Babies sure do seem to grow fast

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2003

This past weekend my grandson was baptized. He wore an heirloom baptismal gown that his maternal great-grandmother had made for her children. Thomas Michael Donnelly was the 11th baby to be baptized in this white-laced gown. He didn't make a peep through the baptism but slept peacefully in his mother's arms.

Twenty-seven years ago, Thomas' father, Danny, was baptized in Kilkar, a remote village in County Donegal, Ireland. Tom and I had just moved to the area the day before Danny was born. When Danny was four weeks old, I inquired about where I would go to get him baptized. We were living near the town of Carrick, but we were located in the parish of Kilkar, five miles over the mountain pass from our cottage. To get Danny baptized, I had to visit Father McBrearty, the parish priest of Kilkar. My landlord Denny had his brother Francie ride his bicycle to Kilkar to make arrangements for me to see the priest. We had no car or phone and only a few of our neighbors had cars and even fewer had telephones. My landlady, Bridie asked a neighbor, Shaun if he would drive she and I to see the priest. It was pouring rain the afternoon Shaun drove Bridie and me over the mountain pass to Kilkar. I was very young, only 20, and when I look at photos of myself from that time I look to be 12 years old.

In Kilkar, Bridie and I knocked on the rectory door and were ushered by a lady housekeeper into a dark office with high windows. Father McBrearty was a tall man with a shock of gray hair and was in a long black robe, with a white collar at his neck. He was sitting at a massive desk and didn't rise to greet us, but indicated with his huge hand to sit in chairs across from him. Bridie seldom left her house and was as nervous as a bird and fluttered her hands and told Father McBrearty that I was from America and had a new baby boy and that I wanted to have him baptized. Father McBrearty turned and glared at me from behind his desk and his eyes reminded me of an eagle ready to swoop up his prey, and stated loudly, "ARE YOU A PRACTICING CATHOLIC?"

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I was shaking and I said, "Well, my husband doesn't go to church."

"ARE YOU A PRACTICING CATHOLIC?" he said again not blinking or taking his eagle eyes off me.

"Yeesss," I stammered.

"Come tomorrow at 4:30 and I will baptize your son," he said.

The next afternoon, the neighbor, Shaun drove Tom, Bridie, Denny, baby Danny and me over the mountain pass to Kilkar in the still pouring rain. It had been raining every day since Danny had been born born. Father McBrearty and an altar boy met us in the Kilkar Church, resplendent in their long robes.

The baptism was a beautiful brief ceremony. Danny was wrapped in a hand crocheted pure white shawl that my friend had made for him. Danny whimpered through the ceremony. At the end of the end of it, Father McBrearty swept Danny out of my arms and took him to a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. The statue had votive candles lit all around its base and the priest held Danny high above his head, with the pure white shawl flowing over his arms and prayed aloud in Gaelic. When he did this, Danny quit whimpering and Tom and I looked at each other with wonder.

Later we both said that shivers went down our spine when Father McBrearty did this. We left the church in Shaun's car in the pouring rain. I held my newly baptized baby in my arms and it hit me what an awesome task and responsibility I had undertaken in having a baby and I hoped I was up to the task to raise him well.

After the baptism, the neighbors came to our cottage for tea, bread, and biscuits. They placed silver coins in Danny's little fist as was the custom.

They all said, "What a grand wee bobba ye have and sure enough he will be walking before ye know it."

I thought at the time that it would be ages before he would be walking, but the neighbors were right and now Danny has a grand wee bobba of his own.

Sheila Donnelly can be reached at 434-2233 or by e-mail at