing up under multiple war-related illnesses. He returned from the Civil War with rheumatism, pneumonia, a damaged and permanently painful shoulder, deafness in his right ear, and blindness in his right eye, heart pains, scurvy, and heart disease. When examined by a pension board in 1906, the physicians also described him as having disease of the kidneys, missing most of his teeth, stooped, with catarrh and bronchitis. From 1877 to 1906, he pursued pension increases seventeen times before physician pension boards. Finally, he received $8 just before he died in 1914. Each board exam noted John neither drank nor smoked, rare traits in the Irish First Ward of Buffalo where he lived throughout his adult life. He was still working at age sixty-five to support three grandchildren. One of them, James, is seen with him in the photo posted earlier on this website. John was a lifelong active member of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a veterans’ organization similar to today’s VFW, organized to fight for veterans’ housing and pensions. The GAR placed a headstone on his grave or likely, it would have gone unmarked. He remained a lifelong Catholic, his faith no doubt playing a role in his steadfast character. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery with his wife and children. A year ago his nephew, Eugene Donohue. renewed his original headstone lest we should ever forget.      2015-12-31 14:34:49 Holy Cross Most of the characters in HIMSELF lie in Holy Cross Cemetery, where many Irish were buried, especially those from the First Ward. On June 13, I made a presentation at  Holy Cross and Ron Paszek, its superintendent and historian, led a tour of famous and infamous monuments. About 20 people attended and stayed for the wall across lovely green knolls and variegated burial plots. Afterward many reflected on Msgr. Healy, Fingy Connors, Blue-eyed Billy Sheehan the Birge fire victims, the Italian swine flu deceased, the Fenians and Civil War veterans like my great Uncle John Donohue, Mrs. McConnell and the numerous others buried in Holy Cross. Sad that this cemetery is so overshadowed by Forest Lawn that few Buffalonians ever think of visiting it, one of the oldest in the Buffalo area in continuous usage. Its first burials date from 1830.  2015-06-20 09:14:50 An Unfinished Peace On April 8, Larkin Square Authors series features Bill Donohue, author of HIMSELF, A CIVIL WAR VETERAN'S STRUGGLES WITH REBELS, BRITS, AND DEVILS. The next day the nation remembers the 150th anniversary of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia by its commander, General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Potomac. Buffalo's 155th regiment NYV (including Bill's great grandfather, Patrick Donohue and great uncle, John Donohue) sat on the lawn of the court house as Grant and Lee rode in and out. The Appomattox armistice ended America's most bloody war ever, over 620,000 soldiers dead or maimed. Grant offered Lee gracious terms of surrender allowing all his men to return home with their horses and rifles, in hope of reversing a civil war to a civil peace. In perhaps the greatest calamity to beset the nation's history, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated five days later and with him died the one sublime soul capable of leading a nation out of the morass of black slavery. What ensued plunged the South into a reign of terror that lasted to our own time. Over 3,000 blacks would be lynched between 1882 and 1900 and even more over the next half century. Slavery was reinstated in the form of tenant farming and Jim Crow laws. The Civil War has had long term effects on our nation. It introduced the concept of total warfare, i.e. war waged against not only the enemy's military but his civilians as well. It began the formation of a global navy. Failing miserably in providing for dead and wounded soldiers, it inaugurated military hospitals and cemeteries. It deployed new technologies like the telegraph and railroad and it extended the power of the federal government beyond the imagination of the founding fathers. In conjunction with events at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, the National Park Service is inviting communities across the nation to join in this commemoration at 3:00 pm on April 9 by ringing bells. Bells will reverberate across the country. If you have access to  organizations such as churches and synagogues with bells, you might ask them to participate.   2015-03-17 10:41:12 Article # 2   HIMSELF is historical fiction and positions two Civil War soldiers, brothers, in the context of their families, community, and broader social and economic currents. Patrick and John Donohue, my great grandfather and great uncle respectively, were raised in an Irish immigrant family in the First Ward of Buffalo, NY, which is what gives their life stories singularity. At the same time in an age of mass migrations and wholesale service in both armies by immigrants and ethnic populations, their lives were not unlike those of thousands of Civil War soldiers.  Patrick was born in Rochester in 1844, John in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada the year before, of a young couple who had migrated in 1842 from rural Cork, Ireland through Canada and on to Rochester. Their father, Patrick Sr., was a cooper who had had success in spreading his barrel-making business to nearby villages and hamlets until a cholera epidemic spread over the swampy Little Dublin area of Rochester and took both him and his wife, Catherine.  Maire Joy, the boys’ maternal grandmother, brought them to Buffalo’s First Ward. The First Ward was the original white settlement area of the city carved out of a Seneca Indian Nation reservation. Its uniqueness as a neighborhood stemmed from Buffalo’s one-of-a-kind geographic position after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 within the American system of commerce. Final boundaries were set and westward migration had begun in earnest. Buffalo at the west end of the Erie Canal and as the last navigable, eastern port on the Great Lakes became the transfer center for finished goods going west and agricultural and mining commodities moving east. The market vector of the port of Buffalo once reached St. Louis, MI. The First Ward contained the canal, the port, the red light and legitimate entertainment districts, commercial downtown, railroad yards and depots.  The First Ward was a veritable real life Disneyland. Like Little Dublin, it was lowland and festered with disease and periodic epidemics spawned by pools of liquefied human and animal waste. In 1844, a seiche, a Lake Erie tsunami, struck the First Ward, crushed hundreds of houses, and killed a few hundred people. Storms regularly did mass damage to the First Ward throughout its history. First Ward homes were shacks and four room cottages built on piers. Farm animals and backyard gardens grew alongside canals, river, rail lines, warehouses, and manufacturing plants.  As boys Pat and John roamed across rails, over the Buffalo River Ohio Street Bridge, and watched men unload freighters. They jumped cars and rode around the port and into an Ebenezerite Anabaptist settlement south of the city. Pat led a gang of thieves that broke into and stole from rail cars, warehouses, and market stalls. Early Irish migration was predominantly male. Shantytowns, bars, gangs, crime, accidents, death, and political corruption were common fare. Men hung out in one or more of its numerous saloons. At twelve, Patrick frequented Kennedy’s Saloon and gradually became an alcoholic. A First Ward saloon keeper, William Fingy Conners, built up a saloon contract labor system that controlled all unskilled labor in the port and eventually 7,000 jobs across the Great Lakes. In 1880, Pat went to work unloading grain freighters as an employee of Jim Kennedy, one of several saloons in Conner’s system. To be paid he had to drink daily at Kennedy’s saloon. In addition, Kennedy took 10% of all his earnings and that of all the men he employed. Against this curtain of social mayhem stood women, the Roman Catholic Church, and its first bishop, John Timon. Maire Joy lived with her brother, John, on Louisiana Street in the center of the Ward, across the street from the Ohio Basin, which was an extension of the Erie Canal. She made her livelihood sewing vestments for Bishop Timon and other Catholic pastors. It was insufficient to feed her grandsons, so she gave John to the care of a cousin, Theresa. A childless widow, Theresa had risen in the employment of Millard Fillmore’s law firm and was well off by First Ward standards. The boys attended Public School 4 through the sixth grade; then went to work running errands and shining shoes for sailors and businessmen, and later doing heavy labor in grain mills and coal docks, and in Bishop Timon’s institutions. A lady of the night, Kitty Hennegan, provided graphic sex education. By 1861, the Civil War was heating up. When General Michael Corcoran formed an Irish brigade from across New York State in late 1862, they joined for bonuses and to save the Union. Ending slavery was a negative for them as for most men in the Ward. It would grant freedom to a vast and competitive population, almost universally hated by the Irish everywhere in North America. Pat and John endured the miseries and dangers of camp life for two years before being assigned with the 155th Regiment and the rest of the Irish Legion to the Army of the Potomac. They arrived on May 18, 1864, just in time to fight the second phase of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. The 155th would remain with Grant right through to Appomattox.  Both were wounded in the back, thus avoiding amputation and allowing them to recover from months of field duty and long forced marches. Patrick spent eight months in Confederate prisons, most of that time in Salisbury Confederate Prison (N.C.) whose mortality rate nearly equaled that of Andersonville. He exited from Florence Confederate Prison (S.C.) sixty pounds lighter than before his capture. Throughout the rest of his life, he could not endure the rigors of unskilled labor for more than two years at a time.   Shaken by the corruption of his clergy, Bishop Timon gave week-long retreats to his priests and preached abstemious living, vigorously ascetical spirituality, and a heroic work ethic. He convinced religious orders in Europe and Maryland to staff his institutions.  He raised funds in Europe to build a cathedral, 180 parish churches, schools, the City’s first hospital (Sisters of Charity Hospital), orphanages, homes for unwed mothers, three colleges and a university. When he died in 1867, 90,000 people of all faiths and ranks are reported to have filed by his bier. With the bishop came the Roman Catholic Church and all of its doctrines and devotions and a hierarchy led by Pope Pius IX, who preached against Protestantism, democracy, capitalism, and modern science.  The church was Jansenistic in its piety and teachings on sex, excused the heavy drinking of its men, and supported their absolute position in society and the home, all of which burdened the daily lives of its women. There were six notable women in the lives of Pat and John: Maire, Theresa, Annabelle (a contraband black whom Patrick fell in love with while guarding trains with the 155th  at Sangsters Station, VA), their wives Mary Nagle and Johanna Mahoney, and Millicent Hastings (a WCTU leader whom Patrick befriended while at the Bath Soldiers Home (NY) toward the end of his life). In spite of their lowly  status, these women became powerful and redemptive forces in Pat’s and John’s lives. Mary died in 1890, twenty-four years before Pat, her health broken by his abuse. Her priest and her father had both forbidden her to divorce him. In a final act of rebellion, she separated from Patrick and spent her last months in a downtown rooming house. She refused Patrick’s company on her death bed. She was buried in an unmarked grave in the pauper section of Holy Cross Cemetery.   A year ago, a group of her ancestors remedied that injustice and recognized her for continuing our family.                          HIMSELF explores the interweaving of family behavioral patterns, social and cultural environments, and the hardships of war. Writing it awakened an appreciation for the harshness of my ancestors’ lives, the horrors of their service in the Civil War, and its subsequent impact on veterans, wives, and children.                                              I came to realize that Patrick’s behavior patterns were embedded in my father’s family and had become a part of mine and me.                                                   For more information, cf. 2015-02-17 08:25:42