Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Mary Edith Raley and Francis Leonard “Zig” Hayden are seen in these photos. They are the grandparents of Bishop William F. Medley. COURTESY OF BISHOP MEDLEY

Rooted in faith, God’s promise seen in 300+ descendants of one Kentucky couple

“I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and grains of sand on the seashore.”  – Genesis 22:17

Mary Edith Raley and Francis Leonard “Zig” Hayden were married on May 27, 1924 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Chicago, Kentucky.  (The name of Chicago was later changed to St. Francis in the 1930s.) Of this marriage they were blessed with 13 children, two of whom died as infants. The 11 children who reached adulthood all married and gave Edith and Zig 51 grandchildren.  Those 51 grandchildren gave them 108 great-grandchildren. Those 108 great-grandchildren have so far produced 122 great-great grandchildren. There are 11 great-great-great grandchildren.

My grandmother was raised as an only child as her only two younger siblings died as small children. She always recalled the aloneness with no other children around and said that she wanted a large family.

At this point these numbers are changing frequently. But there are now well more than 300 descendants of one couple over 100 years. The promise made to Abraham and Sarah recorded in the Book of Genesis may not seem like just literary exaggeration.

In 1974, there was a celebration of the golden jubilee of this marriage. At that time there were fewer than 75 descendants – the 13 children, 50 of the 51 grandchildren, and perhaps eight of the great-grandchildren. Less than 100 of the descendants had been born by 1974.

This Memorial Day weekend, the Hayden family descendants will gather for a reunion. Edith and Zig died in 1982 and 1983, respectively. More than two-thirds of the descendants never knew them. They may well know some stories, however. Perhaps they will hear other stories when they gather. Some stories may be happy and funny, and others may recount sorrows and sadness.

Edith and Zig Hayden are my grandparents. I am the sixth of the 51 grandchildren. I suppose that means that I am the 19th of the more than 300 descendants. My earliest memories are that seven of my aunts and uncles were still teenagers and young adults living “at home.” (I remember spending the night there often, but I don’t remember where I slept. There could not have been spare beds. Can you imagine getting up to prepare breakfast for such a family every morning?)

It seems like I was always going to weddings when I was young. There was no separation between generations. My older brother – the first grandchild – was but 16 months younger than my youngest aunt. There were great-grandchildren coming along before all the grandchildren were born, and that story continues.

I suppose when we gather, I will meet some of these of the younger generations for the very first time.

As with the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we are rooted in faith. Faith in a God that provides against all odds. Trust in a God who will continue to bless us and those who will follow us.

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro

Originally printed in the May 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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