BANGOR, Maine — When David Kane became a member of the Catholic Church on Sunday, he wore the same garment his great-great-great-grandmother wore when she was baptized the year after the Civil War ended.
Since Mary Elizabeth Grady, the daughter of Irish immigrants, was baptized in 1866 in the long, flowing christening gown, 125 of her relatives from six generations have donned it for their own baptisms.
David Kane was born March 5 to Bill and Erin Kane of Bangor. Bill is a physical education teacher at All Saints Catholic School and Erin is a leasing representative for Orchard Trails Apartments in Orono.
The gown comes from the mother’s side of the family. Erin Kane’s maiden name is Nason. The family keeps a book, which includes pictures and names of babies who have been baptized in the garment during the past 147 years.
The Rev. Timothy Nadeau, who administered the sacrament at St. John’s Catholic Church in Bangor, pointed out that the historic church is only 10 years older than the Grady garment. The Kanes were married in St. John’s last year.
“I just fell in love with this book and the history of this gown,” Bill Kane said, adding that he knew he and his wife had to continue this family tradition after she told him about it. “It’s amazing that it can even be brought out to be worn.”
The Kanes put the white gown with lace trim on their young son just before the ceremony. The family is afraid to damage the delicate heirloom, so it’s stored carefully and is only worn for a short time during baptisms.
The well-traveled garment has followed several family members abroad, according to Angela Nason, David’s grandmother and the keeper of the gown. Family members have used the gown during travels to Morocco, Japan and Nicaragua. The next trip may be to England.
After each baptism, family members send a picture of the baby wearing the gown to add to the book, which has become a family genealogical record of sorts. Many family members who attended Sunday’s baptism appear in the book themselves.
“It’s very important to all of us, not only because of our faith, but because it helps hold our family together,” Nason said.
Erin Kane said she hopes that one day her grandchildren will be baptized in the garment.
When asked how he felt as a father on Sunday, Bill Kane said “it’s been pure joy since day one.”