Vicky and I did some Christmas shopping yesterday, and ended up at the Toys R Us in Dufferin Mall. So, there I am, standing in line with an arm-full of toys, Vicky’s taken the kids to the car, and I hear an Irish lilt behind me. Ever the sucker for an Irish accent, I make a comment to the couple standing in line after me about the chaos of the store. After the exasperated agreement from the man, I say, “Is that an Irish accent?” That started us on a very serendipitous encounter.
We got on talking about Ireland. The man explained that they are originally from Limerick, and have been in Canada for a couple of years. They ask if I’ve ever been, to which I delightedly answer, “Yes. To Belfast and Dublin, and I toured around the North a bit, saw the Giant’s Causeway and all that.” They asked why I was there, and I reply: “On a research trip…”
Now, only the Irish do this, but they kept asking questions. Most people don’t care about others, what they do, why they do it, whether it was a good time or not. But there must be something about the Irish that makes them actually care about people; so they asked, “What were you researching?”
I often chuckle to myself when I explain that I’m a pastor, or that I’m studying church history. Most times the response from the other person is a glazed over expression that says, “I wish I hadn’t asked.” Not this time. Laughingly I said, “I’m studying church history.” The look on my face was sort’ve of the can you believe it? variety.
“Get out,” says the guy, his wife standing beside him with a wide-eyed expression, “We’re church historians!” I nearly fell over.
It turns out that I was speaking with Patrick and Stephanie Healy (well, Hayes-Healy). Both received PhD’s from Trinity College Dublin in medieval history, and Stephanie is currently at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. Both were Mellon Fellows at the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies. They’ve each taught history at Oxford as well. Patrick wrote his dissertation on Hugh of Flavigny and Stephanie wrote hers on pilgrimages in early medieval Ireland. As I’ve done a bit of Googling, I see Stephanie’s also edited some pretty substantial volumes on the medieval period with Palgrave, and I see she’s written on St. Patrick’s Confessio. They knew about James Ussher, the subject of my master’s thesis, and knew or knew of some of the same people I know or know of.
There were so many little things that could have spun us on a different path from one another, so it’s so strange that I should meet two people with interests in Irish church history, as well as medieval and patristic studies. It really was an encouragement and delight to chat with them. I couldn’t believe it. When would I ever meet two historians who are interested in topics somewhat related to my own?
Of course, I told them to go to Crux, as they are so close by. Hopefully they’ll drop in the store when I’m working, and I’ll spring for a free coffee on the house.