Family Matters

Over the years, having a large family has been one of the chief joys and supports of my life. During the years I was in the convent, I was allowed one home visit a year after final profession, and during those visits, I could follow the progress of the families. After I left, I continued to visit Kansas City frequently and watched the families grow. Here is a look back.

I didn’t attend the marriages of Kathleen or Carol or Joe, but I got to know their spouses—Dick Connor, Bob Miller and Pat Graney-- well and felt they all made excellent marriages. Kathleen and Dick had six children through the years—Keith (b.1958), Brian (b. 1960) , Kevin (b. 1962), Brennan (b. 1965), Malachy (b. 1968) and Mary Kate (b. 1971). Carol and Bob had 4 children—Sean (b. 1959), Therese (b. 1960), Matt (b. 1962), and Marie (b. 1964). Joe and Pat Graney had three children—Michael (b. 1958), Mary Rose (b. 1963), and David (b. 1968). The four youngest were born after I left the convent, but the older ones may remember me visiting in my habit and playing the guitar, the Singing Nun. Each of these deserves a whole interesting life story, and I can only give a summary of what I have observed. These three families raised their children in entirely different ways.


Dick had grown up in the middle-class St. Francis Parish, with three siblings. As a student at Rockhurst High, he had enjoyed escorting girls from the Country Club area to the Jewel Ball at the Nelson Gallery, and he set his sights on that lifestyle. He graduated from Spring Hill in Mobile where he admired the gracious Southern lifestyle. He worked with Altman-Singleton as an insurance agent until he retired. While their children were young Kathleen and Dick had already moved in to a large Italianate home just west of Ward Parkway at 61st near the Plaza, in the Country Club District, in Visitation Parish, the Spanish style church/school on Main St. Their children grew up going to Visitation School. They joined the Carriage Club. Their friends were mainly from that area. Their lives were centered around family, parish/school and country club (The Carriage Club). Over the years he and Kathleen bought real estate properties, so that when he retired, they owned many buildings, which he maintained/managed himself. He always had a handyman working with him, and loved making home improvements. Kathleen said his favorite store was the hardware store.

Mother always complimented Kathleen because the Connor children were so well-behaved. “Get the lead horse in line,” was Kathleen’s motto. Dick backed her up. Keith understood, obeyed, and the others all lined up, except maybe Brennan. When Brennan grew up and married, he settled and raised his family in Seattle. At the Carriage Club, at Visitation, and later at Rockhurst, the five Connor boys were always involved in athletics and competed on team sports--on swim team or tennis teams in the summer, and soccer or football or ice hockey teams in winter. (They still can’t get together without organizing a tennis tournament, and even their children now compete with or against them in tennis.)

Dad was delighted to have five Connor boys--he picked them up on Saturdays and took them with him to his apartments, where they did lawn and maintenance work, for a small sum. "Slave labor," they called it. Their lot improved when they began cutting lawns. Their clientele expanded; each brother passed on his clients to his younger brother. By the time Malachy came along, there were so many lawns that he had to hire a helper and buy a pick-up to carry his mowers. He had $50,000 in a brokerage account by the time he finished high school. To this day Mal makes his living managing his own lawn care business. His workers now do any of the actual lawn work himself, leaving him free to get new clients.

With five brothers, Mary Kate (my god child) had to struggle to be noticed. She was teased by the boys and left at home to help around the house, so the boys would be free for their sports and lawns. "Hey, don't forget about me!" She grew up to become an assertive women. She went to Sion, then St. Teresa's and away to St. Mary's.  

Bob also had three siblings and had grown up in St. Francis Parish, a Jesuit parish. He had gone to Rockhurst High School and College, and remained very close to the Jesuits (I sometimes wondered if he hadn’t considered joining the Jesuits before he met Carol). He has always gone to daily Mass, and the Church is at the center of his life. Bob never cared about money or clothes or even where he lived. He always reminds us that Dad was horrified when he first showed with holes in his shoes. He never cared about money, but he made lots of it. After Rockhurst, he worked for McGee and Sons for a few years, then founded his own agency, Robert E. Miller Insurance, which his sons eventually took over when he retired. He too bought real estate properties. Amidst an increasingly affluent family and lifestyle, he prides himself on being the one who doesn't care about material things. His aspirations have always been to help the church through charity and philanthropy. Their children grew up with priests around the house, and were encouraged to get into Bob’s charities. The Millers used to have foreign students at Rockhurst from Eritrea or Central America or other impoverished countries staying with them.

Bob and Carol started at 103rd in Christ the King parish, but later bought a spacious two-story home with a huge basement, across from Avila College on Wornall at 119th. Bob's indifference to their surroundings has left Carol a free hand to be creative with the house and yard, which is fortunately on the largest lot in their cul-de-sac. Whenever I visit, she is usually involved in some redecoration project. Her first makeover was followed over the years by adding a ceramic center, then a whirlpool, sauna, entertainment center and gym to the basement; a deck, expanded family room and dining room, then totally new kitchen and another deck to the first floor. Her gardens have expanded to include several fish ponds and shrines. Recently she redid the two bathrooms on the first floor.
The Miller children went St. Thomas More for gradeschool. Bob believed in making the boys earn money too, but instead of accumulating money in bank accounts, they had to pay their own way through school. Instead of cutting lawns, the Miller boys at 10 (Sean) and 8 (Matt) were out with their dad cutting cord wood for customers. By the time they went to high school, they could pay part (Bob says “ALL”) of their tuition at Rockhurst. In high school, under their dad’s supervision, they started painting houses, beginning with their own. Carol watched Matt standing on the crossbar between two ladders, painting the second story of their house and prayed that he wouldn’t fall off. They eventually bought a compressor to do spray painting when possible. Their painting business continued full-time during the summers, even through their college years. They could pay half their college tuition (they finished in 3 years). Where Malachy had saved $50,000 in the bank, the Miller boys had to spend their money on college tuition, Bob bragged. He wanted them not to spend money but to make it.
Instead of going to a country club, the Miller boys went to the JCC where their swim team started at 6 a.m. The independence that Bob instilled in them led to some hair-raising moments for Carol. When Sean and Matt were 10 or 11. Bob sent them for a week each out to Colorado to help John Gallagher, an eccentric bachelor friend of Bob, paint and do house work in Pueblo. When Carol and Bob and the children drove out to pick Sean up after the week, poor Sean looked emaciated, Carol said. John Gallagher had no food in the refrigerator, so Sean had gone down to a diner in Pueblo each night, to see what food he could get. When Matt’s turn came, he went on the bus and mistakenly got off in Wichita. Carol later learned that he had accepted an invitation to go for a drive around town with a black man. Carol said “Our children’s guardian angels worked overtime.” Sean and Matt still talk about this.

Therese and Marie have their own story to tell. They were invited by Bob’s friend Fr. Gallagher to come to camp in Pueblo, Colorado. If they had known that it was the poorest diocese in the country, run by a Catholic relief agency, they wouldn’t have packed all their gorgeous play clothes. When they discovered that the other girls had no changes of clothes, Therese and Marie had to hide their extra clothes. And they stayed a second week. “They learned how the rest of the world lives,” Carol said.
Joe followed in his father's footsteps and earned a bachelor of architecture from Notre Dame, and then went on later to get a master’s from University of Illinois. He worked with Dad until he retired in 1970, when Joe started his own firm, Shaughnessy Associates, Architects. Joe and Pat chose to live in an older neighborhood, Roanoke, in Westport, on 3668 Madison, and their children grew up there and went to Redemptorist or Good Counsel for grade school.

Joe and Pat lived a life focused not so much on family as on neighborhood, politics, and in the 60’s, a more liberal Church. He and Pat were among the founders of Community One, a non-territorial parish that met for Mass on Sunday at Notre Dame de Sion and attracted priests like Norm Rotert and nuns and liberal Catholics, some associated the National Catholic Reporter. Publisher Michael J. Greene and his wife Biz, Donald J. Thorman (who replaced Mike as publisher and had written The Emerging Layman) and his wife Barbara. Community One echoed Thorman’s ideas (growing out of Vatican II) that it was time for the Church to give the laity some voice:

The church has dedicated herself to the education of the laity and now she has a better-educated and better-trained laity than ever before. The church has likewise encouraged the lay apostolate and she now has a large group of informed and alert lay men and women eager to be of service. But what does she do with them?

“These men and women represent a new force within the church. They are not rebellious or seeking power; quite the contrary. But they represent a growing reservoir of brains and talent that deserve to be - and indeed must be--utilized in the service of the church. Yet there are no clear-cut channels through which their voice may be heard, through which they may prudently and humbly exert a beneficial pressure on the Church.” .

Don and his wife Barbara were among Joe and Pat’s best friends. Also from Community One were Tom Slaughter, Walt Bodine, Jim Rice, Charles Brenneke, and Phyllis and Marion Trozzolo. Trozzolo was the college professor who developed the River Quay in the 70’s, only to have it ruined by the Mob in the late 70’s.

Perhaps it was Marion’s interest in and success in creating a vibrant neighborhood at River Quay that gave Joe his desire to promote and make the Westport/Roanoke neighborhood vital. In that neighborhood of Victorian homes Joe and Pat made some lifelong friends: Bob and Patty Regan’ lawyer Ned and Joyce Holland; Doctor Keith and Patty Kennard; lawyer Marshall Miller; lawyer Barton and Anne Blond; Jack and Jenny Cane; Ann and John Embry; lawyer Dean Williams (who owned the house that Pat later bought); architect Carey Goodman, who lived in house near the Canes (who bought Pat’s house and modernized it) Gordon and Sue Scholes; Chuck and ____ Schmidt; the Schroegers; and Roger Freeman. Some neighbors, like the Di Simones, came from Community One, which flourished post Vatican II. It became so large that it had to be divided in two and then it fell apart. At holidays, all the neighbors seemed to visit each other or have open house for the neighborhood. At Christmas, Mother complained that Joe and Pat and their children were always late for the family dinner because they had to attend all the neighborhood parties first.

Joe and Pat were drawn into politics because of their interest in the neighborhood. Jjust across the Southwest Trafficway from Roanoke lay Valentine, a neighborhood of small homes. Kansas City Life was systematically buying these houses up, renting them, neglecting them until they were condemned, then tearing them down, so they could develop the area for office properties. Roanoke fought Kansas City Life to keep the neighborhood and prevent it from deteriorating. Joe and Ned Holland and Joe Gillespie even bought a house there, vowing never to sell. Joe rolled the house over to Joe Gillespie, with the understanding that he could never sell “the little house on the prairie.”

This interest in neighborhoods would lead Joe into a political career—he ran for and won by a landslide a seat on the City Council. He was Councilman-at-large, 2 nd District, in 1971 for Roanoke. He spent his years in office trying to make the city aware of the needs of neighborhoods. This was the time of white flight and neighborhoods were changing very rapidly. He gained such prominence that he even ran for mayor in 1975, but lost in the primary. I gravitated to Joe and Pat’s friends because they were the liberal wing of the family.

Mother had been thrilled when Joe was a councilman and always in the news, but she wasn’t thrilled when he and our rascal cousin Ray (Bud) Johnson—who made us all laugh--opened Plaza Spirits together on the Plaza. What was Joe thinking? Didn’t he have enough to do as an architect and councilman without getting involved with a liquor store? She also didn’t know what to make of Half Inc. Development and Construction Co., his partnership with a black contractor. Nor did she know why he wanted to be a member of the NAACP. And there was talk of buying a farm with another of his friends. Didn’t he have a finger in too many pies? And when Pat announced that she was opening an architectural salvage business in the Olde Theater on Westport, Mother just shook her head. What about their children? The children were raised by the neighbors, Mother said. Indeed, whenever I was there, the kids were usually at the neighbors houses and the neighbors were at the Shaughnessys’. Mother complained that she was never invited to visit, but in the Roanoke neighborhood, no one was invited; they just dropped in.

Mike was sent to a variety of grade schools and ended graduating from Redemptorist. As a result, he knew few people when he went to Rockhurst High, as he wasn’t from St. Elizabeth’s or St. Francis or St. Peter’s, where all the other boys had gone through 7 or 8 grades together. He commented that Rockhurst was also a jock school with no incentive for artists, and he was discovering his artistic talent. Fortunately Father Jim White S.J. was there to stimulate that interest, but he was alone. Mary Rose went to Notre Dame de Sion to grade school and to St. Teresa’s to high school. David went to Our Lady of Good Counsel Grade School and to Miege High School, a new high school which Dad had designed. Mike worked at Safeway Store, then when Pat opened the Olde Theatre Salvage business about 1974, he worked there, as did David when he grew old enough.

The Olde Theatre Salvage store proved a boon for the Shaughnessy children and the neighbors’ children, who worked there when they were older. There was plenty for everyone to do. Even Barb Thorman became a kind of full-time assistant to Pat, when the business expanded. Pat eventually had rooms and rooms overflowing with architectural salvage items, and had to move to a larger space near Union Station. It was a time when old homes and buildings were being torn down to make room for new, and Pat had suppliers who scavenged buildings to be demolished and brought her tiles, bath tubs, toilets, doors, windows, paneling, external ornaments, elevators. She had a whole floor of great old furniture and stained glass and chandeliers. What a unique atmosphere. Pat felt she was rescuing history. She filled their house on Madison with a lot of those treasures.

Christmas in Kansas City in the Early Years

At Christmas I usually flew to Kansas City as soon as classes were out to join the growing family there. As usual Mother was happy to see me in the beginning but couldn’t wait for me to leave. I loved running around to visit the different families, while staying with Mother and Dad at the Regency Apartments on the Plaza. Deciding the taxes in Johnson County were getting too high, they had sold the big contemporary house on Seneca Road that Dad had built in Mission Hills and moved to a rental at the Regency in 1968 or 69. Dad had just retired (at 70), and Joe had begun his own firm. Their careers I will write about separately. At first Mother tried to maintain the tradition of holding Christmas at her house, on Christmas Eve, but her small table did not accommodate the growing families, so various traditions arose, and a ritual gradually evolved.

Christmas Eve we went to Carol and Bob's. As it was a fast day, supper was always clam chowder. Then Bob put on his venerable Santa suit and disappeared and before long “Santa” showed up in the homes all the families of friends and neighbors who had asked him to stop by. “Ho, Ho, Ho,” and the children were in ecstasy. Finally he finished making the rounds—Millers were his last stop--and the children could get down to business. They always had packages galore—mostly clothes, and they rotated opening in succession—Sean, Therese, Matt, Marie. Carol seemed to buy all the practical things they needed and put them in wrappings under the tree. The kids made it a game, shouting with mock delight as yet another pair of sox or underwear appeared, from, guess where? "The Warehouse Club!" they all shouted. I thought it was hilarious. Mother couldn’t take the noise. Opening could take hours. Who could keep track of all the things they received? We were lucky to leave by midnight, it seemed.  

Christmas morning, we went to Visitation’s earliest Mass, where we usually saw and sat with the Connors in the front rows, and after Mass stopped to greet Dick and Bernadette Miller (Bob’s brother) and all their children, and the many other families that belonged to the parish. Afterwards, we usually had breakfast at the Coffee Shop at the Alameda (later the Ritz) on the Plaza, where we were sometime joined by other family members.

Next stop was Madison Street, where we gave presents to Joe and Pat and their children. Novelty was the keynote at Shaughnessys. I was amazed at all the unusual books, toys and games Pat found. I saw the first Rubic Cube there, and the first David Macaulay book, Cathedral (1973). I could have stayed there all day, looking through their new art and design and travel and architectural history books. I guess their house was my favorite for stimulating my creativity. I often saw the Canes, the Embrys, the Regans, the Hollands, the Blonds, the Kennards if I stayed on and went around visiting the various neighborhood open houses (usually at the Regans).  

In the afternoons Mother and Dad and I headed to the Connors. Kathleen and Dick had by then taken over the big family Christmas feast after Mother and Dad’s small table in their apartment. There were always wonderful things to eat set out around on tables in the living room. Dick was offering everyone a drink. We could smell the turkey in the oven. Mother took her famous green bean casserole, rolls, possibly a pie out to the kitchen. Carol would bring something. Kathleen provided the turkey and dressing, salad and everything else. Kathleen has always been very organized. She would set her table days ahead, and on the buffet, she would set all the serving dishes with labels for what each would contain.  

The Connors celebrated Christmas along simpler, old-fashioned lines. They drew names each year and exchanged presents with a “Chris Cringle.” Gifts were limited to $25 top, possibly raised to $50 over the years as the lawn care business grew profitable for the boys. "Santa" knew just what each needed—a new sweater and jacket and pair of slacks from Jack Henry’s for each boy. A new sweater/skirt for Mary Kate. Mother liked it there. It was quiet and there was nice Christmas music. They were well-behaved--no shrieks. One of the children might play a Christmas carol on the piano. Dick’s mother Gertrude, his sister Marjory--a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet, she died early, alas-- brother Bunky and wife Maria and their children, and sister Pat and Mansour Naime and their children would stop and sometimes stay for dinner.

Carol and Bob always took their children to Christmas brunch at the home of one of Bob’s family—usually Mary Anne (Hense). There the many Miller, Hense and Roult cousins played together. By five, Carol and Bob were at Connors, and the wait began for the Shaughnessys. There were mutters and comments from Kathleen, who had everything ready to set out, and nods of agreement from Carol, but we all knew Joe could get away with it, for he was Mother's favorite.  

Finally the Shaughnessys came, and dinner could begin. Adults sat at the long dining room table, beautifully decorated, as was her whole house. The younger children sat in the breakfast room and the older at extra tables wherever there was space. There was always a toddler who was accommodated in the high chair in the kitchen. In the later years, Mother would say she was cold, as the Connors kept the temperature in the 60's. We were all used to it and wore sweaters and jackets. Mother also complained that the room was too dark; candles and low lighting were simply not enough. But the adults had wonderful discussions over the dining room table, and this tradition has continued to this day, with the children replacing their parents as the adults. After dinner, friends of the older children would stop by too. That was what was wonderful about Christmas in Kansas City. Everyone visited, and I could keep up with all the families at one time.

Over the years, on visits to Kansas City, I have migrated, from Mother and Dad's, to Pat and Joe's, then for many years to Carol's, and then to Kathleen's, depending on who had room. Kathleen even calls one room her "B and B."
I have availed myself of their hospitality and reciprocated whenever they came to Chicago.

(to be continued)

Slideshop of pictures from these years