Mite Box Keepers at Christmas


Four shop keepers on their role as shepherds of the OLA mite boxes.

The OLA mite boxes featuring the image of St. Anthony have adorned shop counters for almost sixty years. They have become synonymous with supporting the missions and hold a very sacred place in the hearts and minds of people across Ireland. Sr. Eithna Synott is one of three OLA Sisters who manage the mite boxes. Today we hear from four ‘mite box keepers’ and Sr. Eithna.

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Jim McCann of McCann Butchers, Lurgan.  

I took over the running of the shop from my Dad twenty years ago. I’ve been an apprentice here since the age of 15. My Dad is pretty sure the St. Anthony box was there when he bought the shop in 1976.

Why have I kept the box? To be honest with you, when I took over the shop I kept on some of my father’s traditions. The box was very important to him so I make sure that it is well looked after.

The box has a very faithful following. Sometimes it can be off the counter for just ten or fifteen minutes when it is been emptied. People would say ‘Jim, where’s the St. Anthony box?’ - even though there are other charity boxes on the counter!

Every single Friday, one particular man comes into the shop in his work overalls. Before placing his order, he empties all the change from his pockets. I sometimes think he must owe St. Anthony something! If you saw him you wouldn’t think he’d be the person who would give. It has thought me that you can’t judge or stereotype.

Sr. Eithna drops in regularly and tells us about the missions. She leaves some leaflets about the missions and I put them under the box. ‘Jim, can I take one away home with me?’.They are gone within 8 or 10 days.

I’m 50 now. I’ve three sons. Jack and James work here part-time while Jason works has been working full-time here for the past three and a half years. My Dad had a hard job to build up the shop and it is hard for me to keep his high standards! Touch wood Jason will keep interest in it.

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 Three generations of the McCann family: Jim McCann Snr (centre) pictured with his son, Jim, and his grandson, Jason. The St. Anthony box has been a permanent fixture at the family butchers since the 1970's. Image courtesy of James McCann.

 

 

Marie Ryan of Mace Stores, Ballyronan.

We opened the supermarket forty years ago and the St. Anthony box has been there for as long as I can remember. It sits right beside the till and is very popular. The workers like it too. I suppose the custom is if we lose something or have a particular favour that we promise some money to St. Anthony.

The follow-up is great to see. Sr. Eithna would call around about once every 3 months and she will be back next week with a wee Christmas card which I believe she makes herself. She keeps good communications with you and I know [my husband] Seamus really enjoys her visits. She is never in a rush and always has time for a cup of tea and a chat before heading off on her travels.

We always receive an acknowledgement from her about how much was in the box along with a few prayers.

We live above the shop and our son Kevin runs it now. It’s nice here in Ballyronan with the marina and all. We just buried our oldest resident the last day who was 104 years of age so it must be quite healthy here on the shores of Lough Neagh.

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Marie and Seamus Ryan.

 

 

Kathleen of Golden Crust Bakery, Lurgan.

I’ve been working here for 17 years and the St. Anthony box was there long before that.

There is a great devotion to St. Anthony in these parts. There is a chapel across the street from the bakery. One day a lady came into the bakery and asked if she could put her donation in our St. Anthony box as she couldn’t see the St. Anthony box in the chapel.

My friend Marta works here with me. There are many boxes at the counter but for us, the St. Anthony one is our first priority.

Sr. Eithna calls quite often to empty it. Sometimes it can be busy when she comes so she always leaves leaflets about the OLA missions and prayer cards. The customers always take these. She always gives you a lovely Christmas card too. Just last week she was emptying the box in the staff room when two customers arrived into the bakery and wanted to know where it was! They said they give to it every day.

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 Kathleen (left) and Marta at Golden Crust Bakery. Image courtesy of Eimear McCorry.

 

 

Anthony Greene of Premier Stores, Lurgan.

A lot of people would be St. Anthony people. I learned about St. Anthony at home from my parents. Every night the rosary was said too. They had a great respect and devotion to St. Anthony. It is probably little wonder that I am named after him!

I’ve had St. Anthony boxes from the first day I opened my business 23 years ago. I run a Premier Store in Lurgan and another in Taghnevan. I still remember the first OLA Sister coming in and introducing herself. The Sisters were among the first to have such boxes.

In actual fact, I always keep empty boxes as they sometimes fill very quickly. People are very generous. They know how beneficial the cause is and that the donations are going to good use. So many people would never pass the box without putting something in.

Sr. Eithna is great for correspondence and drops by very regularly. It isn’t just about emptying the box. She gives leaflets about the OLA mission to staff members along prayer cards which are very popular. I’ve come through quite a lot in life. At a personal level, I get a lot from Sr. Eithna’s visits. Sometimes we say a prayer. Though it is not all serious. We have a bit of a laugh too, which is important.

 

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 Anthony Greene with Sr. Eithna Synott.

 

 

Sr. Eithna Synott

I just love the month of December. This month is the Christmas card run. It’s my 12th year making the cards. It is time to catch-up with the mite box keepers. The first boxes were put out by Sr. Margaret Mary Ryan in 1975. The box has become a tradition for many shops. I took over from her in 1994.

The St. Anthony box gives them the freedom to be the missionaries that they are. They haven’t a clue of the good they are doing and how the aid makes a difference to other lives thousands of miles away. They will never meet these people. They don’t speak the same language but that penny makes life so much better.

I had extra gold stars left over from making the Christmas cards so I stuck them to the front of the Christmas card envelopes. As I was handing one to a lady this morning, she was struck by the star. Then it dawned on me. The mite box keepers are the stars in our world.