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Letter: Sr. Aline Needham to Joseph Cahalan MD, September 17th 1978: An Account of Needham Family History

Sr. Aline Needham, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, MI, was a cousin of two different branches of Cahalans, having descended from Patrick and Bridget Cahalan Needham, the daughter of James and Mary Mulfahey Cahalan, immigrants. Her account precedes her own birth by two generations, providing the second link to the Cahalans, through an aunt, Mary, who married a John Cahalan (possibly James' brother, though Sr. Aline does not know this (and it is likely that she would have, had it been true, though she provides for the possibility) in Hubbardstown, MI. It seems that she was approached by my grandfather, Joseph Cahalan MD, to write out her line of descent, and that the request was made at the funeral observances of a mutual cousin, Fred Schroeder, in 1978. This letter and its included information is the result of that request.

This account is important since is the definitive information we have about the Needham branch of the family, and also since the link between the Cahalans and the Needhams suffered a break after Patrick Needham abandoned his family. His wife Bridget subsequently led a life marked by tragedy and travel, and died, as best we can tell, in California, after losing most of her children as adults. Her story is told here in the Narratives and Biographies section of this site.

Reproduced below are the letter to Joseph Cahalan, the enclosed genealogical information with a note in Joseph's hand, and a copy of the envelope in which they were sent, for reference.

1978-09-17a Needham, Sr. Aline.jpg
1978-09-17b Needham, Sr. Aline.jpg
1978-09-17c Needham, Sr_edited.jpg



Dear Joseph,

It was good to meet so many of the Cahalan Family at Fred's funeral--so often that is the only time relatives and friends meet.

While it was an occasion of sadness for Evelyn and her family, nevertheless, it must be a relief for them to know that Fred is now at peace after his long years of suffering.  I know that Evelyn will have many lonely hours but it is fortunate that the children and grandchildren are so devoted to her and not to far away.

I am happy to give the enclosed information on the Needham Family as far as I know it.  Now, in return, if it is not asking too much, I shall be most grateful to receive any information you have on the Cahalan Family.

Greetings, prayers, and peace to you and your family.

Sincerely in Mary,

Sr. Aline Needham, OP

Note (Joseph Cahalan):


This is the information from Sister Aline.





My knowledge of the early history of the Needham Family is quite limited, however, this is accurate.

My greatgrand mother Needham, a widow, with six young children left Neenah, Tipperary sometime during the 1840's, likely likely during the potato famine and landed in New York where she stayed for a time with her family before coming with her family to Hubbardston.

The children were:

  1. Dennis who married but had no children

  2. Julia who married Michael O'Brien

  3. Bridget who never married

  4. Mary who married John Cahalan (somehow related to our branch but I do not know how.)

  5. Another girl who became a Mrs. Dooley, who with her family moved to Chicago and connections were lost.

  6. Finally Patrick who married Bridget Cahalan, your great-grandmother to whom were born the following children:

  • Jim, the oldest who died at the age of 17​

  • Jule and Molly who never married

  • Fathers John and Dennis

  • Kitty and Joe who were single and died in early 20's or later teens.

  • Will who never married.

  • Ann who married Con Redmond (They had one daughter, Mary June now Mrs. George Copeland who has three children, two of whom are married and a third a junior in college. Mary June lives in Pacific Palisades, California.

  • My father Richard who married Mary Carroll (I had a younger sister who died at the age of 13, the year before I entered the convent in 1913.

Other information you may be interested in.

When the Hubbardston Lumber Company closed, one in which my grandfather was envolved [sic], the entire family except my father moved to Traverse City and completed their high school education at St. Francis School there.  Many of our older sisters knew the family well.

Uncle Will had a business college there until ill health forced him to close it.  He then joined his mother and three sisters, who in the meantime had moved to Detroit.

Father John was the first pastor of St. Mary's, Royal [Oak] but because of ill health had to give up his pastoral duties and join his mother and disters who were then in California where he remained until he died in 1947.

Father Dennis was pastor of St. John's Ypsilanti until he died in 1925.

From this you see that I am the "last leaf" on the Needham Family tree.

This is an interesting sidelight. In the hubbardston cemetery, there is the grave of great-grandmother Needham with her name, that of her husband and one or two sons who died in Ireland.

My father told em the present church in Hubbardston still in use is the one built from lumber my grandfather sold the parish.


In regard to "Finally Patrick who married Bridget Cahalan, your great-grandmother," Sr. Aline misplaces a relative.  Joseph's great-grandmother was Mary Mulfahey Cahalan, not her daughter Bridget.

Sr. Aline refers to herself as "the "last leaf" on the Needham Family tree," which is very likely why Joseph asked for her account of her family history.

Since this site will not include a narrative of Sr. Aline Needham, and since I have the opportunity to reprint it here, Nancy Tenfelde Clasby, one of Sr. Aline's students at Marywood, the school run by the Dominican Sisters in Grand Rapids, memorialized her this way in the dedication of her book, New Jerusalem: Myth, Literature and the Sacred: "Marywood was an inspiration to follow the life of thought and teaching, and Srs. Aline and Blanche were my models. Their rigorous intellects and broad cultural interests set a standard for all my later academic pursuits. Their piety and devotion to the truth was a pattern for spiritual and philosophical growth.”

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