Mary Agnes Bruen, called “Fritty” by her family, was born to John Bruen and Ellen “Nellie” Byron on 2 June 1892 in the home of her grandfather, Michael James Byron. Mary Agnes was baptized at St. Lawrence O’Toole Catholic Church on 3 July 1892 with Michael as her sponsor.

She was born into poverty; her family lived in the north city neighborhood known as Kerry Patch. Her father drifted in and out of their lives and shortly after the birth of her sister, Florence, John abandoned the family. Life was a daily struggle for Nellie and her girls and Agnes was never able to attend school. Her mother died in 1906, and the older sisters, barely getting by themselves, were unable to care for her. At just fourteen, Mary Agnes was on her own.

Mary Agnes often told stories about moving around a lot, staying with family or friends, and working at a private school where she was allowed to live. What we can be sure of is that this part of her life must have been very difficult. Kerry Patch was a dangerous place in which to live in the early 1900s. A gang called the Egan Rats controlled everything in the city, from organized crime to politics and even the police department. The stories Agnes told were of a benevolent Robin Hood-like band of fellows, who protected and helped the poor Irish. Her sister, Nonie, lived with Willie Egan, whose brother, Tom, was the leader of the gang, so her perception of them may have been a little rosier than most.

There is one story she never told. In December 1909, seventeen-year-old Agnes lied about her age. In a civil ceremony in Clayton, she married John William O’Hair. The couple was not together very long; John left when she was six months pregnant. Their child, named Nellie after Agnes’s mother, died at only eight weeks old.

When John left, Agnes turned to her friend Lizzie Kane. The group photo was taken at Lizzie’s boarding house in 1911. In the center of the back row, Mary Agnes is holding her daughter Nellie.
In 1917, Agnes married my grandfather, Robert Park. They had five children and were together for more than thirty-five years. Her children tell stories of Fritty, who loved a party, and with a bit of encouragement would get up on the table and do a dance she called “The Irish Breakdown.” I have fond memories of her as well. One favorite is when the family gathered at my aunt’s home during a storm and Grandma Agnes sprinkled holy water on the children and had us say the rosary. Mostly though, when around her I just remember feeling loved.

On the night of 26 August 1958, Agnes woke her daughter Dorothy, said she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to sit outside for a bit. As they sat together on the porch, Agnes quietly passed away. She was sixty-six years old. Agnes was buried on 29 August at Calvary Cemetery next to Robert.

Submitted by Michelle Pearce
January 2020

© 2020 St. Louis Genealogical Society


Mary Bruen O'Hair with baby
Mary Agnes with her daughter, Nelly, center back
Photo in the collection of Michelle Pearce
Used with permission
Mary Agnes Bruen O'Hair
Mary Agnes (Bruen) O’Hair Park
Photo in the collection of Michelle Pearce
Used with permission

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Last Modified: 26-Jun-2020 11:20