For Ed Corcoran, the annual Pilgrimage and Mass for the Sea Services Pilgrimage at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, offered the chance for a Dad moment.
Here’s how he tells it: “We went, and of course, I’ve got two daughters, and I started to notice these handsome young Navy gentlemen. The Naval Academy Catholic Choir was singing, and at random, I asked three young men, ‘Hey, would you mind doing me a favor and taking a picture with my daughters?’
“I took the picture, not realizing where it would go from there.”
Cathleen doesn’t dispute the facts. She just remembers cringing a bit.
“It was a little embarrassing in the moment, but at the end of the day, it all worked out!” she says.
How it worked out was that a plebe in the photo, Tom Royals, offered Cathleen some cake and punch. From there, they exchanged AIM messenger contacts (the best way for teenagers to communicate at that time) and stayed in touch.
The following year, they met again at the Sea Services Mass. Cathleen gave Tom her number this time, but there was a caveat: “I said to him, ‘Let’s get actual information,’ so here is a number you can call me on. I am not allowed to date until I am 18, but that is in November, so that is only one month. So, you can come to my birthday party in November, and we will be allowed to go on a date after that.”
During Thanksgiving break, they went on a date in Washington D.C. “There was no turning back from that point on,” she says with a smile. In 2007, Cathleen and Tom wed, and now, 20 years after that fateful photo op, Ed is a grandfather to eight children with another on the way. Tom Royals, meanwhile, is running for Congress in Maryland’s sixth district.
At the most recent Pilgrimage and Mass for the Sea Services at the Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg, Md., in October, the Corcoran and Royals families were there in full force – a total of 17 people — for a full circle moment.
A Relic on the Mantel
As the Patroness of the Sea Services, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton has a deep connection with those who spend their lives at sea and those devoted to public health. Her son, William, served in the Navy on the USS Macedonian, while another son, Richard, was a civilian, who served on the USS Cyane.
“My father was in the Navy,” said Ed Corcoran, who was born in Virginia and raised in California. “He always instilled in us a love for country and, in particular, a love for the Navy.”
He was also raised to love the Catholic faith.
“In the mid-60s, our summer vacations involved going to shrines. And one of our frequent shrines from a young boy was the Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine. My mom had a deep devotion to Elizabeth Ann Seton and actually went to the shrine the day she was canonized.”
Ed’s wife, Carol Ann, developed her own devotion to Mother Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized a saint. They were both converts to the Catholic faith.
“I was not Catholic when I started dating Ed,” she says. “When I went to visit her shrine, I related to the persecution she suffered when she became Catholic because my dad was not happy when I converted. I got a lot of criticism because of it.”
Carol Ann says that her thinking at the time was that if Mother Seton could persevere through it, so could she.
Later, the Corcorans dedicated their homeschool to Mother Seton and have a first-class relic on display on their fireplace mantel.
The Shrine celebrates both the spirituality of the first native-born American to be canonized and Mother Seton’s role as one of the most prominent Catholics of the early 19th century in the U.S. After her husband died and she converted to Catholicism, she moved to Emmitsburg where she founded one of the first Catholic schools for girls and the first U.S. congregation of religious sisters.
The story of her life and legacy is commemorated in a new museum and visitors center that opened in September.
‘My daughters have a crush on you’
The Corcoran family – Ed, Carol Ann and their seven children — attended their first Sea Services pilgrimage in 2003 when he coaxed that photo of Cathleen with the plebes.
At the time, Tom Royals was just excited to get a little freedom away from confines of the Naval Academy campus in Annapolis.
“I was in the Catholic choir for a month singing at Sunday masses,” he says, “and it was one way to be able to get off campus.”
Tom met up with his brother at the Sea Service mass and was hanging out at the reception when Ed approached him, his friend, and his brother. “Basically, we were just hanging out, and this man comes over and says, ‘You gentlemen look so handsome in your white uniforms, and my daughters over there have a crush on you!’”
Over the years, Cathleen and Tom said Mother Seton has provided guidance and protection for their growing family.
“We were in Pensacola, Florida, and we had complications with our first pregnancy,” she said. “They admitted us to a Sacred Heart Hospital there, and when we walked into the ward, we happened to be in the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton wing where our room was.”
Seeing her was a sign to them that the pregnancy would be fine and the baby would be healthy. They gave their first daughter, Colette, the middle name Elizabeth, to honor Mother Seton. They named their third son Richard, which they believed was fate because they did not realize until visiting the Seton Shrine Museum that Mother Seton’s son was named Richard.
“She has been a great influence and pioneer,” Cathleen said, “she definitely had our back multiple times.”