Picture a south Bronx immigrant family. Picture a tough subway super and a devoted mother. Picture tenement poverty. Picture a wedding at St. Jerome Church on Alexander Avenue.
Much has changed in the south Bronx and much has stayed the same. On Sunday, February 14, 1909, Theresa Hanrahan and James Doyle were married at St. Jerome. On Saturday, June 27, 2009, five generations of Doyle descendants attended a St. Jerome centennial mass and blessed a new south Bronx couple. Brian Wynne, a Doyle grandchild, addressed the couple. Wynne was raised in Parkchester; he now lives in Florida.
“A hundred years ago, in this borough of the Bronx, at this church, before this altar, two immigrants of meager circumstance were married,” Wynne said. “I hope that a hundred years from now, a crowd of descendants will remember you, here in this borough of this Bronx, at this church, before this altar.”
Hanrahan and Doyle sailed to Ellis Island and the United States from County Clare, Ireland on the S.S. Campania in 1905. The couple met at a party in the Bronx. Hanrahan played the concertina; Doyle was a talented step dancer.
Nana and Grandpa, as Wynne knew them, moved frequently to escape the soot-stained tenements in Mott Haven. The couple lived on E. 134th Street, E. 135th Street, E. 136th Street, Park Avenue, Willis Avenue etc. Grandpa Doyle worked on the Third Avenue el, demolished in 1973. It was a dangerous job, clambering on the track, and an exhausting one. He toiled twelve hours a day seven days a week for two decades. Nana rose at early to wash and cook; she also worked part-time as a maid. She raised nine children, including Wynne’s mother, who cherished those Mott Haven days.
“She thought the Bronx was great,” Wynne said. “There were kids to play with and adults to keep you safe. You knew the policeman on the corner, Harry the Cop. You stopped by the vaudeville theater to dance and sing.”
Wynne was pleased to arrange the centennial mass and reunion. He owes Grandpa Doyle and Nana, Wynne said. The couple left Ireland and sacrificed so that Wynne and other Doyle descendants could enjoy life. On June 27, the Doyle family posed for a photo at St. Jerome and presented the church with a gift, then took a bus tour of Mott Haven.
“The Doyle story isn’t unique,” Wynne said. “But it is inspiring. Mott Haven was Irish and German then, predominantly Hispanic today. The goal is the same – raise a family, follow the American dream and send money home.”