In the latter part of 1996 brother Bob found something from Mom’s many, scattered hand written notes. It was a picture of the Most Reverend Bishop William A. Griffin and a newspaper clipping, dated July 1952, of Right Reverend Monsignor John J. Murphy. Both contained the notation “cousin of my mother Josephine Fay” (whose maiden name was Josephine Murphy). The Rev. Griffin was Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton and the Monsignor was the active pastor of one of the largest parishes in the U.S. at that time, famed Sacred Heart Church in Vailsburg, Newark.
The search for more information produced letters written to the Chancery Office of the Diocese of Trenton, the Catholic Historical Society of Seton Hall University, Archivist Office of the Diocese of Trenton and the Chancellors Office of the Archdiocese of Newark. A response was received from all, but the information received was concerned mostly with their lives in the priesthood. Some personal information received on Rev. Murphy was that he was born 12/17/1876 in Jersey City, NJ and baptized the same day in St. Michael’s, Jersey City, NJ and whose parents were Daniel and Mary (nee Fitzgerald) Murphy. His schooling was at De LaSalle Institute, St. Peters College and Seton Hall. He was ordained a priest on 9/21/1901. In September 1933 Pope Pius XI elevated him to the rank of Monsignor. He was a Catholic Historian, ardent politician, and much in demand public speaker, according to Msgr. Wm. Noe Field, Archivist of Seton Hall. Monsignor Murphy founded the Holy Name Society. He said that legend has it that Msgr. Murphy’s father ran a highly successful tavern in Jersey City and that this may have accounted for his absolute intolerance of all drinkers and taverns. Unfortunately, a political endorsement from the good Monsignor was known as the “kiss of death”. He was Hibernian (The Latin and poetic name for the island of Ireland.) in his outlook and as a result founded, in Sacred Heart Parish, a fine library of Irish literature. He also loved sports and every time the NY (baseball, not football) Giants were playing at home, he would accompany his Archbishop Walsh to the games and sat in his box in the stadium in NY. They died within five weeks of each other in 1952.
Bishop Griffin was born in Elizabeth, NJ November 20, 1885. His parents were John and Catherine (nee Lyons) Griffin, and they lived in the parish of St. Patrick of the Port. He was ordained 8/15/1910 and was assigned to Seton Hall, first in the grammar school and then as Professor of Latin and Philosophy. He was made a Monsignor in 1929 and a Bishop on May 1, 1938. He was involved with migrant farm workers who entered the State and were badly mistreated and poorly paid and was against parish segregation by nationality or color and founded several inter-racial parishes. He died on December 31, 1949, and his nephew Father Curral administered the last rites. One of our correspondents, a Monsignor Seymour, sent a copy of our inquiry to a Rita M. Murphy of Allenhurst, NJ who was involved in a similar search for her roots, and expressed sorrow that we were not long lost cousins. She put us in touch with a Sister Kevin Harrington of St. Joseph’s Home, where Mom and her sisters lived, and she put us in touch with Sister Theresette Hunting, province Archivist of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. The latter provided the following information –
Irene Fay – Date of birth 1/20/1899, baptized 2/3/1899. Father’s name – John and mother’s name was Josephine Johanna (nee Murphy). Home address – 47 Green St, Jersey City. Date of admission to St. Joseph’s Home 6/17/1904. Date of discharge 4/1/1914 to Mrs. Julia Plate, 450 36th Street, New York City.
Elaine Fay – Date of birth 2/13/1893 (Since admission date was the same as Mom’s above we believe this to be Aunt Helen and she would have been 11 years 4 months old on 6/17/1904). Parent’s info and address are the same as above. No discharge dates but the notation “working at St. Mary’s”. Helen did work for the Nuns in Jersey City all of her life and commuted there daily from our home in Brooklyn.
Julia Fay – Date of birth 7/3/1901. We have her date of birth as 1903 and feel it is more accurate. Mother and fathers info similar to above. However, her date of admission to the Home is recorded as 10/23/1909, five years after her sisters, possibly due to her young age in 1904, too young for the Nuns to care for? Date of discharge 1921 (no month/day) with the notation “Boarding at St. Mary’s”, also a further notation “Brought by Aunt, Mrs. Julia Plate”. We do know that a New Jersey couple who apparently treated her well and made sure she went to school adopted Julia. Unfortunately we don’t know their name.
According to notes left by Mom, Mrs. Julia Plate was her father John Fay’s sister and her notes also reveal the name Elaine Fay with (Helen) noted in parenthesis right after it. Since we were all surprised about Aunt Helen suddenly becoming Elaine, we have made some of the following assumptions. Her name was Elaine Helen and she either preferred Helen or there was something about Elaine that did not give her good feelings about herself. She, and Mom, had their Irish superstitions and when she did not want to talk about something she would ignore you. Once a bird flew in the house and she said “there will be a death in the family”. She never put hot wet tea bags in the garbage bag because she thought they would start a fire. When brother John’s daughter Linda was born they were thinking about naming her Julia but Mom would not hear of it, saying that it was a bad luck name for her sister Julia and her aunt Julia Plate. Mom referred to the latter’s husband Frank as a handsome drinker who wore a uniform; turns out he was a doorman. It would appear to us that Julia Plate was instrumental in placing the three sisters in the Home and also removing them from it. One of Mom’s deep secrets, which she never liked to talk about, was that her dad was an alcoholic. This may be the reason the girls and their brother John were not taken care of by their father after their mother died in 1903.
Among other secrets that Mom did not discuss, especially to her 4 sons was apparently revealed to my niece Debbie many years ago. Debbie said… “I loved her stories because they painted such an endearing picture of her as a girl, she seemed to be so mischievous and funny”; my kind of girl. She told stories of the chores each girl had to do and that they often worked in-groups of 2 or 3 and rotated chores — clean floors, do dishes, etc. There was one job that the girls absolutely hated, especially Nana. In those days, women wore a garment resembling a diaper during their menstrual cycles, and they had to be washed by boiling them in a large pot on the stove (Think I’ll pass on the chicken soup, Sister). Nana said that aside from the obvious, she hated standing over the boiling water stirring these unmentionables and that it was backbreaking since everything was so heavy. On more than one occasion she decided to lighten the load a bit by throwing some in the trash outside. After telling this story Nana thought for a moment and said “You know, I never thought about it before but I guess I invented the first disposable sanitary napkin”. Nana also told the story of the many times she and some other girls would, after lights went out, crawl into one bed and get under the covers and tell spooky stories or talk about boys, sometimes one of the younger Nuns would join in. They would get in trouble because of the loud giggling and Nana suspected her “Goody-goody” sister Helen of blowing the whistle on them. Helen denied it.”