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Keeping up with Mrs O’Brien in the Speed Rosary event


Olympic trials are underway, and in practically every sport the key elements are timing and breathing. If there’s a Catholic Olympics, my 91-year-old mother-in-law, Beatrice O’Brien, and I are teamed up for the Speed Rosary.

Boy, she’s fast. I’m just up to the “and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus,” when she’s already taken the baton and is halfway down the decade with the “Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us sinners,” and I’ve got to be ready with the “Hail Mary full of grace” again by the time she’s at the “now and the hour of our death. Amen” -- or we lose the rhythm.

About which, more in a moment.

I call her at least once a week, and we say the rosary over the phone.

She’s just back from 12 days in Ireland visiting her sisters Peg, 89, and Winnie, 86. They’d had a Cuddihy family Mass in Silvermine, Tipperary, with lots of nephews and nieces. But no rosary.

Bea has macular degeneration and can’t see, and her hearing isn’t that great, but there’s nothing wrong with her mind, her sense of fun or her flow of jokes. With which she regaled sisters, nephews and nieces and her traveling companions, granddaughter Karen, son John, and grandson, Rowan.

My latest for her: the one about the tipsy priest saying the Stations of the Cross who begins at station 14 and works toward the beginning. He’s halfway through when the pastor walks in, sees his condition, rebukes him and tells him he’s started at the wrong end.

And the priest replies, “I thought the fellow was looking less stressed as I went along.”

Her current favorite: the lonely lady who buys a female parrot. The parrot talks, but all she does is swear. The lady mentions her plight to the parish priest who says, “Well, I’ve got two parrots, and all they do is pray. I’ll put your parrot in the cage with them.”

And when he does, the two parrots look at each other and say: “Thanks be to God, our prayers have been answered.”

Now to hear that delivered with expert timing by a 91-year-old with a Tipperary lilt is a privilege -- and it’s a privilege the folks at the Alzheimer’s Center, where Beatrice goes as a volunteer twice a week, regularly share.

Regularly share, for the fact is she’s able to tell them the same jokes every week. And each week, they enjoy them.

On Bea’s return from Ireland, we found we weren’t out of rosary practice, but maybe slightly out of rosary breath. For, as rosary reciters well know, each half of the Hail Mary is one breath. Inhale too deeply and you cough, too little and you peter out before the end.

But we’re picking up -- and our timing’s approaching the miraculous. Currently we’re working toward the Catholic triathlon. Our Hail Mary’s a guaranteed silver. The Glory Be is a certain gold. The Our Father, we both admit, needs work for even a bronze. But we’ll get there, TG/SAG (or Thank God/Saint Anthony Guide.)

Arthur Jones is NCR editor-at-large. His e-mail address is ajones96@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, September 1, 2000