Sunday, April 1, 2012

Finding a Little Bit More

In locating the envelope for the first letter from Dan E. Reilly to Agnes Tully in Chicago, a penciled-in note on the back provided my first confirmation that he was, indeed, a priest.

Well, maybe. The “Fr.” seems a little ornate. Or could it mean “From”?

Seeming to be one who never will be pinned down with certainty, this Dan E. Reilly, first writing from Tucson in Arizona, then East Las Vegas in New Mexico, is also elusive when it comes to other records. With certainty, I can say that he returned to Chicago in time for the 1910 census, showing up in the household that includes the current pastor of St. Anne’s Church and several fellow assistant pastors. The census record itself clearly indicates that they were from that specific parish.

That 1910 census record becomes the sandwich meat between two invisible slices of bread. That we know Dan E. Reilly was born and—of a certainty at this point—died is a given, but when? And where?

Thankfully, a copy of a passport materialized at, showing Father Reilly’s date of birth to be “on or about” January 24, 1876. (Judging from his sole census record, that year may actually be 1875.) The passport, dated September 11 of 1907, indicates his intention to leave the United States for a period not to exceed three months. Indeed, a ship’s passenger list for the S. S. Carmania shows someone by that same name and profession boarding in Liverpool on November 23, 1907, to return to the port of New York by December 1 of that same year.

The passport tells us a little bit more about the man. Showing his signature as Rev. D. E. Reilly—same as the entry in the 1910 census and retaining that characteristic formation of the letter “e” as in Agnes’ letters—the document gives a rundown on his physical features. He is described as tall, measuring five feet, ten-and-a-half inches. His facial features include a straight nose, “medium” mouth, round chin, oval face and fair complexion. He has brown hair and gray eyes. For all that detail, though, it may serve rather to rule out others than to provide a confirmation of his exact appearance.

Bit by bit—albeit sans official documentation—a more complete picture begins to emerge about this enigma priest. He seems to want to properly exhibit patience and virtue in the face of suffering. His professional persona, however, is overlaid upon a soul who wishes to be back home among familiar friends and—perhaps—family. And deep within that wistfulness, he is not above harboring stereotypes and impatiences. His illness seems, to him, to be interminable.

Perhaps, in the face of that inner conflict, it is just safer to talk about the weather.

            We have been having at least Chicago weather of late. During the past two weeks I have beheld the top of the mercury column at 14 below zero on three occasions. The weather is abating now but still cold.
            But hot or cold, lukewarm or otherwise I could never get used to this land of the greaser.  How long I will have to stay out this way is still a matter of guess but I assure you it won’t be longer than I can help. Whenever you find time just send me one of your cheerful letters. I am always glad to get a note from you. It delights me to learn that you are all well. Keep it so is my earnest wish.

1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting find! He went back to the ol' sod for a bit.

    I was thinking perhaps he was a Deacon (at the time), the ranks of the priesthood befuddle me though. Just I search for "Deacon Reilly" as well.

    I'm thinking perhaps he died from his illness between 1910 and 1920, which would explain the "lack of records" to be found later on. However, Agnes would likely kept any such news in her "archive", wouldn't you think? And if he was in Chicago, the online death records for Cook County seem very extensive and complete. So where did he go?

    The complications of spelling his name (not to mention the O'Reilly variation) make this a head scratcher.

    Might this be him?

    Slim on the details....


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