Sometime in the 1940's, my grandfather, who was a groundskeeper and undertaker for our old church, ran into the Monsignor in the churchyard. Monsignor was looking at his hand with a puzzled look on his face. "What is the matter?" asked my grandfather.
"I was just given two dollars by Mrs Donnelly to say a Mass of Thanksgiving..." he began.
Mrs. Donnelly was a cheerful woman who had made a foolish mistake when she chose her husband. Mr Donnelly was one of the town's chief drunks. He was well known for getting on the bus and yelling "Charge!" as he staggered towards the seat at the rear of the bus. He was unemployed and, due to his drinking, unemployable. One of the few jobs he ever did hold was as a dance caller at the old dances that used to be held in town. It was neither regular nor lucrative.
The two had only one child, who learned drinking and irresponsibility from his father. They lived in poverty in their house, such as it was, and in the winter the three of them slept together in the same bed to keep each other warm, so they could save on wood or coal.
With the war, things got a little better for Mrs Donnelly. Like most women of her time, she could not find work that would allow her to support her familyunder normal circumstances, but with the demand for war labour she did find employment at a local rifle range. With her money she even managed to save enough to buy herself a few luxuries- a radio and a washing machine. Things were looking up.
And then Mrs Donnelly was diagnosed with cancer. She went to the hospital to have it removed, and when she returned to her home, she found that her husband and son had taken her radio and washing machine and had sold them to a pawn shop to pay for more drink. Not long after, the son murdered a man in a botched attempted robbery, and was sent to prison. He later gained notoriety as one of the first men to escape Kingston Penitentiary. (He escaped by sewing himself into a mail bag.)
Monsignor looked at the money in his hand. "I was just given two dollars by Mrs Donnelly to say a Mass in Thanksgiving," he said. "But for the life of me, I can't think of what she has to be thankful for."