Foster mother, great-grandmother, nurturer, life of the party. Born June 13, 1928, in Dublin, died April 24, 2013, in Toronto of complications following a stroke, aged 84.
Faith and family were the most important things in life for Monica Patricia O’Hanlon Mullen. She was not a holy roller, she wasn’t a fundamentalist and she was never self-righteous. But her faith was not without some peculiarities.
In 1984, in preparation for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Toronto, she spent the spring digging out every plant in her front and back garden and replanted everything in the papal colours of yellow and white. In the wee hours of the day of the visit, Monica dragged a motley crew to Yonge Street for a seven-hour wait in the cold night air for a 10-second view of the popemobile. When asked if it was worth the wait, she replied, “absolutely.”
Monica could be irreverent at times, and had a devilish sense of humour. She loved playing jokes on people. One morning, after one of her famous parties, she was annoyed to find a young Irishman passed out on her basement floor. Without hesitation, she pulled down his pants and spray-painted his private parts with green paint as a reminder about the evil of alcohol.
Born in Dublin, Monica was one of nine children. The family moved to London, England, in 1937. She married Patrick Mullen there in 1951, and in 1957 she and Patrick joined the wave of Irish immigration to Toronto, settling on Centre Island with their daughter Adrienne.
Soon after arriving, Monica and Pat became foster parents for the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. Hundreds of girls and a few boys were fortunate enough to have her as their foster mother. In Monica they found love, acceptance and forgiveness, often for the first time. In each child she found a uniqueness that she nourished. She fed their bodies and souls with playfulness, humour and a virtual factory of gifts, surprises and laughter.
Monica and Pat were married for 64 years. Their home was always full of warmth, caring and side-splitting laughter. Nothing gave Monica more pleasure than her daughter, son-in-law, five grandchildren, granddaughter-in-law and great-granddaughter.
As a grandmother, she had no shame, handing out chocolate and ice cream, ignoring curfews, singing, joking, playing with the kids and letting them know in every passing moment that they were loved unconditionally.
Monica’s hospitality, welcome and dinners were legendary. Long before inclusive was a politically correct phrase, she lived it. All were welcome in her house. You would stay for dinner, the barbecue would be put down, and the laughter and storytelling would begin. If you were not careful, you would end up staying up all night. She was never exhausted the next day.
During the last few years, Monica dedicated herself to her faith, family and simple pleasures like church, euchre, the Irish community and liver and onions. We are all better people for having known her. She was simply the best. Godspeed, Monica.
Patricia O’Reilly was Monica’s friend.