By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Hollywood used to write love stories like this, but a cynical world stopped believing them.
It was around 2 a.m. on June 9, 1944, when 15-year-old Mary Michler and her friends, who had taken the wrong bus on their way home from the movies, walked into Pops, a Kansas City hamburger joint at 44th and Prospect.
Charles Cahill, was celebrating his high school graduation that night, fell in love. At first glance. For both of them.
“I knew the girl she was with, so I had her introduce me,” Charles said. “I told my best friend the next morning that I met the girl I was going to marry.”
What followed was 67 years of love, not just that between a man and a woman, but also between a father and daughter, that survived through hurt, torment, rejection, before finally coming to a place of acceptance and peace, and love between a people and a church always willing to welcome home.
Charles courted Mary for a year against the express orders of her father. He was 18 and she was just 16 when Charles popped the question. Of course she would marry him.
But her father was furious.
“I gave her an engagement ring, a diamond, and he threw it out the dining room window,” Charles said.
“I went out and found it,” Mary said. “I was lucky to have found it.”
They would have preferred to have the blessing of Mary’s parents. But since they didn’t, they weren’t going to stop loving each other. They just changed their wedding plans.
On Sept. 27, 1945, they took off for Paola, Kan., and were married before a justice of the peace who, fortunately for them, asked no questions — including Mary’s age.
“The judge who married us had a big drinking problem,” Charles said. “It was probably the only way we could get married.”
They returned to the home of Charles’s parents, where they planned to live. Mary’s parents met them.
“My mother tapped me on the shoulder and told me, ‘You’re coming with us,’” Mary said. Her parents refused to let her even leave the house for two weeks.
Finally, with Mary’s mother backing her up, her father relented and let her join Charles — but not before he virtually disowned her.
Three months later, Charles was drafted into the Army, and Mary wanted to live with her parents.
“I told my Dad that Charles left for the service,” Mary said. “He told me, ‘What do you want me to do about it?’” Heartbroken, she moved back with Charles’s parents.
But even two years of military separation couldn’t dull the love between Charles and Mary.
Charles reached for his wallet, but Mary quickly snatched out of his hands. “Don’t you dare show that,” she snapped.
So he instead described what he carried in every wallet he has owned for the last 65 years.
“When I was stationed in Japan, Mary sent me a letter. Inside that letter was a picture of the most gorgeous girl you’ll ever see, wearing a bathing suit,” he said, with a wink. “I’ve carried that picture around with me all these years.”
Years went by and the breach between Mary and her father slowly healed, thanks to the love of her mother.
“She backed me up so much,” Mary said.
Charles was also hurt, but never lost respect for his father-in-law.
“I never had anything against him,” he said. “And I always got along with her brothers.”
When they had been married 25 years, Mary’s mother died, and her father was in failing health. She did what a daughter does. She took him into her home.
“He didn’t have any place to go,” she said.
Her father lived for six months, but asked Mary to promise him one thing — that she and Charles would have their marriage blessed in the Catholic Church.
She made that promise just before he died, but had no idea how to fulfill it. Charles wasn’t Catholic, and Mary had stopped practicing her Catholic faith when they were married in a civil ceremony.
Forty-one more years passed, and Mary couldn’t forget.
This summer, she decided to act.
“We were talking and I told Charles that we had made this promise to my father,” she said. “I told him it was time.”
It was Charles who took the big step. He knew of no place else to call but St. Therese Little Flower Church, where Mary was baptized in 1929.
After listening to her story, Father Ernie Davis, administrator of the parish, told her the good news — of course the church will bless a marriage going on 66 years.
It could even be a sacramental marriage as long as both of them were baptized Christians. That was no problem for Mary. Her baptismal record was still at St. Therese.
But Charles said he might have been baptized as an infant in the Baptist tradition — which ordinarily does not baptize infants — but wouldn’t even begin to know where to look for any record of it.
So he took one more step. Charles told Father Davis that he wanted to join Mary as she resumed her practice of the Catholic faith.
On Sept. 27, 2011, 66 years after they stood before a less-than-sober justice of the peace in Paola, Kan., Charles and Mary Cahill received their sacramental marriage.
On Nov. 6, 2011, Charles Cahill was baptized and confirmed during the 11:15 a.m. Mass, then he for the first time in his life, and Mary for the first time in decades, received Holy Communion.
“It’s wonderful,” Mary said. “It’s been a wonderful life with him, even before I made the promise to my father. And it’s wonderful now.”