The Inside Story

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The Special Olympics And A Special Wedding

I arranged to see Catharine that same evening in early May 1972.  For the next ten nights straight we went out dining, dancing or to the theatre.  Sometimes Catharine would come for breakfast.  I also began sending flowers and telegrams to her office on a daily basis.  This was about as normal for me as getting up at midnight to floss my teeth.  But nothing was normal these days.  I was in a new space, one I had never inhabited before.  This wasn’t puppy love in Hyde Park or infatuation over a weekend.  This was the real thing.  I had sensed in Catharine a depth both mysterious and translucent, a spiritual quality that rang true.  Add to that an effervescent sense of humour and a musical laugh that tinkled like Christmas bells.  Would she marry me?  Yes, she would.  I don’t understand now why we waited ten years.

That same evening.  Catharine went to a large family gathering where she told her mother she had become engaged.  A few days later I was invited to meet her mother, Victoria, in her elegantly furnished apartment off Avenue Road below St. Clair.  In some respects Victoria, affectionately called ”Aunt Queenie” by her close friends and family, fitted the description of a mulier fortis, a matriarch, in the Old Testament.  She was a woman of character, faith and wisdom garnered over long years rich in experience, people and giving to others.  Her life was centred on her extended family.  Her father, Robert J. Fleming, ”the people’s Bob,” had been mayor of Toronto in the 1890’s.  Her husband, Walter Turnbull, a Protestant missionary, had been killed in a car accident before their only daughter, Catharine, was born.  Victoria never remarried but devoted her life to her family, her friends and her many charities, especially those related to the church.

So in terms of background our meeting was a curious one.  Victoria had come from a long line of northern Irish forebears rooted in the Protestant tradition, a tradition that viewed Irish Catholics and some of their superstition and drinking habits with, not to put fine point on it, some suspicion.  And here I was in her spacious living room, not only an Irish Catholic but former Jesuit priest, ostensibly asking for the hand of her only daughter in marriage – ”ostensibly” as the question was academic, since Catharine, like her mother, had a strong mind of her own and had already made it up.  Nevertheless, Victoria expressed her concerns about our relationship, then explained to me how she and her large family had been praying since Catharine was a little girl that the Lord would provide the right husband for her.  Summoning all the years of Jesuit training going back to Aristotle’s advice on how to make one’s case, I replied quickly, ”All your prayers have now been answered.”  In spite of herself, Aunt Queenie’s sense of humour surfaced and we both relaxed into our chairs and began to discuss plans for the wedding.

There was one problem that seemed insuperable.  It was one thing for Victoria to agree to her daughter’s marrying a Catholic; it was quite another to agree the marriage should take place in a Catholic church with a Catholic priest.  Catharine told me frankly this would be asking too much of her mother.  So we took our problem to a senior official in the Catholic Archdiocese who promised to take it higher.  To my relief, Archbishop Pocock gave permission to have a Protestant minister officiate at our marriage.

So on August 19, 1972, a hot cloudless day, Catharine and I were married in the chapel at Bishop Strachan School which she had attended.  An old friend of Catharine’s family, Canon Dann of St. James Anglican Cathedral, presided at the ceremony, assisted by my good Jesuit friend, Father Edward Dowling.  Afterwards the reception for our family and friends was held at the Hunt Club overlooking the sparkling waters of Lake Ontario.  We drove to Muskoka for a few days of canoeing and swimming, then to the shores of Lake Simcoe to Victoria’s splendid sixty-years-old summer home, Peribonka, named for the river in Quebec where she and Walter had spent their honeymoon.  For Catharine and me on our honeymoon on Lake Simcoe, they were happy days.

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Jean P.

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