Overcame tragedy through Faith, Family and Friends
Mary Finnegan was born in Euclid, Ohio January 4, 1939. She was to become the only daughter of her Irish born parents, Thomas and Bridget, but not the only child. In addition to Mary there were four boys (Tom, Bob, John and Mickey).
"Imagine how spoiled I was. I was a brat. I had four brothers taking care of me and my mother worked very hard, but not outside of the home so she was always there watching out for me too."
She attended Holy Cross Catholic Grade School and graduated from Villa Angela Academy in 1954. She just finished planning and attending her 50th class reunion.
After she graduated from VA Mary went to work for a Dentist's office and then downtown to The East Ohio Gas Company as a service rep. "My father and all of my uncles worked there - it only seemed natural."
She met a young man by the name of John (Jack) Fitzpatrick, also from Euclid and married him in 1959. Jack was a 2nd lieutenant in ROTC at John Carroll University. Shortly after graduating from JCU in 1960 he spent 6 months in the Army at Fort Eustis. Mary continued to work until 1961 when the first of her five children, Sharon, was born.
When Jack got out of the Army as a Captain in the Reserves he went to work at U.S. Steel. Eventually he was transferred and the family which now also included Peggy, John and Judy, all moved to Minneapolis.
"This was the best growing experience of my life. I was forced to do things for myself after being taken care of by my brothers and parents."
Pittsburgh was the big steel force at that time and when the next transfer came in 1968 she was hoping they would go there. "Now looking back, I don't know why. My family was here, but somehow I thought it would be better to go to Pittsburgh". But the transfer brought her back to Cleveland.
Jack's parents lived in a house in Euclid at this time. They got word that Jack's brother, Tom, was killed in Viet Nam and it affected them so deeply that they wanted to sell the house and just move. They didn't want the memories of young Tom in that house anymore, it was just too painful.
Jack convinced his parents not to sell the house rashly, but rather rent it to him and his family while they decided if apartment life was really what they wanted. So Jack, Mary and the four children moved into their home.
In December 1971 Mary's world would change forever. Seven months pregnant with child number 5, Mary and Jack took their children to see Santa Claus. It was December 21 - four days before Christmas. Mary and Sharon were not in line. By now, Sharon was ten and not willing to do something as childish as talking to Santa Claus. So Mary and Sharon stood off to the side, not really paying attention to the line or what was going on.
A man and his family pushed their way up in the line, refusing to wait their turn. People grumbled, they moved up further. Again people muttered under their breath and the man and his family pushed their way up further. Finally, Jack Fitzpatrick spoke, telling him to wait his turn like everybody else.
There were words, words and more words. And then a push. And the man took out a knife and stabbed Jack Fitzpatrick ten times with the blade, fatally wounding him 4 days before Christmas in line to see Santa Claus with his children.
Mary and Sharon had no idea what was happening. Someone took the children out of line and put them in a separate room and the store employees told Mary only that Jack had been in an argument and was taken to St. Vincent Charity Hospital.
Not knowing where else to turn, Mary of course turned to her brothers. They came and picked her and the children up and took them to Charity Hospital.
She passed a priest she knew and spoke lightly to him, not having any idea that he had just anointed her husband with the Last Rites. Jack was buried on Christmas Eve.
The Doctors were very concerned about Mary and her pregnancy. They were afraid the stress would put her into premature labor, so they kept her well sedated. She delivered their son, Tommy on Feb. 22, 1972, two months after the death of her husband.
The man responsible was caught that same night. He went to trial in May. Mary wonders how different the outcome would have been if she had gone to the court everyday with her five children in tow. But, at the time, she was advised not to, and only went one day.
The jury convicted the man of manslaughter and he was sentenced to 2-20 years. He was released after one.
Of course Mary was still living in the home they were renting from Jack's parents. Jack's father came to Mary and told her "As long as I am alive, you will have a roof over your head." He sold her the house for half of the market price, and tried not to accept even that. But Mary insisted and lives in that house to this day.
At age 34, Mary was a widow with 5 children all under eleven years old. For the next few years Mary describes herself as "in shock" and "numb".
Mary Fitzpatrick with her Mother and Brothers
"Everybody was so good to me. His friends from John Carroll had a fundraiser and the City of Euclid had a Basketball Game to raise funds. There were so many things. I didn't go to most of them, now of course I would. But I don't know how to explain it - I was numb for a long time."
"So many people were so good to me and my family. Teachers and other parents helped out to allow my kids to play sports and do after school things. I could never have kept up with 5 kids and driving them all over. My parents, Jack's parents, my brothers, the neighbors - absolutely everyone. I look back now and wonder if I showed sufficient gratitude. I was just so numb."
Mary finally came to accept the reality of it when, months later, she went to approve of the headstone. "There it was. John E. Fitzpatrick and I knew it was real. I cried for the longest time."
Mary doesn't hesitate when asked how she got through it all. "It was 100% faith" Mary is a devout Catholic and to this day goes to daily Mass at St. Williams.
When Tommy went to Kindergarten Mary went back to work part time. She worked for a Dermatologist for ten years and then went to work at Briardale Golf Course in Euclid before going to work for Euclid City Hall.
Mary Fitzpatrick at work
After five years with the City she was laid off and out of work for just a few weeks before she went to work for the County, where she stayed for eight and a half years.
Mary retired in 2003 and has never been busier.
She is in excellent physical shape, partially due to the active life she leads and partially due to the exercise she gets. In addition to an exercise class, Mary takes Irish Ceili Dance classes (set dances).She also takes care of her 97 year old mother, who is also in very good shape.
Mary has done some traveling, Florida, Washington, Ireland and side trips here and there. Her favorite trips are to see her grandchildren. Her daughter Sharon now lives in Maryland. She has 3 children.
Mary Fitzpatrick with her Children and a Priest friend
Peggy and Judy live in Concord and have three children apiece as well. Son John lives in Fairport with one child and Tommy is single and living in Chicago. In all she has eight grandsons and two granddaughters ranging in age from 1 year to 18 years old, with seven under seven!
Mary Fitzpatrick with son Tommy at graduation
She keeps up with the world by never missing a day of reading the paper, the community paper, magazines, books and anything else she can get her hands on. She is proud of her Irish heritage and is active in the Irish American Club, East Side.
Mary is also a golfer, though she doesn't brag about her scores.
"I have a family history of the "Irish Curse" - drinking, but the affected members are all now in AA and doing well."
Mary tells this to show how important family strength and personal faith is "Otherwise you just couldn't get through everything"
A self proclaimed "strict-parent" Mary is proud that all of her children have college educations and are doing well, even though "Sometimes I had to fight them to make it happen".
She is troubled with the morality of today's world. She believes in the power of kindness and respect and would hope that young people would turn back to that instead of continuing with the "High School Hatred" she sees so evident today.
Mary Fitzpatrick with her children
Mary has never gotten over Jack's death, but she has certainly played the hand she was dealt with class and tenderness. Sometimes she sees couples growing old together and she wonders about what could have been, but she quickly pulls herself back to the real world and is grateful to God for so many blessings.
Mary Finnegan Fitzpatrick is such an inspiration to all of us who think we have been given a raw deal.
She is strong, smart, funny and inspirational. If you ever have the opportunity to meet this woman, do not pass it up. You will be better off for the experience.
Update: Mary Fitzpatrick passed away from cancer on March 19, 2008. She will be missed greatly.Profiled by Debbie Hanson
Do you know somebody with an interesting story to tell?
E-Mail us at: profiles@ClevelandWomen.Com
Top of Page
Back to Profiles of Cleveland Women
Back to Cleveland Catholics
Back to Irish in Cleveland