Posted by: SJS | April 10, 2020

Mary A. Stahley- April 10, 1905

Nana Pop George Young 1946

On this day in the year 1905 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, my grandmother, Mary A. Stahley was born.  It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of her influence on my life.  Her expansive personality, her indomitable will, and her passion for life were as much a part of my childhood as the air I breathed and the familiar sights of our neighborhood in the Olney section of Philadelphia which defined the landscape that I called home.

In 1918 at the age of 13, Mary lost her mother as the brutal and unforgiving influenza epidemic ravaged Philadelphia leaving unimaginable loss, terror, and sorrow in its wake.  With five younger siblings to care for and a father who was working day and night as a Philadelphia fireman, Mary’s life was forever shaped by that pivotal chapter in the history of my hometown.

As we now endure the overwhelming and frightening effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which ravages our nation and shreds every aspect of our daily routines, my admiration and respect for my grandmother–Nana Stahley–has crossed over into awe.  Her life has redefined the word “survivor” in my vocabulary.  The true impact of a pandemic on a society had escaped the farthest boundaries of my imagination.

That is no longer the case.

With a mother’s love and protective instincts, Mary ensured that her five siblings–William (Bill), Margaret (Peg), George (Reds), Catherine (Cass), and Joseph (Joe) survived the epidemic and went on to live productive and highly successful lives.  Mary wanted a large family of her own (“four or five children–at least” she often told me) but had just  one son–my father, George.  He was the beneficiary of enough love, affection, and protectiveness that could easily have overwhelmed a family with a dozen children.

The love which Mary lavished on her only child followed him from Philadelphia to some of the places where the heaviest fighting of World War II was occurring–the deserts of North Africa, the bloody waters of the Mediterranean, and the steaming jungles of Borneo in the South Pacific.

And that fierce mother’s love brought him safely home to Philadelphia after the war’s end.

I’ve long believed that nothing the forces of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan could hurl at Red Stahley could penetrate the protective shield of his mother’s love which was with him every moment of every day that he served his country on the PT boats during those perilous years of World War II.  Nana’s love was like a heat shield that enfolded whoever was fortunate enough to find themselves within it.  And that was some amazing shield.

How fitting that Nana’s birthday fell so close to Easter on the calendar.  Her life bore a powerful and unfailing witness to the central mystery of our faith which finds its epitome on Easter–love is stronger than death.  It is the most powerful energy force in the universe.

Those of us who are her descendants know that truth in the marrow of our bones.  Our gratitude is wider and deeper than all the seas that cover the earth.

Pictured above are my grandparents, Mary and George Stahley with their nephew, George J. Young in 1946.  My thanks to my cousin, George, for sharing this treasured photograph with me.  George and his family live in Durham, North Carolina.






  1. That was a generation that overcame all obstacles. (Not like today’s ‘entitled generation’)

  2. Steve,
    Beautiful tribute to your grandmother and family.

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