Memories Of My Mother. . .
by Father Nicholas Gruner
A few weeks ago, while I was away in South America, my beloved mother, Jessie Rosalie Mullally Gruner, died. She would have been 87 years old on April 10, 1994. She was just 13 days younger than Sister Lucy. Indeed, that is how I remember both of their ages.
Throughout her life, my mother was blessed with good health. Other than when giving birth to her seven children and one miscarriage, she had only been hospitalized for an illness once in her life before (when I was around 15 years of age).
Just before I left for South America, mother was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital in Montreal. It was particularly appropriate that she should have gone to St. Mary's since it was founded by her own father, Dr. Emmet J. Mullally, nearly 70 years ago. Though of humble origin, my grandfather became one of the most prominent physicians in Montreal and was one of the first English-speaking commissioners on the Catholic School Board. 60 years ago, he was instrumental in founding D'Arcy McGee High, the first English-language Catholic High School in Montreal (which I myself attended between 1955 and 1959).
At the time of her admission to the hospital, I was assured by my brother, Dr. Peter Gruner, that mother's life was not in danger. When her death came, it was very sudden and unexpected both to me and to all those attending her. Yet how often this is the case. In His Eternal Wisdom, Almighty God takes us when He chooses. Blessed be God!
In 1947, on the occasion of a long trip, mother wrote all of her children a letter to be opened at the time of her death. In this letter, she told us that she was ready to die and accepted God's time for calling her. While she loved life and was grateful to God for it, she knew that -- beyond death -- an even greater life, an eternal life, was waiting for her. With all her heart, she looked forward to Heaven.
My mother deeply missed my father who predeceased her by four and a half years. They had been happily, indeed joyfully, married for nearly 60 years! In reference to my mother, my father used to quote the words of Proverbs, Chapter 30, to us: "The value of a good wife is far beyond pearls."
At the time of mother's death, I was in Brazil visiting bishops and other Church leaders in preparation for our second Fatima Peace Conference. In a way, it would seem that God planned for me to be there instead of at her side. The bishop with whom I was staying when mother died was extremely kind and fatherly to me. He showed himself to be a true spiritual father in his many considerate and generous acts. In fact, he drove with me on the long three-hour drive to the airport for my flight back to Canada for my mother's funeral. I will always be grateful for his showing me what a true bishop can be for a priest and for all his flock.
By God's grace, all of my brothers and sisters and their large families attended the funeral. I celebrated Requiem Mass myself in our family parish of the Annunciation of Our Lady in the Town of Mount Royal in Montreal. This was most fitting and proper as this was where our family had lived for 40 years and where my own father had helped to found the parish. Two of us had actually been baptised there, three of us received first Holy Communion in the Church and another three were married there. My parent's 50th wedding anniversary Mass and celebration were also held in this wonderful church.
In the sermon of the funeral Mass, I recalled how seriously my mother had taken her Catholic duties as our mother. I drew upon my recollection of how my own mother had worked so hard to successfully help me overcome a terrible temper and how much I owed to her. When I was five-years-old, my mother had written that she wanted all of her children to grow up to be not merely nominal Catholics, but good Catholics! I recalled how mother and dad always had a beautiful statue of the Sacred Heart displayed in the most prominent place at the head of the stairs in our home and how mother had her own picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help prominently displayed in her bedroom. It was in front of this picture where she taught me when I was a tiny child the words of that most beautiful prayer, the Memorare:
Remember O Most Gracious Virgin Mary
That never was it known
That anyone who fled to Thy protection
Implored Thy help or Sought Thy intercession was left unaided
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto Thee
O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother.
To Thee do I come, before Thee I kneel, sinful and sorrowful
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
Despise not my petitions,
But in Thy clemency, hear and answer me. Amen.
It was this prayer -- joined with the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be -- that we all prayed at the cemetery as her coffin was lowered for the last time.
In the Memorare she taught me to call Mary "my Mother". It was through that prayer to Our Heavenly Mother, that was first taught to me by my mother on earth, that I came to realize I had two mothers. My mother was not displeased, or jealous as some people are - by the honor given to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She did not hesitate to call Mary my mother. That struck me, even though I was very young. While I was very young, she taught me about the Immaculate Conception and told me the story of Fatima. She had us pray the family Rosary.
My father who was raised as a Protestant, and converted several years before he married my mother, explained to me how Jesus delights in honoring His Mother; and to those who thought devotion to Our Lady was in competition to that of Jesus, he said, it was Jesus, Himself, who wanted us to show devotion to Our Lady.
When the Message of Our Lady of Fatima was brought to St. Joseph's school in Mount Royal, I was in the 5th grade. After the presentation of Our Lady's Message, I earnestly wanted to take the pledge to say the Rosary every day for the rest of my life. When I told my mother this, she advised me to reflect very carefully on this great promise before I did so, reminding me that it was a solemn promise to the Mother of God. I did as she asked and, when I persisted in my desire after several days, she encouraged me and gave me her blessing.
Early in life, mother introduced me to the saints. She would read short stories from their lives to her children and, on special occasions, present us with books about and written by the saints. Even after I had reached maturity, mother would still bring me passages from the saints or call my attention to writings she found especially meaningful or uplifting. She loved the writings of St. Francis de Sales and one of the highlights of her entire life was being able to go on pilgrimage to Avila where St. Theresa was born and lived. She also was able to visit the birthplace of St. Catherine of Siena.
In 1976, she and dad came to my ordination in Italy. Afterwards, we travelled together to the shrines of St. Anthony of Padua, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Nicholas of Tolentino (on whose feast of September 10, 1930, was the day my parents were married), the Holy House of Our Lady of Loretto, St. Michael on Mount Gargano, St. Leopold in Padua, to St. Gemma Galgani's burial place and Shrine in Lucca, to Padre Pio's Church and burial place in San Giovanni Rotundo and St. Peter's in Rome. You see Providence saw to it that we visited four great shrines dedicated to four Saints (whose names I underlined above) and whose names she had given to four of her five sons. I was indeed blessed to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with my parents attending every day, in these shrines as we travelled through Italy.
I might recall here, that it was in St. Cecilia's church in Rome back in the mid 1920's that my father was converted from Protestantism to the Catholic Faith. It was the example of this beautiful rich noble Roman virgin who professed her Catholic faith courageously and who gave up her riches and her life for Christ that converted him in the very place she was martyred. He was always, throughout his life, grateful to her for this great grace and he named his oldest daughter after her.
Blessed be God! Divine Providence has also blessed me on other occasions to say Mass at St. James Cathedral in Santiago and in Saint Anne's Church inside the Vatican. In fact I said Mass there again just in January 1994. My other two siblings were named after these two Saints and I have many times invoked the prayers and protection of the saints my mother and father named their children after.
At the time of my father's death, I was in the midst of a terrible struggle to preserve Our Lady's Apostolate against the attacks of Church bureaucrats who opposed our work. At that time, I was obliged to warn my mother that there was likely to be considerable public controversy about me and I wanted to share the facts with her first before she read it in the newspapers or elsewhere. I told her that I did not seek controversy, but that the truth and my obligation to stand up for it in public required me to take this stand.
Mother replied that she and dad had always taught me to stand up for what was right, even if it was not popular. She added that she respected me for taking this stand and told me not to worry about it on her or the family's account. This was the kind of loving support and encouragement that she and dad always showed for my work and the work of Our Lady's Apostolate. She was unfailing in her devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and she loved her husband and her children very deeply. I miss her more than I can express and ask you to remember my mom and dad in your prayers.