Irish in Rondo


I must go down to the place where all the ladders start, 
the bone and rag shop of the heart.
—William Butler Yeats

by Patrick O’Dougherty • Flashback: I was going through some old family photographs after my Irish Catholic father died of cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in 1986. I came across a photo of my mother taken of her while at St. Benedict’s College at the time she met my father. It was a black-and-white photo in which she was wearing a beautiful bonnet. It reminded me of the song, “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.”

Including a calendar, date book, restaurant reviews, essays and poems about Saint Paul, the Saint Paul Almanac is a rich resource for anyone wishing to explore the cultural and social depths of Saint Paul throughout the year.

My Story: problems with schizophrenia and a mother conflict. James Joyce thought the “one true thing in life is a mother’s love.” My social worker/writer mother, Patricia Coyne-O’Shaughnessy, got me involved with Hope Transition Center and Guild Hall after I was the victim of an armed robbery, which gave me post-traumatic stress disorder. I lived at Guild Hall in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. I was under commitment while a resident of Guild Hall.

I had problems with unconscious protrusions while a freshman at St. John’s University, where I was a history major. Unconscious protrusions are unwanted thoughts and dreams and nightmares that protrude into the consciousness against one’s will. I had problems with racing thoughts and fragmented thinking, such as problems with focusing thoughts and thought-tracking problems. I also had mother-conflict problems. My mother has a very strong personality that cuts both ways. My mother lost her first child, so my father named me Patrick after her.

My mother recently sent me some articles about the opening of The Great Gatsby at the Guthrie. She recollected she met my father while her relatives were living on 669 Grand Avenue in the old F. Scott Fitzgerald neighborhood of Saint Paul. James O’Dougherty, my father, proposed to her on the landing going down the steps from Summit Avenue to Smith Street by the James J. Hill Mansion.

My mother and I had a long talk about Guild Hall, which was a psychological/psychiatric group home where I lived and worked after a psychiatric commitment. Guild Hall is run by the Guild of Catholic Women. It was originally a home for single, working women who moved to Saint Paul looking for work. While I was there, Guild Hall was directed by Jan and Russ Djvergstan. I was the janitor at first. Later I worked in the kitchen with Mrs. Christiansen and Glen Pittlekow.

Fascinated by labor history, I did history research during the day at the Minnesota Historical Society. I studied Civil War census data and city directories. The city directories of Saint Paul showed fluidity in the turnover rates of occupational categories, and this suggested that the thrust of economic change came through changes in economic occupations and their new landscapes. I privately worked at Industrial Steel, loading barrels onto trucks, at Twin City Hide, sorting the hides, and at the Victory Parking Ramp as a cashier. These jobs made labor history a lived experience for me. Manual labor gave focus to my thoughts and helped stabilize my thought-tracking problems. Medications brought my schizophrenia under control.

My doctor at the time was a young physician named Patrick Stokes. He was a dark Irish Catholic, the son of a police officer from the Washington Park part of Chicago. Dr. Stokes was not very good with the medications, and his personal advice would not be approved today. For example, if you asked him about sex, he told you to find a girlfriend. Father Tegeder got us involved with a book discussion group in the basement of the cathedral’s rectory on Christ Amongst Us: A Modern Presentation of the Catholic Faith by Anthony J. Wilhelm. Through the pain of therapy and the joys of living together, we learned to see Christ in each other. This is the truth of Guild Hall. Located on Marshall Avenue, Guild Hall became the Marshall of our hearts. The Guild Oblates, Father Mike Tegeder, and later Father Michael Skluzacek, introduced us to the Benedictine Oblate movement. The word oblate relates to gift and to charity. Through this spiritual discipline, I became a Benedictine tertiary, a minor status. This discipline gave a spiritual and justice focus to my fragmented schizo-affective personality. My own diagnosis is that I have a narcissistic personality with a creative, divergent-thinking cognitive style.

We frequently went on dates to W. A. Frost, Gallivan’s, and the Commodore Bar, where F. Scott Fitzgerald used to hang out. We went to the Wabasha Caves and to the Ford Caves when they were still open, where we wrote I love you notes in the limestone with candles. The Ford Motor Company used the sand in the caves to make automobile windshields. We danced at the Prom on the Midway, which featured the Dick Kast Combo. After my father’s death, Dick Kast married my mother and became my stepfather.

I attended Central High School for computer class instruction in the evenings and learned how to create a computer menu. While attending Central and Guild Hall, I read James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and James Baldwin’s Another Country. I was heavily influenced by these artists. I went back to graduate school and I won a fellowship to study in Havana, Cuba.

In 2001, I moved back to Saint Paul after a court hearing, and I joined St. Peter Claver Parish, the old traditional Black Catholic Parish in Saint Paul. At a birthday party at Golden Thyme, the staff told me my mother resembled me. The photo I had found helped me deal with repressed issues in my relationships. Are my mother and I like repressed dream sequences formed out of old Great Gatsby narratives? In part, the answer is yes. My mother’s photo turned my childhood and my dreams into a meditative reflection on growing up in the Fitzgerald Rondo Guild community of Saint Paul. This is growing up Irish in the Rondo/Fitzgerald community of Saint Paul. Get the picture? Blow it up!

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