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Grateful to my Irish grandparents on this St. Patrick's Day

Katie Brady Conrad in the backyard of our ancestral home in Lilly, Pa. in the 1930s

In 1880, at the age of eight, little Katie Brady from County Longord, Ireland boarded a ship that ultimately made its way to America. She was a daughter of Hugh and Katherine (McCarthy) Brady, and she was beckoned to the new world by her uncle, Father Philip Brady, who was later to become pastor of St. Brigid’s Church in Lilly, Pa.

Nineteen years later, Patrick Finley and Mary Norris boarded a ship destined for America. They were older than Katie was, Pat about 17 and Mary about the same age. I thought that both were born in Northern Ireland, but on Pat’s birth certificate, his birthplace was listed as Waterford, which is in the south.

I am thrilled today that all of them embarked on that dream, but I am sad that I never knew them well enough to talk about it. Since my parents were 40ish when I was born, my grandparents were also older. I never knew Katie, who passed away in 1940, seven years before I was born. I have vague memories of Mary, but she passed just before I was two.

I do remember Pat since he took me down to the Harrisburg fire station and let me sit and drive the truck. I may have been about four or five at the time. However, I never knew any of them to ask them the questions that I would love to hear answered today.

Why did you come to America? What was Ireland like? What was your family like? Who were your parents, siblings, and cousins? What was the trip to America like? Did you ever regret leaving your family? What do you love most about America? What was it about America that kept you dreaming of a better life? For Pat and Mary, did you plan to marry when you arrived in the U.S.?

I have so many more. Not really knowing your grandparents is tough.

What I do know is that they would be proud of what their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have become. There are numerous lawyers, nurses, teachers, scientists, writers, even a priest — which is big with the Irish — Ivy League graduates, college graduates, advanced degrees, members of the military, athletes, musicians, leaders, and most important, mothers, fathers, and grandparents.

They would definitely be proud.

Katie Brady

Father Brady brought his niece to America, later to be followed by her sister, Nan, to be educated. Katie attended Mount Aloysius Academy in Loretto and even became what would be a high school graduate and earned her teaching certification. Not sure if she taught — I think so, but I would have loved to ask — but she met Charlie Conrad and married.

She and Charlie had six children: Ann (Farren), Phil, John Hilary (Jimmy), Hugh, Adele and Helen. However, she also had a great deal of heartache. First, Charlie passed away in 1915 at the age of 42, leaving six children, the youngest of whom was just an infant. Nine years later, her eldest son, Phil, was killed in the Ku Klux Klan riot in Lilly on April 5, 1924. He was a day short of his 25th birthday. My Aunt Helen said that Phil’s death was devastating to her.

However, all three of them brought their Catholic faith to the New World, and they passed that on to their ancestors. That faith helped Katie spiritually at that time as she attended daily mass for most of the rest of her life.

Pat Finley and Mary Norris

Pat was born in 1872. The 1930 Dauphin County census lists Northern Ireland as his birthplace, but his death certificate does not. I was told that they were living in Dublin when they left for America, but I cannot confirm that. Since my mother was an only child, we have some things on paper but really have many more questions.

Both Pat and Mary arrived in Harrisburg, and from I can tell, they were indentured servants. A family paid for their transportation to the new world, and in return, they promised to work for them for five years.

What was fortuitous was that they were hired by a wealthy family in Harrisburg. This was the family of Simon Cameron, a multi-millionaire who had been secretary of war under Abraham Lincoln and a United States senator. My grandfather eventually became the chauffeur for Simon’s son, J. Donald Cameron, who took over the business and also became a U.S. Senator. He became secretary of war under President U.S. Grant.

After the death of J. Donald in 1918, my grandfather continued working for the Cameron family as a person in charge of grounds and the three mansions that they had. One was on Front Street in Harrisburg and the Mansion is now home to the Dauphin County Historical Society; the second is in Lancaster Pa. and is known as Donegal; and the third was called the Gap and was the home of James McCormick Cameron.

My grandfather worked for them until about 1940, the last 20+ years for James McCormick Cameron.

Pat was a talented and hard worker. The Camerons awarded him with some nice gifts including stocks that valued more than $32,000 in 1989 when my dad passed away. They also gave him a home in Harrisburg. I believe that my mother was able to attend Dickinson College in Carlisle in the 1920s because of the financial help of Miss Mary Cameron, J. Donald’s daughter who was a philanthropist.

Katie Brady Conrad had eight grandchildren and the Finleys four. They came to the United States of America with just a dream, but so many have profited from their desire to experience this dream.

Thank you Katie, Pat, and Mary.



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