Commentary: On This Day in History

By Edward P. Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – We all have our favorite calendars.

They might contain 12 monthly photos of our favorite sports team. They might show 12 pictures of antique cars. How about 12 pictures of our favorite pets, like 12 cats or 12 horses?

Cartoon characters make for some funny calendars. With the arrival of a new year come new calendars, lots of them.

In some daily papers, on some calendars and often in a newscast or podcast, comment will be made about a certain person or event. Often they begin with, “On this day ….”

In our personal histories are those dates that have special meaning. Obviously, a birthdate, a graduation date, a wedding date, are part of our lives. Then there are those dates that, for whatever reason, have a special significance for us. They are uniquely ours. The thought of those dates takes us right back to those days: where we were, how old we were and who was with us.

I was 9 when Pope Pius XII died Oct. 9, 1958. Growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition, knowing that our faith leader had been the leader of Roman Catholics all over the world, I was startled by the announcement of his death, even as a young man living on the West Side of Youngstown.

On Nov. 22, 1963, I remember school being dismissed early and my classmates and I at Ursuline High School boarding buses that took us home as our nation and the world were stunned at the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The ride home seemed unusually long (and quiet). The looks on people’s faces in cars, on the sidewalks and at intersections were looks of disbelief and uncertainty. I was 14.

On Feb. 15, 1976, I was ordained a priest in the faith tradition in which I grew up. I was 26 when the bishop, in St. Columba Cathedral, asked me to make my commitment to my vocation. I had been serving in a parish in Warren the year before my ordination and was sent to St. Christine Parish on the West Side of Youngstown, my first assignment.

I will never forget April 15, 1985 – I was 36 – driving up Oak Hill Avenue on the South Side after mailing my income tax returns at the downtown post office (Remember those days?). I pulled into the drive on Cleveland Street to become the ninth pastor of St. Patrick Church, where I served until I retired in June 2019.

On June 5, 2003, my dad died. Although I know the date well, the specifics and circumstances surrounding death seem to get blurred in many ways as we deal with an experience we know is real but never ready for.

I was 59 on the day Barack Obama was elected president. Election Day 2008 will always be a day of remembering that our country is one of unlimited possibilities. I remember seeing people dancing in the streets.

March 15, 2020, was the date scheduled for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Our parish, St. Patrick, was always part of this assembly. That year, one of our parishioners was parade chairman. I remember him calling me in frustration and saying, “They can’t cancel the parade! We have participants coming from Cleveland and Pittsburgh!”

Little did we know what was coming. In the early days of the pandemic, many days blurred together. I remember my mom calling me and simply asking, “What’s going on with this virus?”

I told her, “Mom, this is something we know very little about.”

We all have our dates in history that we will never forget. The specifics and circumstances surrounding them are as unique as we are. They shape us. They surprise us. Sometimes they shock us. They remind us of our commonality as human beings.

Whatever calendars sit on our desks or are attached by magnets to our refrigerators or pinned on a memo board, all list 365 days. Any day for at least one person has particular meaning. These days are part of what makes us who we are. Today, tomorrow and the days after.