This is Part One of the series "Finding My Roots" by Angelus contributor Tommy Tighe
In early 1982, an eighteen-year-old girl had a baby she knew she wouldn’t be able to care for.
The details are sketchy, but the story goes that she was Catholic and understood the value of continuing the pregnancy and offering the baby up for adoption, which she bravely did, giving him a chance at a wonderful life despite the odds not being in his favor.
After being taken care of by Catholic religious sisters and a foster family, that baby finally found his forever home just three weeks after he was welcomed into the world.
That baby is me, and thanks to my birth mother choosing life in spite of the overwhelming circumstances, I was adopted into a loving and incredible family where I grew up with a deep love of the Catholic faith and opportunities and blessings far beyond what I deserved.
The family I was adopted into proudly identified as Irish on my paternal grandfather’s side, and despite having a Swedish grandmother and a mixture of cultural backgrounds on my mother’s side, it was always very clear that we were an Irish family. We cheered for Notre Dame on Saturdays, went to see Celtic rock bands whenever they were headlining the annual local Irish Festival. We carried a deep sense of pride about “the old country” none of us had ever visited.
I loved it.
I embraced this Irish heritage as my own, and 36 years after my adoption I still have an Irish flag proudly hanging in my garage, I still prefer Guinness and Smithwick's to any other liquid trying to be passed off as good beer, and I still work to incorporate the traditions associated with the feasts of great Irish heroes like St. Brigid of Kildare and St. Patrick.
The beautiful Catholic identity of the Irish people and the great catalog of holy heroes who walked the island spreading the Good News of Jesus and His Church are certainly something to be proud of!
It was only after meeting an old Italian priest for confession moments before a Traditional Latin Mass in Santa Clara, California about 7 years ago, that I started to question it all.
As I walked in to share my deepest sins face-to-face, the old priest looked up at me and asked, “Español or Italiano?”
I didn’t quite understand his soft, aging voice, and asked him to repeat the
“Spanish or Italian”, he restated.
“Oh, um, English”, I responded, thinking he was asking what language I wanted for my confession.
The old priest paused, looked up, and asked again, “No, no. Is
your family from Spain or Italy?”
“My family is Irish, Father,” I said, with a hint of the aforementioned Irish pride in my voice.
The priest smiled. “The Irish are good people, more Catholic than the Pope! But you, my son, are definitely not Irish.”
Definitely. Not. Irish.
Something about this ancient priest made his words seems as true as anything I’d heard before.
The confession continued in the typical manner, but this interaction left me asking myself: Could it be true? Am I something other than the only thing I’ve known all these years?
And that brings me to today.
I’m sitting here, staring at my computer screen, wondering if I should click the checkout button on the 23 and Me website, wondering if I should start a journey toward finding out where my ancestors actually came from.
For those who may not know, 23 and Me was the first company to begin offering autosomal DNA testing for ancestry way back in 2007. Over time, they have fine-tuned the science behind their testing, and are currently able to use a small DNA sample (by way of customers spitting into a test tube and mailing it back to them) to give you information about your ancestral origins, including discovering where your ancestors lived more than 500 years ago. The company promises to break down your ancestral heritage into the tiniest of regions, providing an accurate glimpse into your family’s ancient past.
I’ve thought about doing this on and off over the past few years,
not for the purposes of finding my birth family (I’ve actually never had
any interest in that at all and plan to opt-out of this feature), but rather
for exploring my ancestral identity.
Seven years after that confession with the aging priest, I’m finally feeling ready to find out, and my mind is flooded with questions about what I might find:
Will I be disappointed if I end up being Irish after all?
Will my wife be able to keep up with my predictable desire to drastically shift our weekly dinner menu after I become instantly obsessed with the country of my ancestors?
Will the discovery of my ancestral origins lead me down a path of discovering a Catholic devotion or spirituality I previously knew nothing about?
There’s only one way to find out.
I’m clicking the checkout button at 23 and Me, and I’m bringing you along for the ride.
Tommy Tighe is a Catholic husband and father of four boys. You can find out more about him at CatholicHipster.com.