The Epistles of St. Onehill

 "Words and deeds are quite indifferent modes of the divine energy. Words are also actions, and actions are a kind of words."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century essayist

 

 "Words which express our faith and piety are not definite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures."

- Henry David Thoreau, 19th century naturalist writer

 

"Words are made up of letters, which are made up of squiggly lines."

- Thomas John McSheey, 20th century lunatic poet

 

In my ongoing search for the meaning of life, for the existence of God, and for a shampoo that provides my hair with a full-bodied, healthy sheen, I recently came across the inspired epistles of a certain St. Onehill, an Italian priest who emigrated to Ireland in the 1840's as part of an Italian-Irish priest exchange program just as the potato famine hit Ireland (and just as the olive oil famine hit Italy).

Arriving at the port of Londonderry, he found the emaciated population there to be "necessitante tolleranza del divino," translated to mean "in need of the grace of the Divine." Other sources cite that he actually said "necessitante tolleranza del guinnesso," which translates as "in need of a pint of Guinness."

St. Onehill was born Umberto Collina in 1799 at Naples. He was the third and fourth of nine children born to Giuseppe and Caterina Collina. Giuseppe was a cobbler who wrote greeting cards in his spare time.

By all accounts, Umberto had a happy childhood, and when the appropriate time came he was shipped off to a monastery outside of Rome to begin training as a priest, although he secretly wanted to draw comic strips for a living. In fact, during his years at the monastery, he was often found doodling a character named Pietro -- a little white dog who slept on top of his doghouse and fancied himself a World War I flying ace -- but the idea never developed beyond the conceptual stage.

In time, he was ordained a Catholic priest, but he was a restless holy man who yearned to visit distant lands, or at least, that's what he published on his My Space page. When the opportunity came, he entered his name into a Vatican raffle for inclusion in the Catholic Priests' Foreign Exchange Program (known by the acronym T.B.X.Z.R. for unknown reasons). On the day of the drawing he prayed a mean novena and, amazingly, he won!

After his arrival in Ireland, he journeyed the countryside, administering spiritual assistance wherever it was needed. Normally this meant he broke up donnybrooks and told parishioners at the local pub, "Okay, I think you've had enough!" He was also known to change spare tires and perform oil and filter changes for just $19.99. For these reasons, and many more, he became a much-beloved priest.

Over time, his name was anglicized. "Collina" translated as "Hill." Umberto was shortened to Umo, his nickname, which was confused with the Italian word "une," meaning "one." So, over time, the Italian priest became known as "One Hill," or Father Onehill.

Father Onehill was a prolific writer of epistles on the plight of man, perhaps picking up the talent from his greeting card writing father, who once wrote a birthday card that read:

"Roses are red, violets are blue

Mount Vesuvius is old as hell

And so the heck are you!

Happy Birthday!"

 

Onehill wrote his spiritual epistles in his native Italian language. His words were then translated by a Father O'Callahan into Gaelic. Another priest by the name of Father McDonough then translated the text from Gaelic into Middle English, which was then translated by a scholar of ancient languages from Middle English into Latin, which was translated by yet another scholar from Latin into Spanish. Finally, a Spanish exchange priest by the name of Father Jose translated it into English. As such, over the years there has been concern amongst some St. Onehill scholars that, perhaps, the true meaning of his original texts were unwittingly altered over the course of five translations, to which other scholars would simply respond, "Oh well."

Here are some examples:

"We are a strange beast, we who call ourselves Homo sapiens, always spending our sweat and energy chasing shadows to images that we have never ourselves seen and that may not even exist. So many times we stare up into the night sky, as clear as the Creator's eye, praying to glimpse a sight of Truth. Praying to unearth proof that there is something more to our mortal existence than that which we see in our meager travels from one Sunday to the next. Praying that we shut off the iron before we left the house that morning!"

*****

"A flicker in the night sky, like a firefly on a summer eve, we stand searching for something in which to believe. If we would just open our eyes to all that is around us upon this earthly realm. But no, we are blind to such things. Such real and wonderful things. Wonderful things. Like lasagna. That's a wonderful thing. Or ravioli. Or tortellini. Or manicotti. Or linguine. Or fettuccine. Or just a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Heck, all they serve around here is corned beef and cabbage! Boy, do I miss Italy!"

*****

"Who are we if not the tiniest of atoms comprising the smallest finger of one of God's celestial hands. But no, we are smaller still. Perhaps we are merely a proton or an electron of that atom! Or perhaps we are smaller still. Perhaps we are the pieces that comprise the proton or the electron. Or perhaps we are smaller still. Perhaps we are the pieces that comprise the pieces. Or perhaps the pieces of the pieces of the pieces. Or the pieces of the pieces of the pieces of the pieces. Or the pieces of the pieces of the pieces of the pieces of the pieces. Or ..." 

 

After his death in 1871, Fr. Onehill's body was appropriately interred upon a hill, his grave marked with a Celtic cross. The inscription, which was translated from Italian into Gaelic into Middle English into Latin into Spanish and finally into English, reads: "Here lies the body of Margaret O'Fogarty, wife of Michael O'Fogarty, May she rest in peace."

On second thought, perhaps the scholars' concerns about the validity of the epistle translations are not unwarranted!

Jack Sheedy

Postscript: Father Onehill was later beatified and eventually canonized after news of miracles performed in his name reached the Vatican. In one such miracle, a Mrs. Maguire of Derry won three consecutive bingos one evening at the village parish after praying to Father Onehill. The third bingo saw the following winning numbers, all under the "B": B2, B6, B7, B9, and B12. Unfortunately, she later missed winning the coverall by one number. Today, St. Onehill is now known at Catholic parish centers across the globe as the patron saint of lost bingo chips.

 

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