The history and significance of Mother’s Day
By claudia mathis / SUN staff writer
“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother.” — Abraham Lincoln
From the beginning of time, children have been influenced by their mothers. Mothers remain a great source of inspiration, rousing their offspring to be good human beings. A mother’s power and charisma are unmatched.
Sister Joan Corcoran, DC, who is a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and director of outreach services at Historic Old St. John’s Church in Utica, said her mother Margaret is “an ideal role model of what a mother should be.”
Sister Joan explained that her mother, through her involvement at St. Ann Parish in Syracuse for the last 50 years, set a good example for her as having a strong faith. “Even now, she lives out her faith as a daily communicant at St. Ann with many of her friends,” said Sister Joan.
Looking back on her childhood, she remembered, “My mother always said, ‘You can do anything you want to if you know that God is at your side.’”
People in many ancient cultures celebrated holidays honoring motherhood, personified as a goddess. According to the website www.womenshistory.about.com, ancient Greeks celebrated a holiday in honor of Rhea, the mother of the gods. Ancient Romans celebrated a holiday in honor of Cybele, a mother goddess. The celebrations were notorious enough that followers of Cybele were banished from Rome. In the British Isles and Celtic Europe, the goddess Brigid, and later her successor St. Brigid, were honored with a spring Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day in the U.S. got its start in 1872, when Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, suggested that this day be dedicated to peace. Howe organized Mother’s Day meetings in Boston every year.
In 1877, Juliet Calhoun Blakely inadvertently set Mother’s Day in motion. On Sunday, May 11, 1877, which was Blakely’s birthday, the pastor of her Methodist Church left the pulpit abruptly, distraught over the behavior of his son. Blakely stepped to the pulpit to take over the remainder of the service and called for other mothers to join her.
Blakely’s sons were so touched by her gesture that they vowed to return to their hometown every year to celebrate their mother’s birthday and to pay tribute to her. In addition, the two brothers urged business associates and those they met while traveling as salesmen to honor their mothers on the second Sunday of each May.
While there were local celebrations honoring mothers in the late 1800s, the recognition of Mother’s Day as a U.S. national holiday was largely due to the efforts of Anna Jarvis. Jarvis’ mother was instrumental in developing “Mother’s Friendship Day” which was part of the healing process following the Civil War. To honor her mother, Jarvis wanted to set aside a day to honor all mothers, living and dead.
In 1907, Jarvis began a campaign to establish a national Mother’s Day. She persuaded her mother’s church in Grafton, W. Va., to celebrate Mother’s Day on the second anniversary of her mother’s death, the second Sunday of May. By the next year, Mother’s Day was also celebrated in Jarvis’ home city of Philadelphia.
Jarvis and her supporters wrote to ministers, evangelists, businessmen and politicians in their crusade to establish a national Mother’s Day. The campaign was a success. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state in the Union. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made the official announcement proclaiming Mother’s Day as a national holiday to be held each year on the second Sunday of May.
Across the world, more than 46 countries honor mothers with a special day, but not all nations celebrate on the same day. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Belgium celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May, as in the U.S.
In the Central New York area, Sister Francis James Paris, OSF, pastoral associate and director of outreach ministries at St. Mary’s in Minoa, is looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day with her mother, Jeanette. Sister Francis said her mother, who is 75 years old, has had a profound effect on the development of her character. “My mother has a deep faith and she inspires me,” said Sister Francis. “I’m blessed to have her with me and that I live close to her. My mother has always stressed the importance of family.”
Sister Francis said her mother set a good example for her and her six siblings by serving the community as a member of the ladies auxiliary of the Kirkville Fire Department.
Sister Francis added that her mother has always been a great support to her, especially when she decided to enter religious life. “When I entered the St. Francis Convent, she used to come and visit me often,” said Sister Francis.
Sister Ann Kenyon, OSF, formation minister for the Sisters of St. Francis and co-minister at Franciscan Church of the Assumption in Syracuse, said she also felt a lot of support from her 78-year-old mother Dorothy when she entered religious life after graduating from high school.
Reflecting on her childhood, Sister Ann remembered her mother’s strong faith and how she set an example of living for others. “She was a stay-at-home mom — she was loving and nurturing — she still is today,” said Sister Ann. Along with the gentleness of her mother’s personality, Sister Ann remembered her inner strength. “She models acceptance and patience,” she added.