The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2005

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


Book Review

Good Old Doctor Mac

1856 - 1927


Robert F. McNamara

reviewed by

Bill Treichler

115 pages, index, 16-page picture album, 6 x 9 inches, paper cover.
Order from Devon Press, 311 Turner Street, Utica, NY, 13501
Book price: $12.95; $17.83 with shipping and tax included.

This book is a tribute to Thomas Alexander McNamara by his son Robert F. McNamara. Thomas died 78 years ago when Robert was only sixteen years old. All of this time, Robert has been reliving his own memories of his father, collecting reminiscences from conversations and family letters, and realizing the effects of many events upon his father's life. It has been a work-in-progress for some years beginning with shorter articles about Corning's Old Doc Mac, and is now beautifully completed.

Author Robert's grandfather, Patrick McNamara (born in 1822), arrived in Hornellsville when he was 28 years old. His parents Daniel and Ann McInerney brought their family from County Limerick to rural New York, past the Irish enclaves in the seaboard cities, to opportunity and ready work on the Erie Railroad. Patrick began as a track worker and soon became a section boss. In 1854 he married Frances McMullen. They raised two girls and five boys in a small self-built house in Adrian, convenient to the section of track for which Patrick was responsible.

The boys were encouraged by their father to learn telegraphy at the railroad depot, but prohibited from hanging around the country-store loungers. The boys worked for the railroad to earn money to go to school, then taught in grade school to go on to seminaries and college. Oldest son, Daniel, and second son, Thomas Alexander, went off together to New York Medical School where they completed the courses in two years to become medical doctors. All five brothers completed medical schooling and four practiced medicine.

Dr. Thomas chose Corning to begin his practice in 1882. He became an Erie Railroad resident surgeon in 1885 and in July that year married Katherine Dwyer, daughter of Thomas and Bridget O'Malley Dwyer. Katherine and Thomas McNamara's first child, Adrian Alexander, was born in 1886 while they were living in an apartment of a building owned by Kate's parents. In 1888 the McNamaras bought a house and remodeled it for living space and for Tom's office on the first floor, and for rental rooms on the second floor.

Dr. McNamara came to be sought by many people, non-Catholics as well as parishioners, and was widely acknowledged as "Good Old Doctor Mac." While he was a railroad surgeon he must have seen many horrible injuries, and doctoring during the diphtheria and influenza epidemics, much bereavement. His personal sorrows were very severe. Two of his own children died as infants, and his wife Kate died in 1897 when she was only 33.

Not surprisingly, Doc Mac went through a period of depression. After several years, he married Helen (Nell) Dwyer, Katherine's sister, who had come to help him take care of his children and household after Katherine's death. When Dr. Mac's son Robert Francis McNamara was born in 1910, the doctor's depression lifted.

Undoubtedly emotional suffering had mellowed Thomas, but as a son of Patrick and grandson of immigrant Daniel he remained an optimistic investor, a holder of independent views; he spoke out against birth control in Margaret Sanger's hometown, and opposed prohibition. He was even elected mayor of Corning and served in other public positions.

I did enjoy the picture album of the nattily dressed McNamara men at family functions and the ladies wearing gorgeous dresses and wide-brimmed hats. This book is an Irish success story of the McNamara family and the other immigrant families they married into.

Rev. Robert F. McNamara is a graduate of Georgetown and Harvard Universities and the Gregorian Theological University in Rome. He was ordained a Rochester diocesan priest in 1936 and taught church history for 43 years at St. Bernard's until 1981 when the seminary closed. His first book, A Century of Grace (1948), was the story of his hometown parish, St Mary's in Corning. In 1956 his The American College in Rome was published. His The Diocese of Rochester first appeared in 1968, and he updated it in 1998. He has been the archivist of the Rochester Diocese since 1976. Father McNamara has also written many descriptions of everyday life and people in Corning, Rochester and other localities, a number of which have appeared in The Crooked Lake Review. He says this is his "last book." That shouldn't exclude some more stories for all of us to enjoy.

CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR