June 2016 Column from The Irish American News

Charlotte Houlihan

Charlotte Houlihan



Mike Houlihan

I’ll admit it. I’m a naturally nosey person.

Even as a kid I loved rummaging through my mom’s purse to see what was in there. Nor was I averse to copping a finnski out of her purse while she was asleep. That type of perfidy came back to haunt me one drunken night in college when I was caught rifling purses in the cloak room of a pub. I was promptly taken out in the back alley and pummeled.

In the words of my late mother, “The bitter lesson is best taught.”

So I’ve abstained from searching ladies’ wallets since then. Until last weekend.

I was hanging out with my favorite granddaughter Charlotte Houlihan and we had planned an afternoon of fun at the aptly named “Monkey Island” in Melrose Park. That turned out to be a nightmare for me and nirvana for Charlotte as she ran wild with hundreds of other kids screaming and squealing as they climbed all over the slides, bouncy houses, and assorted obstacles.

Like any sophisticated six-year-old, Charlotte had brought her purse with her in the car when I picked her up that day. The next day as I glanced in the back seat I noticed she had left it behind.

I eyeballed this little pocket purse with zipper and Dooney and Bourke logos all over it and my old instincts kicked in. Of course there wouldn’t be any money or makeup in it so what in the world would a six-year-old girl keep in her purse?

I took it upstairs, opened it up, and spread the contents on my kitchen table.

Inside were a half-eaten pack of Watermelon flavored gum, two sticks left.

Some chicklets as well, three pieces.

A tiny little doll figurine about an inch high.

One piece of a tiny pair of black and white dice, made by Bicycle, the playing card company.

A little purple treasure chest, from a doll house, empty.

A miniature plastic cupcake, also obviously from a doll house.

A dried flower, purple, probably a lilac.

Two quarters, two nickels, and a dime.

That doesn’t sound like much, but the purse was so small with all these things jammed into it, which gave the diminutive purse the appearance of bounty.

It seemed to me to be the perfect metaphor for Charlotte.

Yes, she is small and very young but packed with character. She is after all, a first grader who is going to be seven in August as she constantly reminds me.

The next day we went through the contents of her purse together, and yes she had a story for each item. Finally, she pulled a small rubber band bracelet from the purse that I had overlooked and asked me, “Did you see my key to heaven?”

The bracelet was one she had made herself from her supply of tiny colored rubber bands interwoven to create a braid and attached was a small liturgical looking key.

The key to heaven, she called it.key to heaven

Now I know Charlotte is familiar with the concept of heaven because we talk about it often. It’s where my mother and father are, along with my brothers, and many other relatives who have died. It’s also where Jesus lives and she knows that too.

I took a photo of Charlotte’s key to heaven on her wrist and told her I was going to write about her purse and all the wonderful items she keeps in it.

She seemed flattered, “Are you going to say, ‘my granddaughter Charlotte’s purse?’”

I am, and I’m also going to say that I think MY key to heaven is my little darling Charlotte.

July 2014 Column from The Irish American News

Letters from the Chapel £1Hooliganism


Mike Houlihan

In your quiet moments, your interior life, when you speak to… or pray to God, what do you say?

Prayers are not always a desperate plea for help, sometimes you’re just goin’ along and thanking God while asking for all the help He is prepared to give. One doesn’t have to be desperate to plead for help. “Lord please help me Jesus.” is about as close to a mantra I’ll ever have. And I repeat that continually just looking for a parkin’ space.

As prayers go, the human race has been blessed with a whole arsenal of prayers written by Irish saints and scholars.

So I’m always on the lookout for a good prayer, most of them work. Sure you can’t beat The Memorare, but each situation seems to beg for specific prayers. Hence the football term “The Hail Mary”!

What else you gonna call it?

I stopped by a chapel recently in a former Catholic hospital in Chicagoland. My grand daughter Charlotte, the four-year-old firecracker, had broken her arm on the monkey bars and we were all gathered at the hospital to hover over the little darling. Poor kid was scared too.

Thank the good Lord that’s all it was. I thought of that as I walked to the elevators to Charlotte’s room. Nothing sadder than a sick kid. I walked down the hall and passed the chapel, peeked in the door, and thought, “quick prayer for Charlotte”, and entered.

Unfortunately the chapel was very secular, it had been scrubbed of any Catholic influence, it seemed. A cross was visible in a corner, but no crucifix, and a podium, no altar really. Anyway, it kinda gave me the creeps.

I knelt down and tossed out a few requests and some thanks as I scanned the room. There was a light shining on a book that appeared to have prayers or pleas for help written in longhand on the notebook.

I leapt from my seat and started reading the prayers. Many were about “Dad” or whoever was currently in the hospital. Families of stroke victims, children in danger, the gamut.

I felt guilty reading the personal prayers of strangers, but read them I did, voraciously!

The Prayer Requests book was on a small pedestal and was actually only a loose-leaf three-ring, binder with hundreds of unlined pages to write on. Each page had a typed quote from Jesus, like “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Folks wrote their prayer requests like they were signing Jesus’ year book, some with flowers or little happy faces and some that were…well let’s take a look, shall we? The names are pseudonyms.


Heavenly Father, I am asking you to look down on Reg Murphy. Right whatever it is that he is going through, please take it away from him Lord. Show him that you are able in all things. Lord I’m just asking you to touch him, right now Holy Father, take all the evil spirits away from him now Father, Lord. Show him that I really love him Father, and I really need him. Give him one more chance Lord. Let him see all things are your willing Lord, in Jesus name Amen.”

This leap of faith, this testimony touched me. I tried to imagine what was going on with Reg. Some illness? A tumor? Or was he in the mental ward, “take all the evil spirits away”. It was a mystery.

And that’s as it should be I guess. Lord knows what the problem is with Reg. He knows everything. That makes it so much easier when praying. It’s not like you have to put things in context for God, he figured you out a long time ago. You don’t even have to name names in your prayers. He knows.

But spying on the letters in the chapel suddenly made me feel guilty when I read the note below.


Lord I want a divorce! God please help me today. My husband Ike left me over three months ago after we had celebrated our one year anniversary. He is with another woman and we still married. He deserted me and is committing adultery. I want to get a divorce soon. He is smearing his dirty sin of adultery and lies in my face daily.”

And then she signed it, Hillary Clinton.

Sorry couldn’t resist that joke right there folks. She did sign her name but I won’t go there.

Anyway I feel bad for that lady on 5/20/14. It seems her prayer is written as if God is gonna say, “That’s not what he told me!” And do we really have to put dates on letters to Our Lord? Hey lady, He knows what time it is.

I picked up the pen and wrote in Jesus’ yearbook.

Lord, my protector and my salvation…

I don’t have to tell you what I need….

You know my situation.

Thanks for healing Charlotte and her arm..

I pray she will never come to any more harm

Please help Mrs. Murphy and her husband Reg…

Zap his evil spirits and talk him off the ledge.

That lady asking for a divorce from her husband Ike…

Needs to understand why he took a hike.

He done her wrong and Ike’s in a heap of trouble.

Only you Lord, can patch this up with them,

so please Help them out on the double!

As for me, sure Lotto would be nice..

But I know you’ve got more challenges ahead for me…

So please just give me the strength, patience, and wisdom…

To continue to roll the dice!