Letters to St Jude
In Whitefriar Street church in Dublin, people write poignant messages about their health, their families and their finances to the patron saint of lost causes
Some professionals have thrived during the downturn, and St Jude is certainly one of them. At the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on Whitefriar Street in Dublin’s south inner city, a side chapel contains small altars to the city’s most beloved and indulgent saints. St Therese, the Little Flower. St Valentine, whose bones and blood are said to be contained in a coffer beneath his statue. St Anne, Mother of the Virgin, stands nearby. But the busiest of them all is St Jude. You can light a candle here for 30c.
At the feet of St Jude, and also of St Valentine, sit ordinary A4 books that contain the written prayers of the faithful as they ask for intercession. The written requests made of St Valentine are concerned mostly with romance and relationships. But St Jude was made for the bad times. He is the patron saint of lost causes.
“St Jude, Pray for me as I’m going to be dismissed from my secure job. I will bring shame on my family and lose my home. I ask you to pray for me and hold me in your thoughts. Many thanks. Pete.”
All Irish life is here: “Please St Jude, help Gerry to find his way and get a job or Come home and finish his apprentisship. Whatever you deem the Best for him as I feel he is beginning to dispear . . . Thank you.”
“What St Jude does for people is to give them something to believe in at a time when a lot of people feel hopeless,” says Fr Brian McKay, the prior of Whitefriar Street church.
A large proportion of the prayers laid at the feet of St Jude concern adult children, sometimes in surprising ways: “Dear St Jude, please pray for my children to help them get their own home soon as myself and my husband can’t take much more of everyone living with us . . .”
The prayers here are modern: “Please let this next course of IVF be a positive result and make them parents to a most treasured baby. Love . . .”
And they are very practical: “St Jude help me make right decision with apartment Praise be to God.”
There are requests here for placements on PhD programmes, and the usual itemised list of demands from Irish mothers on the subject of examinations: “St Jude Many thanks for great results in my son’s leaving cert, college placement and his debs. Please continue to assist us in everything we do.”
In the book of prayers covering the month of September there are at least two prayers about eating disorders. And, in another sign of the times, there is a request that St Jude keep the supplicant “healthy and wise”, the “wealthy” part of that phrase having been tactfully dropped.
Emigration is a constant but not dominant theme: “Saint Jude, please pray for Conor – G [to] get his garda clearance so he [can] go to New Zealand . . .”
And there is a request that St Jude “watch over my grandchildren that’s in faraway places”.
By far the most common problems brought to St Jude relate to financial survival and existential agony, not necessarily in that order. On one page the following six items appear, one after the other: “St Jude pl. restore to us what we lost in the nineties.”
There are several entries from the same writer, who may have been completing one of the permanent novenas to St Jude, St Valentine, St Anne and St Therese that take place in Whitefriar Street church every Tuesday night of the year, except on Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day.
Directly underneath is this: “Dear St Jude i feel awful a lot of the time and find a lot of hopelessness on me sometimes I lose faith in everything plus my heart so longs to be happy but I’m still truly lost, How Can I be Saved, please help jude I feel so lost and unloved.”
And underneath that: “St Jude please protect my mam and give her strength had [sic] serenity.”
Then we’re back to a classic request to St Jude: “ Pass Driving Test”.
And the thanks that are often promised to St Jude, along sometimes with publication in a newspaper, when requests are granted: “Thanks St Jude for everything RS”.
The page ends with a one-sentence prayer, in block capitals: “ST GUDE PLEAS HELLP ME WITH GAS.”
St Jude is asked an awful lot about money. “Please St Jude that Jim’s business picks up as we have a mortgage and rent to pay please you have never let me down.”
Although sometimes it’s all about cash: “Dear Saint Jude please help Lorcan in selling the motorbike, he needs it . . .”
And debt is hovering at all times: “Saint Jude please help my daughter to get some work and [sic] that she will be able to pay her loan back and there will be no trouble, I thank you St Jude for all your help.” Sometimes prayers for financial survival and romance are combined: “Dear St Jude Please hear my prayer to protect our family business and also to find the right one. Amen.”
There is a constant stream of prayers about jobs: not just getting them but keeping them. “Holy St Jude for Paul – that his job may be secure and that he won’t be let go. Please God if it is the holy will.”
“Please St Jude help my daughter she is so depressed and hopes to get the job in dublin please grant that she get the job and feel better in herself Please St Jude grant my request a very upset mum.”
Employees do not emerge from this book of prayers entirely spotless. “I’m in trouble again in my job,” says the writer of the first prayer at the top of this article. “I’m in danger of being dismissed.” Which, it now seems likely, they were.
Sometimes St Jude must read between the lines to glimpse a trauma, as in this prayer: “Saint Jude please help my son get a job and that in future he may be interviewed [by people] who are [empathetic or enthusiastic, this is hard to read] re him.”
The fact that these prayers are written down is part of the devotion; the public declaration of them is intended as an encouragement to others and a request for their prayers in turn, says Fr McKay.
The language here is sometimes remarkable; an emotional shorthand for the most complex problems that affect us. One writer, in a long litany of requests for everyone in their family, suddenly asks for help with “my drink-health-loneliness”.
In fact the combination of requests for the supplicant, no matter how wretched, and for humanity in general, occurs regularly: “St Jude help me with my troble in this wourld. Help me to help other people I am gay and lonely at times help me.”
The men write just as emotionally as the women: “Dear St Jude Please help me to bring my girlfriend [name given] back i never meant to annoy her just trying to be good. I miss her a lot she’s all I ever had in my life i would be greatful for your help. As i still love her. Dominic”
And sometimes St Jude is just asked to deal with daily life: “St Jude please give me a lucky break soon and give me health and keep me wife and kids safe and healthy. Tank you St Jude.”
The feast of St Jude is on Monday, October 28th