The Gawler family came to Walton at just the right time this month.
Bad news has been the regular currency for our town most of this year. The school budget was slashed again. The economic plight has only seemed to deepen over the winter with more store windows boarded over on Walton’s main street. And the lines grow at our local food bank. One of our close friends, Judie, another dear friend and next-door neighbor, Paul, and a soldier back from the wars, Adam, all passed away this month. They were widely known, loved, and highly respected in our town.
My wife and I knew the Gawler family from our visits to relatives in Maine. We invited them to come here, the parents John and Ellen, their daughters, Elsie and Edith, and Edith’s husband Bennett with their guitars, banjo, mandolin, cello, fiddles and singing voices. On Friday, they made musical presentations in the elementary school where arts programs are threatened; they led a singing circle on Saturday afternoon in our library and capped all this with a concert in our historic Walton Theater on Saturday night.
After their visit, several images come to mind. I see children at the elementary school gathering around the musicians after their school presentation; the children are hungry for more. I see the smiling faces of adults and a child who gathered at the library for a singing circle workshop. And I see the Gawler family on stage at the theater sharing with us several magical hours of music. A friend commented that not only was the music wonderful, but the family radiated a joy in the music and with one another that was infectious.
One other memory lingers. When the Gawler family heard about our friend Judie’s wake a few blocks away from the library, they asked if they could pay their respects and sing a song for the family. They walked to our friend’s house, stood in a corridor between two large rooms filled with people at the wake and sang. The song lingered long after they were gone in the hearts of those who mourned Judie and celebrated her life.
Soon the Lenten season will climax with celebrations of the great Paschal liturgies recalling the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. These stories and mysteries are not just events in the past. In small and larger ways these patterns are with us all – now. With faith and hope, we can taste, hear, see, and feel them playing out in our own lives and the lives of our communities.
Jim Haggerty and his wife live in Walton, a small N.Y. rural town in the foothills of the Catskills. They are both retired. Jim is a former Jesuit who spent several years in the Society in studies and active in various apostolic works. He taught in a Jesuit high school and in a higher achievement program for children from the inner city, worked in prison ministry, and at Nativity Mission Center in New York City. After leaving the Society, Jim worked for the thirty years with Catholic Migration and Refugee Services, United States Catholic Conference and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, CLINIC in various positions. During this time he obtained a law degree. Before retiring he was director of special projects working on a national effort to assist immigrants and asylum seekers in detention centers across the country. In this effort he helped develop a partnership with the Society of Jesus to create law fellowships in Jesuit and Catholic law schools. Jim and his wife were also “support people” for Jesuit volunteer communities in N.Y.C. for several years. After retirement Jim served on the Board of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and more recently he serves on the Board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. (IVC) Jim and his wife are active in their local town. Some of Jim’s favorite community efforts are playing traditional Irish music in a weekly session and helping run a monthly “coffee house.” The “session” raises money for a soup kitchen. The monthly coffee house brings free music to Walton.