July 23, 2021

Family celebrates the extraordinary impact of their special aunt

By John Shaughnessy

While many families are touched by the difference that grandparents make, many families are also blessed by the extraordinary impact of an aunt or uncle.

Mike Kavanaugh and his seven siblings will forever cherish their “Aunt Margaret” because of the way she loved them, looked out for them and set an example for them to lead their lives.

“Our natural grandparents loved us very much, and we loved them right back, but my closest and most loved ‘grandparent’ was not a grandparent at all,” Kavanaugh says.

“Aunt Margaret was my Grandpa Kavanaugh’s older sister, so technically she was our great-aunt. She never married, she was in town and was always around when needed. We do not have our grandparents’ birthdays committed to memory, but I promise you that everyone of us commemorates Dec. 3 in a special way.”

Kavanaugh said that his brother, Tim, shared a fitting tribute to her. Tim noted, “Aunt Margaret was our favorite because she always made us feel good about ourselves. Having had no children of her own, she treated us like her own grandkids, giving us the individual attention that was sometimes difficult to get in a family of eight kids.”

Margaret Gavin Kavanaugh also gave the Kavanaugh siblings lasting lessons in how to live their lives and their faith.

“As a daily Mass participant, Aunt Margaret was devoted to her Catholic faith,” says Mike Kavanaugh, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. “She was fiercely independent and chose to live a simple life. Love of family and love of her Irish/Catholic heritage were her primary motivators. I do not remember her ever yelling or getting angry—except for that one game of bridge with my dad and Grandma.

“She was a big presence in our family’s life. She would stop at the Wonder Bread thrift store to bring us bread and rolls. She worked 40 years in the shoe department at the old H.P. Wasson store downtown. If she saw a ‘deal,’ she would be sure to bring a pair to one or more of us. After all, eight children grew out of shoes at an unbelievable rate.”

A ‘powerful and moving experience’

While helping to keep shoes on their feet, their Aunt Margaret also tried to expand their horizons—a gift she also lavished on many other people she came to embrace as family.

“She was noted for her extensive travelling and driving,” Kavanaugh notes. “During the middle decades of the 20th century, a navigation system for many was Aunt Margaret, a St. Christopher statue and a floating compass mounted on the dash of her green Bonneville. She grew to become friends with many nuns. When they needed a ride somewhere, anywhere, they called her. She had a habit of making monthly trips to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to transport nuns back and forth.

“Aunt Margaret would sometimes take one of us down with her to Saint Meinrad Seminary or to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. In the words of my sister, Maureen, ‘These were places of quiet and natural beauty. I did not have this experience with anyone else in our family.’ I was personally lucky enough that she took me to Father Jim Sweeney’s ordination—a very powerful and moving experience.”

Just as memorable were her routine weekly visits to their homes, including her times as a babysitter, even as she approached the age of 80.

“Why mom and dad would leave a nearly 80-year-old woman with anywhere from six to eight kids is a bit of a mystery, but it worked out. We all loved having her over,” Kavanaugh says.

“For a special treat, one or two of us would spend the night at her house. She always had 7-Up in the refrigerator, and she always insisted that we wash our face first thing in the morning. That was to help us wake up and feel refreshed. Of course, if you spent the night at her house, you knew you would be walking the four blocks over to St. Phillip Neri Church for Mass the next morning.”

A special tribute

The gifts and the lessons she shared even continued in the last stage of her life. Nearing 90, she spent her last seven years in an Indianapolis nursing home where she still maintained her feistiness and her concern for others.

“It was hilarious listening to her talk about the ‘old bittys’ down the hall—many of whom were younger than her. But my brother, Kevin, reminds me of how compassionate she was,” Kavanaugh says. “She reminded him that ‘the old guy in the corner who had severe dementia had previously been president of a local bank. And that woman who was strapped in a chair had been a high school homecoming queen.’

“She reminded us all that everyone has a story that goes beyond what can be seen on the surface. Sometimes, you just have to look a little closer and listen a little harder.”

Their Aunt Margaret did that and so much more, Kavanaugh says. She left the eight Kavanaugh siblings with a story to remember and savor, the story of an aunt who loved them, looked out for them and set an example for them to live their lives.

Her impact is evident in a special family tribute to her.

“Several family members, spanning at least three generations, honor her by including either Margaret or Gavin—her mother’s maiden name—as middle names,” Kavanaugh says.

“Her legacy continues.” †

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