Monday, December 8, 2014

Mystery Monday: The Case of the Ordination Cards


Back in 2012, I made mention of these ordination cards that I came across while sorting through my mother's personal effects. Within the pages of one of my mom's prayer books, I found these two cards. Each one commemorates the ordination of a man into the Roman Catholic priesthood in Dublin, Ireland. 

The first card is for John J. Murphy, whose ordination took place at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral on 14 June 1924. He celebrated his very first mass the following day. The second is for James H. Flood, who was ordained on 11 June 1927, with his first mass also celebrated the day after his ordination.

Although my family history research has led me to uncover the ordinations of men into the priesthood on my father's side of the family, to this date I have not yet uncovered any evidence of a priest, or priests, on my maternal family tree. So, the discovery of these curious little cards left me with a number of questions.

The first aspect of the cards which gives me pause to wonder is the names of the ordained. To this point in time neither the surname 'Murphy' nor the surname 'Flood' has revealed itself in a blood connection within our family. Who were these men? Are they connected to my family tree? If so, to whom are they connected?

The second detail on the cards which elicits questions is the dates. Both of these events took place years before the birth of my mother. My mother was born in 1931, and these cards date to 1924 and 1927 respectively. Since these events took place before her birth, why were the cards in my mother's principal prayer book? Also, how did my mom come to have them, and who had the cards before her?

The more ornate of the two cards is the one pictured above, which commemorates the ordination of John J. Murphy. The image is more colourful, is replete with Catholic symbols, and bears raised embellishments on the corners. The information on the back of the card indicates that the ordination is to take place at the Pro-Cathedral, the acting Cathedral for the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin, Ireland. Although the second card does not indicate the site of ordination, the ceremony for James H. Flood would also have taken place at the Pro-Cathedral, since this is the church of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin.


In my opinion, the differences in the quality of the cards and their embellishment may reveal a couple of things about the men for whom the cards were created. Consideration of these elements leads to more questions. Such cards would have been ordered and paid for by the family of a man being ordained, or by the man himself, thus the phrase 'my ordination'. The ornate card would have been more expensive to produce, so does the card for John J. Murphy imply some wealth in his family? The card for James H. Flood is black and white, and very simple. Is this indicative of his family's standing, or is it simply an overt expression of his vow to poverty?

It could be the case that each one of these cards is simply a souvenir that was picked up by a member of my mother's family, perhaps her mother or father, when they attended the ordination ceremonies of the priests in question. As members of a Roman Catholic congregation, as long as there was room in the Cathedral, they would have been allowed to attend the ordination, whether or not they were related to the man being ordained. However, it strikes me as curious that the cards were kept for such a long period of time if neither of these men were connected to our family.

There is a possibility that the cards were kept, not because of a connection to those being ordained, but because of a relationship with the Archbishop who ordained them. Early in his career as a priest, the Most Reverend Archbishop Dr. Edward Byrne, then simply known as Father Byrne, served in Rolestown, North County Dublin. He served as parish priest in the church in which Alice Fitzpatrick Ward — grand-aunt and guardian of my mother Mary and her siblings — was baptized and later married. Alice was a long standing and generous patron of the church, so perhaps she maintained a relationship with Father Byrne over the course of his career. Thus, the cards may have belonged to Alice, and they may have been given to my mother upon Alice's death.

Although it remains unsolved, and the case of ordination cards has led to many more questions than answers, I still do love a good mystery.

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