Our daughter, Nicole, and William Callaghan III are getting married in September. At the engagement party, I had the privilege of meeting Bill’s grandpa, William Callaghan, Sr. Despite the fact, we come from completely different ethnic groups – the Callaghans are South Side Irish, while we’re West Side Irish – I discovered a remarkable connection between our two families.
I already knew I’d find a personal connection with Grandpa. We both graduated from the same high school, St. Ignatius. Grandpa is 92, so naturally he was a few years ahead of me. Amazingly enough we had the same teacher, Fr. Grant. “Skippy” Grant as he was called still looks like his old self, only now he’s a statue in the school’s garden.
Grandpa still looks good, too, considering he’s the school’s oldest alumnus. Until recent years, he was water skiing on Lake Michigan. He’s also had a long and successful career as head of Henry Bros. Construction Co. The almost-century old firm specializes in building churches and schools. They built the church where I grew up, Ascension, but that’s not our only link to the Callaghans.
When I asked Grandpa which parish he was originally from he said Our Lady of Peace, in Chicago’s South Shore community. I’ve always felt a bond with this church, because my great-uncle, Father Ed, founded the parish. Fr. Ed had been a chaplain during World War I, hence the name of his new church.
I’ll never forget Grandpa’s reaction when I gave him this news. His eyes lit up like a little kid’s and he said, “You mean Fr. Rice?” He told me one of the stories from his never-ending supply. He was 7 years-old and wanted to make his First Communion but church law requires that a First Confession come first. So, on a Saturday night, his mom took him to Our Lady of Peace.
The church had a rule against children making their confession on Saturday nights. There were apparently too many adults who needed absolution. When the young boy entered the box and began his confession, the priest thundered three times, “Get out!” Feeling a bit shell-shocked, he stumbled out of the confessional. His mom quietly took him by the hand and said, “Don’t worry, Fr. Rice will hear your confession.”
Despite this unfortunate incident, Grandpa remains a devout Catholic, praying the Rosary several times a day. He also lives for his high school reunions and has only missed one in 75 years. He still has a classmate left, Joe Shannon, who annually reminds him of the time he caused a fire in the chemistry lab. The teacher’s immortal words were, “Callaghan, I smell smoke!”
At fourteen, he drove his father’s delivery truck to St. Ignatius. This was before such niceties as driver’s licenses. After he graduated in 1939, World War II erupted. He found work as a flight engineer on transport planes flying gasoline from India over the Himalayas to China. The unarmed B 24’s were dubbed “Flying Coffins.” The Rosary got a workout during these perilous flights, especially the time the pilot and co-pilot fell sound asleep.
After the war, he joined the family business as a carpenter. He also met his bride, Maxine, at a hotel dance. After 65 years of marriage, she remains as lively and devoted as ever. Today, family and faith mean everything to Grandpa. He has a meticulous memory that stretches back to the family bungalow at 7925 S. Luella Ave. He remembers that just a short distance away was a vacant lot, where a war-weary priest erected a shrine to peace and heard a boy’s First Confession.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.