Fr. Dale Matson
One of the greatest gifts that I have received is the legacy of lineage. In many families there is one person who assumes the role of the custodian of the family history. At some point in our lives, we begin to appreciate those who came before us and contributed to who we are. Our ancestors provided a genetic endowment that causes physical characteristics and pushes us more quietly in other ways. How many regret not asking grandma or grandpa the questions about the family before their passing? My wife Sharon videotaped an interview with her grandfather and parents before they passed.
Our personal path may seem linear but our journey is actually more circular. You can go home again. There is almost a mystical quality that emerges when one investigates the family history. It is a treasure hunt assisted by the hand of God.
Celtic Cross On Grosse Isle
My father’s family left Ireland and arrived in Grosse Isle, Quebec, the year the immigration point opened, in 1832. They had a land grant parcel near Cranbourne, Quebec from the King of England for service in his military. The title to this cruel “gift” of land was entitled “Wastelands of the Crown”. I could not put a shovel into it. It was unsuitable for farming. The current owner’s new home rested on the old Matson foundation. An infant Matson died on the journey in what were later dubbed, “coffin ships”, during the potato famine. Grosse Isle has a large anachronistic Celtic cross overlooking French Canada. The cross is also a symbolic tombstone for the British plantations in Quebec. Matsons were buried in Cranbourne and later moved by the French to a consolidated gravesite at Christ’s Church of Springbrook near Frampton. The last Anglican families left in 1952 after planting forget-me-nots around the church. We retraced their steps further and found ourselves back in Ireland.
St. Salvator's Church
My family came from Cornacreeve and Glaslough in County Monaghan in Ulster. County Monaghan is one of the three Ulster counties in the Republic of Ireland. My family came from an area of County Monaghan that juts into Northern Ireland like a peninsula. They were tenant farmers on the Leslie estate. The Leslie family history is lengthy and full of bishops. The Glaslough cemetery is full of Matsons. I returned home with dirt from their graves and put it in my yard. Bishop John Leslie erected St. Salvator’s Church (Church of Ireland) on his estate about 1665. Although many public records were destroyed by fire in the 1922 uprising, many records remained in the local churches. My family history was recorded in ledgers contained in cardboard boxes in the belfry of St. Salvator’s church and the Sr. Warden trusted us to make photocopies in town.
Sanctuary of St. Salvator's Church
We attended Sunday services and communed at the same rail of my ancestors’ centuries earlier. I was a part of the communion of saints who had gone before.This was a journey that continued to unfold before us as word of mouth spread that the Matsons were visiting. We were directed from place to place and family to family. In Ireland, we were family. I was reconnected to the vine. Some Matsons had stayed and I met cousins no longer named Matson. Another branch left for South Africa. Time was set aside for us by those that remembered my family. I was edified and warmed by the kind words said about them.
And Ireland itself welcomed us. What a verdant land of history. The very soul of Ireland is represented in the Trinity College Library that includes the Book Of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Brian Boru Harp. The countryside is a living monument to Christianity. We visited the Fore Abby after a rainstorm and the mist surrounding it provided a portal to the 7th century.
In discovering the history of my family, I discovered parts of myself along the way. It is not just about us. It is about us in the context of family. It is a true gift to have and to know and to acknowledge. Thank You Lord. Amen