Jimmy: Childhood Memories of a Homeless Jesus
The Halifax Explosion was a maritime disaster in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of 6 December 1917. SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin.
A fire on board the French ship ignited her cargo, causing a large explosion that devastated the Richmond district of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed by blast, debris, fires and collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured.
Nearly all structures within an 800-metre (2,600 ft) radius, including the entire community of Richmond, were obliterated. A pressure wave snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels, and scattered fragments of Mont-Blanc for kilometres.
Hardly a window in the city proper survived the blast. Across the harbour, in Dartmouth, there was also widespread damage.
Paul Baker, SJ, wrote a post about one of the survivors – Jimmy Morash. igNation reposts Paul’s article today on the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion. .
I first met Jimmy Morash when I was about 7 years old. That would be the summer of 1944. I lived in northwestern New Brunswick about an hour and a half drive from the Quebec/New Brunswick border in a rural village named Tilley. It was a lumbering and potato part of NB. Our home was on the banks of the St John River and my father operated a ferry on the river. The road to the ferry was adjacent to our property.
Today we would refer to Jimmy as a migrant worker. Each year he would come to Tilley to do work on my uncle’s farm. My brother who is now 93 remembers him as a kind person with a great singing voice.
He says people felt sorry for him for he was homeless and as we would say today mentally challenged.
As a young boy Jimmy was the only one of his immediate family who survived the Halifax Explosion of 1917. He was in school at the time.
Jimmy was a frequent visitor at our home. He would often have a meal with us. I clearly remember dad saying words like, if you could have a better meal elsewhere he would not be offended. We often had guests at our table for all were welcome. My mother was known to her friends as Gertie. I remember with fondness Jimmy calling mother, Dirty dear. Of course we knew what he meant!
One evening Jimmy was visiting us he reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin and gave it to me. As long as I live I will never forget that gift for I knew that Jimmy may have given me the last coin he had. Whenever I hear the parable of the Widow’s mite I cannot but help think of Jimmy’s coin!
Gertie/Dirty dear would die while Jimmy was in our village. At the funeral, he was asked to sing a solo. My brother remembers that he would often do this in our parish church. The hymn that Jimmy sang was a well known hymn to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It was Mother Dear O Pray for Me. This was sung at the end of the service as we were taking mom’s coffin to be buried. It was one month before my tenth birthday. That moment is as real to me as I write as it was then.
Many years later in the early 60’s I learned that Jimmy died. At the time of his death he was in Saint John, New Brunswick. It was a tragedy for he froze to death in one of the alley’s of the city. Yes, this still happens to our homeless people who share with us the life of Jesus in our bodies.
Jimmy has been and is still now my hero. I have told our story to many of my friends. I always finish that story by saying that when Jesus brings me home to Our Father in Heaven I would be deeply disappointed if Jimmy were not part of the Welcome Committee!
Editor’s Note: A recently discovered diary contains an eye witness account of the explosion and the aftermath.