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Gratitude: On Christmas Day, yearning to remember my grandparents — three of them Irish immigrants

Pat and Mary (Norris) Finley -- undated photo

Katie (Brady) Conrad in Lilly, Pa. in the 1930s

… having a relationship with grandparents is special

In this period of joy, every child should give thanks to their grandparents for what they have provided for them — if they had that special kind of relationship.

Today, I wish to thank my grandparents who immigrated to the United States from Ireland. And to the one grandparent who passed away 32 years before I was born.

Still, without them, we could not have become what we have been in America. Just imagine how frightening it must have been for little Katie Brady to travel from her hometown of Edgesworthtown to board a boat in Dublin to travel more than 3,000 miles to New York City — at the age of 8.

And another 230 miles to a tiny town called Lilly, Pa.

That took an infinitesimal amount of courage to do so. And for her parents to allow her to do so.

Her uncle, Father Philip Brady, had immigrated to the U.S. before that and was an assistant pastor at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church in Lilly, which is how she arrived in Lilly in 1880 and never left.

And what motivated my maternal grandparents, Patrick Finley and Mary Norris, to sell themselves as indentured servants to the Simon Cameron family as a means of affording to travel to New York in a quest for the American Dream?

And, 31 years after they arrived in Harrisburg, Pa. to work for the Camerons, their daughter, Mary Finley, earned a college degree in English from Dickinson College in 1929.

Few women earned college degrees at that time, and my mother was able to do so because her parents had the courage and tenacity to make the 3,000+ mile journey to the U.S.

Because of the courage of those three natives of Ireland, many young people have earned degrees and have become successful in life. These include a people who have worked in a variety of fields from science to business to law to education to nursing, having attended prestigious universities and colleges and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees.

All because of those three who ventured forth from Ireland to America.

They all suffered heartache. The Finleys lost two children during childbirth and Katie Brady Conrad lost a husband and two sons at young ages, leaving her with many challenges in life.

However, they persevered and we are blessed to have had them as our grand and great-grandparents.

What we missed

The sad part of the grandparents for me and my siblings is that we never knew them well. Katie Brady passed away in 1940 when my brother was just 2-years-old and my sister was just 1. I never knew her, but yearn today for the time I could have spent with her. I have so many questions to ask her, but never could.

The Finleys lived longer, but they also resided in Harrisburg, meaning that even my older brother, Jim, and my older sister, Patsy, did not see them often and really did not know them well.

I can remember Pat Finley who passed away when I was almost 6 and vaguely remember my grandmother Mary Norris Finley who passed away when I was 2.

Again, so many questions that I would love to ask them.

So, if you have grandparents whom you remember and with whom you have a great relationship, or any relationship, give thanks on this Christmas Day.

Even though I did not know them well, I still appreciate what they did to give us parents who provided so well for us and taught us so much about life.

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