By James Dempsey
The stained-glass window on the western side of the vestibule to the Dinand Library is a complex glow of blood red, sapphire, green and gold, showing the Virgin Mary enthroned in glory. At the bottom of the window is the legend, “In Memory of Michael Earls ’96, Priest of the Society of Jesus.”
These days Fr. Earls’ name is known mostly to Holy Cross historians and a few literary scholars. Yet, in his time, and as the descendants of his many siblings know, he was a man of humble beginnings who rose to befriend the famous and who brought national attention to Holy Cross.
Michael J. Earls was born Oct. 3, 1873, the oldest of 10 children born to Martin and Mary (Shaughnessy) Earls. Martin’s family was from County Clare, Mary’s from Limerick. The two married in 1872.
Fr. Earls attended Southbridge (Mass.) schools and a college preparatory school in New Brunswick. In Southbridge, he briefly worked alongside his father in the Hamilton Mill and taught evening school.
He entered Holy Cross in 1893, involving himself in sports and dramatics (his most famous turn was in Shakespeare’s Henry IV as “Master Quickly,” no doubt a masculinized version of Mistress Quickly), but his future was obviously in literature. He took on editorship of The Purple and began to write poetry.
In 1896, Fr. Earls conducted postgraduate studies at Georgetown and traveled through Europe. He entered the Society of Jesus in September 1899 and taught for five years at Boston College, directing the college orchestra and chorus. When he left, his friends and colleagues established the Earls Scholarship for “deserving youths of Boston’s areas.”
Fr. Earls returned to his first love, Holy Cross, for the 1914-15 school year. So began a career that was so closely bound to his beloved College that one tribute said his name was “almost synonymous with Holy Cross itself.”
His verse often commingled sentiments of religion and the natural world. “To an Oak in Winter” is a Petrarchan sonnet that views a winter tree as a symbol of faith enduring troubled times. In other poems, Fr. Earls faces the dilemma of belief and the battle between body and soul. “The Lifelong War” begins “Still goes the strife; the anguish does not die,” and admits
… The spirit’s eye
Approves the better things; but senses spy
The passing sweets, spurning the present fears,
And take their moment’s prize.
He celebrated Linden Lane, the road that climbs the hill from the main entrance of the College, in at least two poems. The first, written in 1917, contrasts the beauty of spring on the campus with the ugly fact of a war that was emptying the College of its young men:
Birds are merry and the buds
Come along with May:
Lonely is the linden lane
For lads that went today.
The war and its effect on the College weighed heavily on Fr. Earls. An apparently later poem, “The Towers of Holy Cross,” takes on a more somber tone:
And mine are gone, says Beaven Hall,
To camps by hill and plain,
And mine along by Newport Sea,
Says the high tower of O’Kane:
I follow mine, Alumni calls,
Across the watery main.
His second poem on Linden Lane was lighter, more in the spirit of a school song, which it eventually became:
There’s a hill that’s always jolly
In sunshine or rain,
And the winding road that climbs it
Is dear old Linden Lane.
The refrain is known to most alumni:
Then we’ll give another Hoya
As we go down Linden Lane,
And we’ll hear it in the echo
When we come home again.
The Bard of Linden Lane, continued >>>