JJ Moroney's History of St. Mary's - Wakeman



I was born in 1868 on a little farm a mile east of Oberlin, Ohio. Parents: J.P. (Red Jim) Moroney and Mary Shiel. Since leaving the farm with it's little seasonal ventures into school teaching, have followed two general lines. Oil, both in corporation employment and independent producing and newspaper publishing. I was editor, owner, founder, of the Okmulgee Daily Democrat, covering some twelve years that was both profitable and enjoyable. Sold after the war and got outdoors for health which I have enjoyed. Sister Nora who died three years ago in Toledo where she had been high in Red Cross, was my society editress. Wife, Mary Boland, member of an old family of Good Shepherd Parish. Lived in Toledo seven years, leaving in 1901, to live in Marietta five years. Six children, all schooled in Catholic Colleges except one, West Point. Nearest to a hobby has been Irish history and literature. Have had one trip to the old land.

I propose to set out for readers some things in my memory and some things discovered in my experience, some reading, and some travel, which I have come to regard as interesting concerning the founders of St. Mary's and their type. I shall begin by claiming for them a classification separate and apart from all other immigration elements. Some of the facts which support that distinction, attach to their racial background, facts directly touching no other immigrants, including Irish immigration of later times. These were the famine of the latter '40's and, for the older ones among them, the great O'Connell revolution and the system of schooling which their generation inherited from penal times.

In the new land certain facts and conditions, some of them depressing, were in their background which all other immigrant elements escaped. The new land was entering upon it's industrial revolution. Railway building was opening vast areas of a raw continent. Above all else, they were the first major immigration element in the United States. The country had not been a stranger to immigration, a constant stream averaging some 20,000 annually, having come from all lands during more than fifty years. But so quietly, so easily had this little stream been "absorbed" that it was a mere matter of course. No account of foreign born was ever taken in a federal census until 1850. The sudden influx of famine exiles, above a quarter million in 1849, people of so distinct a culture, stirred the nativist alarm, so peculiar to our country even yet, to activities to a degree which made it in many places the greatest hardship of all the immigrants had to meet and overcome.

I am moved to make another distinction in passing, namely, between the adult immigrants of the mid-century and their children, those born in the old land as well as those born in the new. It was those parents, some hundreds of thousands, who had to face the terrible ordeal of flight. We thousands, perhaps millions, of their descendants who made our shifts from state to state, participating in the pioneering which so much has engaged our generation, may find some profit as well as great interest in pondering upon comparison of our proud adventure with that undertaken by our grandparents (or great-grandparents, as the case may be).

In these times, when it is so much the practice to be provided against lonesomeness or failure in a new venture by possession of ample "degrees", college degrees or secret society degrees or both, there seems to be exposed a softness, not to say, want of character, when considered beside the single-handed adventure of those old pioneers into a new, very strange and very distant land.

The typical adventurer into the game of life today must have his "frat" or his lodge or his council or his union or his "influential friend", some one or all of the advantages upon which our habits, our training including schooling, focalize in preparation of the "successful man". Without some or all of these, the type in these weak piping times of peace will not venture so far as an adjoining country. or attempt to "step up" from his dad's status in his home town. Compared to this, consider for a moment, the utter absence of any possible worldly advantage possessed by those exiles when they made their great adventure. Not to mention the heart-testing griefs attending the parting from home, the terrors of the voyage, long and dangerous, consider that they knew their handicaps. They foresaw the chills and the fevers, some of then even worse than climactic, to which they were going. Typically, they met all the severe tests to which their fate and luck subjected them in a manner entitling them to first place by us as patterns of manhood and womanhood. Those old grandfathers or great-grandfathers of ours were the leaders, the founders of one of the very greatest population movements in all historic time. Their place in American history is patriarchal. Brain and brawn and noble example were their contribution to their new land. Measurable success was their reward.

Their children whom they brought with them or who were born to them after coming were typically a perpetuation, projection further into time, of the transplanted culture. The "byes" and the "gyerrls" of that generation, entered into the struggles of their parents with the loyalty, the joyousness even, which no time, no culture, faith and devotion can ever excel. The boy of that time of fifteen or even less, typically took a man's place at the long hard day's work. They inherited directly, if they did not feel, all the sore trials and all the credit for meeting them heroically, of their fathers. That inheritance is ours, to recognize and to live up to if we can.

St. Mary's founding family names, including some few who came later than the mid-century decade, marrying into founding families were as follows: Barry, Brennan, Broder, Burke, Cashman, Conry, Collins, Craghan, Donahoe, Dunn, Duggan, Dunbar, Fahey, Ford, Grady, Grogan, Guthrie, Healy, Higgins, Hogan, Hynes, Keveny, Kelly, Linehan, Langhan, Loughan, Murray, Mockler, Moroney, Nestor, Nohilly, Quinn, Raftery, Rooney, Shaughnessy, Shiel. They were all from Connacht, mostly Galway County, except four from Munster: Barry and Cashman from Cork, Duggan from Tiperary, and Moroney from Limerick.

During the four to five years, 1846-50, there came to the United States, about three quarter million Irish immigrants, men, women, and children. The Mexican War arose during that brief period, accomplished its dubious mission and passed. It added to the national domain the vast area which was later to constitute six large states, thus extending the horizon of ambition, already far-flung, of every citizen, new and old. In the ten years following, 1850-60, there came a full million and a half more. So that at the opening of the Civil War there were substantially two and a quarter million Irish-born included in the thirty-one million population of the country. Of this two and a quarter million of Irish immigrants about forty families began their first experience in permanency since leaving "home" in the little string of settlements along the LS & MS Railway right of way which later formed and now is St. Mary's parish of Wakeman, Ohio.

There is not and there never was any outstanding fact or condition or personality attaching to St. Mary's or it's environs which might allot to its special attention historically. Its right to be the subject of an historical sketch arises entirely and only out of its being simply and quite perfectly typical of many hundreds if not thousands of communities formed of mid-century Irish immigrants in more than a dozen states. With a mere change in names and but slight change in background, the story of St. Mary's is one capable of expansion to include the whole two and a quarter million whose coming upon the shifting and very stressful scene did impress the nation and affect the tide of events for all time after.

Wakeman is a village on the New York Central (LS & MS) railway some forty miles west from Cleveland. It probably caught some glimpse of glory during the beginnings of the town building era. If such glimpse appeared, it faded with the economic shifts which were lethal to the country shops, blacksmith shops, cooper shops, wool carding and the invariable grist mill. Like the membership of St. Mary's its population has remained static for sixty years or more.

It is about twenty miles from the western limit of the Western Reserve. This Western Reserve dates from King Charles II (1660-85). That good-natured prince in one of his easy moods granted to the chartered colony of Connecticut all the land between the 41st and 42nd parallels of latitude from the west line of Pennsylvania to the "south sea" as they called the Pacific Ocean in England. Those parallels mark the south and north limits. That some thousands of miles of French and Spanish territory lay between England's undefined areas and the "south sea" did not occur to the Stuart conscience. When some 115 years later the Northwest Territory was given form by Congress and federal attention was given to the straightening out of clashes of claims inherited from the prodigality of kings, old Indian treaties and the like, this strip, "New Connecticut" along with others of like origin became the subject of compromise. It shrank to some 4,000,000 acres, eleven of Ohio's ridiculously small counties. The 41st parallel is at the south line of Huron and the counties eastward. The 42nd runs through Lake Erie. Connecticut, along with other states in the new nation ceded to the federal government, her title, with a proviso which "reserved" first right to her citizens as settlers. It followed that the first settlers were all New England and mostly Connecticut Yankees. They had taken up the land by purchase from the federal government beginning about fifty years before the bounding industry of railway building brought the Irish to participate in the vast development then setting in.

The regional background in the Western Reserve and the five states carved out of the Northwest Territory differed in some minor features from that in other parts into which the mid-century immigrants flocked. To the immigrants, these differences were negligible. To them the problems incident to following the job were about the same in Western New York State, Ohio, or in Missouri with its Virginia-Kentucky population base. Seriously, they bent themselves to the twelve-hour day's work, to keeping the family as near together as possible, planing to grasp the first opportunity to acquire some degree of permanency, somewhere. Generally speaking the opportunity came quite soon. "Times were good." The nomadic life, "wintering in box-cars" was a brief transitional period followed by shanty life along the rights of way.

It is quite impossible to close reference to the regional background of our Irish settlers without a word upon the fine orderliness of the Yankee farms in the Western Reserve as it had begun to flower when the flood of immigration came. A definite style of rural architecture marked the Yankee home. Pure white, two-story front, one-story rear, green blinds on windows, ample lawn with fine shade trees, flanked often at both sides by the invariable fine apple orchard. Other fruit was rare in early times. The wonderful apple orchards in our little area were a legacy from "Appleseed Johnny". This adventurer came up the Lake and picked the mouth of the little Vermilion River for a landing point. He followed the stream to some spot near Wakeman where he began his new life work upon the surrounding forest, his entire possession being good health and a bag of apple seeds. That was about 1820. He left his impress upon the countryside to last perhaps indefinitely. Trees from his nursery, some of them as big as oaks, were still to be seen, many of them, when I was a boy. His name was probably Denman although I have heard that disputed. These orderly homes and farms and orchards of the old Yankees appealed on sight to the awakening ambitions of the hearty immigrants. In due course they were followed as patterns, when thrift and hard work brought those ambitions to realization. In later years some of them "out-Yankeed" the Yankees' own.

Among the old Yankee family names prominent during the years of immigrant settlement were: Beaman (of pepsin fame in later years), Beecher, Butler, Bright, Canfield, Denman, Denton, Dereamer, French, Griffin, Gibson, Harris, Hyde, Humphrey, Parker, Parsons, Pierce, Scott, Sherman, Shelton, Todd, Tuttle, Weeks, Wright. These names as well as many other, if one might extend the area, were borne by families of excellent standing, mostly of the second generation from original Yankee settlement in the Western Reserve.

The LS & MS, southern division, was built from Cleveland to Toledo in 1851-55. The little string of settlements later to make St. Mary's took form as the workers shifted from their box-car habitations into groups of shanties from Oberlin to shortly west of Wakeman as the rails were laid down. In 1853 a young Irish missioner, Father Healy, began attendance upon the settlements from Elyria. In 1862 the settlements were set over to Norwalk, ten miles west to be attended as a mission. Within those years several of the families had acquired land. The distinction of being the first to buy a farm goes by all dependable legend to Tom Conry who bought a small tract not far from Kipton in 1858. That old Celt was a fine example of manhood by every test. Old Tom's wife was a Burke. She too was proud of her name. They were a couple of high character and founded a family tree in their new land, representatives of which are numerous and in many places bearing names of Conry, Dunn, Grady, Murray, Hogan, Ward and others. Jimmie Shiel bought his first little tract of land the same year, '58, some couple of miles from that of his friend, Tom. Since Tom was the first to buy land, Jimmie had to fall back upon assertion of his claim to being the first in Wakeman Township, thus establishing pre-eminence in one important point in the story of Irish land ownership in the settlements.

In rapid succession the families acquired land. Yankee holdings were in large tracts and were being split up as land values increased. "Times were good". War and its excitements had their various effects, as it approached, was fought and passed. The new railroad was being ballasted with gravel hauled from near Berea to as far west as Elmore, every yard of which was handled by shovel. Bridges were built of stone also quarried at Berea. Butler Road and Green Street and the road crossing them formed the center of a growing and eventually solid settlement. The railroad was a purchaser of fire wood in immense amounts. The old Celts were realizing that greatest of all earthly ambitions, "a home ay me own". Families were growing. The thing needed above all was a "chapel". The older Irish never got away from the use of that word. It had acquired almost saintly veneration during the generation at home when they were directed by the law to use it. When the penal furies began to relax and papists in both islands were allowed finally to worship in the open, the law in its new extreme of tenderness allowed houses of worship to be built under certain rigid restrictions. One of these was that the houses should not be called churches, but chapels. The word, church, was reserved by the law for the Establishment. You will find in Ireland today a St. Michael's, a St. Ann's, a St. Mary's, both chapel and church in many cities. You will find in England a St. Chad's, a St. Edmunds, both chapel and church. Though the word had not the distinction attaching to it at home, yet the older Irish clung to it. In 1862 the Norwalk pastor, Father Thorpe, purchased for his mission, a site in the heart of the village. I have never been able to learn why nine years followed before a chapel was built. I have never known of any disagreement among the settlers as to location. There was a brief period, no doubt, when Kipton would have been more central. Mass was celebrated regularly, sometimes in houses and much in rented halls or store-rooms, both in Kipton and Wakeman and occasionally in Oberlin. In '71 Fr. Healy sold the site and with the profits started the building of a chapel on a site at the edge of the town which was donated by a good-natured Yankee, Horace Griffin. In early times the new site was felt to be a surrender of the pride that should be expressed in location. Later times with highway improvements have made the site one of the most appropriate and beautiful in all the country-side. Good old Fr. Healy from St. Mary's in Norwalk was our pastor for many years before and after building the chapel. He sometimes had and always needed an assistant, a "curate" as the older ones said it.

The chapel was built in 1871. Much of the work of building was done by the men of the parish. John Broder and his brother Dan, the only "old Bach" in the settlements, furnished the split oak shingles for the roof. Probably its first Mass was a nuptial Mass for Mike Connelly and Mary Colllins.

Since Fr. Healy's time there have been to date some twelve pastors, most of them serving for brief times, young men assigned soon moved to more arduous fields in growing cities. In order of their service, leaving out dates, they were: Fathers Nunan, John Quinn, M.L. Smith, E. Sauvadet, J. Hannan, J.J. Quinn, P.J. Shea, M.H. Casey, Leon Lentsch, John Kelly, Francis Stanton, J.I. Williams, and the present pastor, Fr. E.A. McLaughlin.

Of those who are gone there were three whose terms were longer and in their aging and final years, namely Frs. John Quinn, P.J. Shea and John Kelley. They left an impression upon the whole countryside, without, as well as within their fold which will last while memory lasts. They were soggarths of the true Celtic type, immigrants themselves, fond of the simple honest life of the soil. They illustrated the happy truth that it is in the least "important" parish that one may find betimes the profoundest scholar and philosopher holding forth as pastor. The fine tradition of those grand old men is being carried on now by Father Mac, as he is to all his affectionate flock, young and old.

Thrift among the immigrant Irish was more than a necessity. It was a virtue. Anything short of the most scrupulous attention to it was sinful. By their thrift and the good times following the war they all prospered. Within a few years all the younger immigrants were married, most of them settling near home. My father and P.T. Conry bought adjoining farms in Townsend Township in 1869 thus establishing the "Town's-ind" part of the parish. Jim Murray bought a farm near Clarksfield, sometimes alluded to as "County Mayo" and Matt Dunn settled up in south Camden Township, "The High Country". These outposts all grew to be considerable little settlements, some miles apart from the "main stem", Green Street and Butler Road.

The old Celts of St. Mary's, as those of their type over the nation, were not oblivious to a single shift of conditions in that tine of immense and sudden shifts. Not by any means were they all extensive or profound readers. Probably not one in five of them would venture to write a letter. They felt and acknowledged the handicap of limited formal schooling which covered but the rudiments of learning. Even those had been in some instances not in the English language. Yet there was not a one of them who did not achieve out of his experience, his wit, his capability to observe and think, a creditable mastery of the art of making himself understood. In short, they were intelligent, even though uneducated according to the standardized sense of education today. For illustration I choose two from among the younger immigrants who, having almost no formal schooling yet, became by dint of disposition, energy, intelligence, and seriousness, truly outstanding men whose opinions merited and were given highest respect. These were Mike Ford and P.T. (Patsy) Conry. Though Mike died before 60, he had become one of the most capable and broadly intelligent men in all the countryside. P. T. Conry lived to fine old age and appeared to accomplish improvement constantly with the years to the last. There were others, many of them, not highly tutored but capable to illustrate the Celtic sprightliness of mind. There were Patsy Barry, Martin Conry, Danny Hynes, Tom Burke, Jim Murray, to mention but a few. A chapter might be well given to the mixture of anecdote and serious incident which memory might present in proof of the deep fundaments of common sense, honesty, wisdom which underlaid the candid wit which gave them voice.

Death began to make its calls upon the old generation in the 70's. Tom Conry, one of the first, dying in '79. The 80's increased their toll. At the turn of the century the ranks were thinning fast. Finally, with seeming suddenness, the time came when in the words of Gray's poetic line of lament, "one day we missed them". It is a joy to reflect that their consistent devotion to the faith that sustained them during their heart testing experiences sustained them without exception, in their supreme hour.

They were a generation of men and women the like of which our nation will never see again. It does not appear possible that it is the world scheme that their story can ever be repeated in actual life. No span of life-time length can ever subject a generation to severer tests than they met and fulfilled according to the proverb. Tests of success as well as of adversity. Hardship, even famine, did not overcome them with despair. Success, for them comparative opulence, did not spoil them. They stuck to the faith, they stuck to the soil, they stuck to their birthright of common sense.

Special thanks to Sister Edna Michel, pastoral leader of St. Mary's Wakeman, for providing this.