A Flower Girl’s Memories, 50 Years Later

Fifty years ago this very day, I was a 10 year old officially serving as “junior bridesmaid” at my sister Dorothy’s wedding–not  a “flower girl” mind you–I was too grown up for that, according to the bride.

Mom still wouldn’t let me wear pantyhose for the wedding, though. In her mind, that fairly recent invention was a bit risque for a 10 year old. I was stuck wearing those babyish little white “anklets” with my black patent leather shoes that little girls wore back then when they weren’t donning saddle shoes on their feet.

Disappointed and resigned to my fate, this semi-bridesmaid, was grateful just to wear that shimmery rose colored dirndl dress with the big bow in back to lead the procession down the aisle on this most important family occasion.

Dorothy’s wedding that beautiful, sunny, cloudless day, was the biggest event in my short little life in the autumn of Fifth Grade.

A family wedding, uniting Dorothy Desmond and Terence Vaughan, October 12, 1963.

The wedding uniting Dorothy Desmond and Terence Vaughan, October 12, 1963, at  St. Augustine Catholic Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The wedding took place at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Yes, that IS a real town and I did grow up there.) The date? October 12, 1963, a date now known as “Columbus Day” which has since become etched on our calendars as a national holiday and the kick-off to the fall fashion season. (So much for the man who landed in America in 1492.)

The wedding announcement in the Kalamazoo Gazette.

The wedding announcement in The Kalamazoo Gazette.

The wedding also occurred less than 6 weeks before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963–another date in my up-to-then brief life, which, like most baby boomers, has been hard-wired into my brain.

To say the early 1960s was a “time of innocence” and “another era” is beyond  understatement.

Like so many others, our Irish Catholic family of ten had undergone–and would continue to undergo–many  changes as the children grew up and moved on with their lives. Our parents, Dorothy and Gerald produced eight children between 1936 and 1953. Barbara, the eldest, who was 17 years older than I was (the “caboose” of the clan), was already a married mother of three on that balmy day when she served as Dorothy’s Matron of Honor.

Our two other sisters, Colleen and Diane, (better known at the time as “Sr. Mary Joachim” and “Sr. Mary Phillip”), had left home several years earlier to start new lives with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Michigan. They were serving as teachers in Catholic schools in suburban Detroit. Convent rules at the time, forbade nuns to attend weddings, so they weren’t allowed to witness their own sister’s marriage. Funerals? No problem: they could attend all the funerals they wanted–just no weddings.

(What was up with that? Were the higher-ups afraid the good sisters–MY sisters–would change their minds, want to flee the convent, don a white gown, and march off with a husband to some other new life? Well actually, that IS pretty much what happened eventually, but more about that later…)  

Sr. Mary Joachim (Colleen) in the car, and Sister  Mary Phillip with her back to the camera, prepare to congratulate their sister Dorothy on her wedding day.

Sr. Mary Joachim (Colleen, in the car), and Sister Mary Phillip (Diane, with her back to the camera), prepare to congratulate their sister Dorothy on her wedding day.

Colleen and Diane, my renegade sisters who were now also “Sisters of St. Joseph”, went rogue the day of that family wedding, outsmarting their Mother Superior as well as  the rules. They confiscated a convent car, and drove by St. Augustine’s  immediately after the ceremony so they could see their real sister exit the church as the new “Mrs. Terence Vaughan.” A cherished moment for them all.

(How did they “confess” that sin to the priest the following week, I wonder? I guess I’ll have to ask…on second thought, I’d better not–that’s confidential between them and their priests.)

I remember so well that day from my childhood–all the fun, excitement, and folderol that goes with any family wedding. It was a pretty big deal for a 10 year old girl. But looking at these photos 50 years later is also almost surreal. It’s like I’m standing on the outside looking in, knowing not only how that day played out, but how the Desmond family story progressed over the next five decades.

I see so much more in those images in hindsight now, of course. I remember our family life on Hawley Street back in 1963. I know where each of us was headed then, though we didn’t know it ourselves at the time; and I know how things have turned out for us all, thus far.

The passage of time will do that.

Our parents are gone now. Two of their grandkids are gone now, too.  And so is the groom who married Dorothy that lovely October day. And like everyone else who’s entered and left this world, we’ve all had (and continue to have) our share of victories, defeats, challenges, and run-of-the-mill humdrum days. I guess that’s why it’s called “life”. And ultimately, I guess it’s why most of us want to share it with someone we love–to help us get through the hard times and celebrate the good ones.

So fast forward with me to 2013 for an update on the cast of characters who played significant roles on that special Desmond family occasion in 1963:

I’m happy to report that the leading lady and her leading man shared 45 wonderful years of marriage together before God had other plans. Five years ago, the  groom, Terry, left his bride, Dorothy, with four sons, four daughters-in-law and five grandchildren who carry on admirably in his absence–a testament to their own marriage which was consecrated 50 years ago today…

Fr. Frank Holland, S. J., cousin ogf the bride, who officiated at  Dorothy's marriage on October 12, 1963.

Fr. Frank Holland, S.J., cousin of the bride, with his mother (Aunt Grace) and another wedding guest. Frank officiated at
Dorothy’s marriage on October 12, 1963.

The priest who celebrated that wedding Mass, Fr. Frank Holland, S.J., who also just happens to be our first cousin, (there were priests and nuns in many Catholic families back then), went on to serve as pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church on Chicago’s west side; pen two books on religious themes; leave the priesthood; marry the woman of his dreams; and continue serving his fellow man through peace and social justice pursuits for the remainder of his life. Cousin Frank died two years ago at the age of 93…

The Mother of the Bride, Dorothy Donar Desmond, succumbed to cancer seven years after Dorothy’s wedding at the age of 58, leaving three sons and a daughter on the threshold of adulthood. (Have you really been gone for 43 years, Mom? So many things you’ve missed out on: six kids’ weddings, 22 grandchildren, numerous grandkids’ weddings, and oh, I can’t begin to count the number of great-grandchildren you have now)…

The Father of the Bride, Gerald Desmond, carried on in his wife’s absence (serving as father AND mother to this child/teenager at times–clothes shopping? make-up? doctor appointments? really?). He did it though,getting those last four kids out the door and on their own ’til God took him back again in 1979.

Dorothy Donar Desmond and Gerald Desmond, parents of the Bride.

Dorothy Donar Desmond and Gerald Desmond, parents of the Bride.

The Matron of Honor, Barbara Desmond Kellay, went on to have one more child before moving with her new family from Michigan to Minnesota, North Dakota, Alaska, and Oregon where she resides today with her husband of 56 years. We don’t see you often, Barb, but we sure enjoy our time together when we do…

Diane and Colleen: those two nuns in the family I mentioned earlier?  Like many of their colleagues at the time, they left the convent, traded in their habits for miniskirts, and enjoyed the single life for a brief time as the late 1960s gave way to the 1970s. They eventually married, as well, (despite being sheltered from witnessing their own sister’s marriage), and went on to have kids and grandkids of their own…

My brother Gerry, was a high school senior in 1963 when he stood up in Dorothy’s wedding and the increasingly unpopular Viet Nam war continued to escalate overseas. He went to college for a bit,  joined the Air Force, finished his degree when he came back home, then married and had two kids, as well…

And Brian? Ah, yes… the “hippie” in the family…He sowed his oats by growing his gorgeous blonde hair to his waist at a time when I wore a “pixie” (like actress Mia Farrow and model “Twiggy”–celebrity icons of the day whose close-cropped locks were part of their claims to fame). Brian moved to California for awhile to share life on a commune with his girlfriend, Lorene, who remains to this day the love of his life, after what? — 40 years? 42?  Who’s counting anymore?  And yes, they too, eventually married and now have three kids and eight grandkids of their own…

Big brother Vinnie, like his brother Brian, was an “altar boy” that October day in’63,  serving the priest at his sister’s wedding. He married Kris in Crane Park ten years later when they were just wee ones (21 maybe?). They’ve got over 40 years of marriage and three kids on their marital resume, as well…

Which brings us back to the Flower Girl

Well, she just celebrated 60 years on this earth, 30 of them married to her best friend, Mark. She enjoys watching her own two grown daughters find their ways in the world navigating this thing called life–which  she continues to observe and comment about on this blog known as GeneaJourneys.

A toast to the bride and groom, Mr & Mrs. Terence Vaughan, October 12, 1963.

A toast to the bride and groom, Mr & Mrs. Terence Vaughan, October 12, 1963.

So, here’s to all of the Desmond clan: to their marriages, their births and their memories–and to all of those yet to come…



Copyright © 2013 Patricia Desmond Biallas

This entry was posted in Biographies. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to A Flower Girl’s Memories, 50 Years Later

  1. MarkB says:

    Wow…I teared up as I got near the end…I really enjoyed it.

  2. Rebecca Black says:

    Lovely memories. Thanks for introducing us to your extended family.

  3. LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson says:

    It is a lovely, lovely narrative! (BTW, we are the same age).

    • Thanks, LaBrenda. It’s such a treat to get feedback on things we write that is so personal, isn’t it? Nice to see that our thoughts actually resonate with others. (BTW: 1953 was a good year: I’ve got no issues with my age at all. Beats the alternative!)

  4. What a beautiful tribute to your family! Thank you for sharing.

    • Jen, I remember that day like it was yesterday! And to think how life has evolved for each of those family members over the last 50 years. Amazing what we can see with 20/20 hindsight! Ultimately, though, it’s all good. Thanks for taking the time out to share your comments.

  5. Wonderful post, Patricia. Isn’t it amazing to contemplate the passage of time? Oh, and happy birthday!

  6. Nancy says:

    What a terrific post, Patricia! I often just glance over some of the very long posts but for some reason your post captured my attention early on and I couldn’t stop reading. I found it interesting that 3 of your family members left the convent/priesthood and then married. And I think socks were the perfect choice for a 10-year-old girl in 1963. You looked perfect!

    • Thanks, Nancy. I appreciate your patience in reading through to the end of this Desmond recap. My posts do tend to run a little long (that’s the old feature writer in me breaking through), but if that’s what it takes to get the story out, that’s just what I have to write! As for all those nuns and priests in this story: one of those nuns married an ex-brother and the priest married an ex-nun!

  7. Phyllis LaMontagne says:

    Hi Patricia,
    I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed your post! Your sister Colleen and I are dear friends even though I’m lucky if I see her once a year. We met three years ago at a Brothers’ reunion in Alfred, Maine where Norm and my husband Roger were in the novitiate. They also taught together at Cathedral High in Detroit back in the turbulent 60’s. I was in the convent also here in New England at the same time as Colleen and Diane (fifteen years for me); when I left, I met Roger, we married, had two kids, and now have four wonderful grandchildren. I had the pleasure of meeting Dorothy and Diane last summer in Royal Oak ( my name in religious life was also Sr. Mary Philip!). And yes, we could not attend weddings – I missed my brother’s wedding but was able to attend my parents’ and grandparents’ funerals!! Thanks again for this wonderful biography.

  8. Diane M. Desmond says:

    I just loved reading this! What fun to get your perspective on those years.
    Well written and enjoyable to read.
    Love, big sis, Diane

  9. Dorothy says:


    What a fascinating story–even if it was my day. The summary of all of our families provokes lots of memories. Nice when we tell the same versions (!) Did not realize your socks were an issue–you looked great. It’s 50 years later and I tell you, you’re probably wearing sox right now. Thanks for a great story.

    The Bride.

    • Dorothy ~

      Glad you enjoyed the recap of 50 years of Desmond history. Yes, fashion and the times have changed. No little white anklets or black patent leather shoes for me today ~ more like Dearfoam slippers and pajama pants as I crank this out in front of my 27″ Apple iMac enlarged to 200%!

      (Oh, and thanks for letting me use your special day as the setting for this trip down memory lane.)

      Love, Patti
      (The Flower Girl)

  10. Jana Last says:


    This is such a wonderful post!

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/10/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-october-18.html

    Have a great weekend!

    • Thanks so much for sharing this story, Jana. I’m sure many of your readers can relate to it in their own ways as they ponder their own families’ passage through time. Such a treat to be on your Fabulous Friday Finds of the week!

  11. Claudia says:

    I just found your blog today and what a wonderful tribute to your family.

  12. Louise Hanson says:

    I just found your post and have read it with great pleasure. In doing so, it brought back vivid memories of my husband, Larry, and my wedding almost 52 years ago (Nov 18). It also has jogged me to begin writing down these stories for my own family and friends, as I’m not getting any younger (73), but don’t feel as I’m getting older most days. I also was married in a Catholic ceremony, after converting and being baptized one week before our wedding! I was baptized and made my first confession on a Friday evening in a cold church (the priest caught a cold) and made my First Communion the following day, with my fiance serving as the alter server. What memories you have stirred up and for this I thank you. Blessings to all of your wonderful family and prayers for your family members that have gone on to their Heavenly home.

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Louise. I’m glad I helped bring back some lovely memories for you. Sounds like there are some there that could make a good story for your own family. I encourage you to do just that by writing it, typing it, or just speaking it into a tape recorder. Only you can share your story the way you remember it, and your family will be very grateful that you did. Don’t worry about it being “perfect” or starting at the beginning–that’s what editing is for. The important thing is to just get started by doing a “brain dump” and taking it from there. You can also inquire at your local library or community college to see if they may have a writer’s group or memoir writing class that may help you get started. Thanks again for following me on GeneaJourneys.

  13. Lorene says:

    I laughed and cried at this wonderful post. Thanks for putting it all down in such a lovely way!

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