Knock at the door at 811 W. Durink in St. Marys, and in the past, a magnanimous and welcoming voice would holler, “Come in!” Open the door and go in. There, at her kitchen table, would sit the lady of the house, Irene Pryor. If there is any person in the Kaw Valley or in Kansas or even in this country who can match the Ghost of Christmas Present’s beckoning to Scrooge, “Come in! and know me better, man!” it was Irene. Much like that fictional phantom, she had a voice that was ostentatious, commanding, and ever good-humored. Merry is a good word, but jocund is better.
On November 28, 1957, (Thanksgiving Day), Irene was born in Brooklyn to Thaddeus and Camille Dabrowski. Her father, once president of the Dachs Printing Company and associate editor at Griffon House Publishing, was heavily involved in national politics, serving as the chairman for the Conservative party in Queens. He died when Irene was only fourteen. Upon graduating from high school, Irene was determined to be a nurse, but the liberalism of the college professors, mocking religion, was beginning to take a toll on her, and she found herself struggling to keep her Catholic faith. At that time, she was also working at Ozanam Nursing Home in Queens, a facility run by a religious order of nuns. When she decided to quit New York, she explained to the nuns that she was leaving “because I want to find my faith again.”
She left the big city, the Big Apple, and arrived in the rural community of Powers Lake, North Dakota. What a drastic change of atmosphere! From the city life with millions of people, she moved to a small town with less than 400 people, where she again worked at a local nursing home. At the Shrine of Our Lady of the Prairies, she met her future husband John Pryor, from Utica, NY. He, like many others, came to Powers Lake searching for the Traditional Latin Mass, following the changes of Vatican II and came to be guided by Fr. Frederick Nelson at the shrine.
John and Irene were married on May 23, 1979 and on the advice of Fr. Nelson, the newlyweds moved to St. Mary’s where Fr. Hector Bolduc had begun to bring back to life the old Jesuit campus. Here the young couple would raise their six children in a home that was not well-off but it was happy. Their poverty never dampened Irene’s persistent and generous spirit. Over the years this generosity only grew and flourished. Irene, it is often remembered, would return from auctions with vanloads of various things to give to people in need. Her home was always open to guests and what she had, even if it was little, she shared liberally. She made newcomers feel welcome and helped countless new parishioners get settled in St. Mary’s. She was a perfect hostess, ever hospitable and ever happy.
Her strong Queens accent, which she also never lost, added to her jocund and candid character. It was as if that accent gave her license to counsel the soul with blunt observations or insight, or enliven the spirit with her boisterous and vociferous bantering. But never, or rarely, did she offend. And if she did, it would hurt her to know that she had offended. For behind that seemingly curt and raucous demeanor beat a heart that yearned to please and to heal. Regardless, she was as full of wisdom as she was of laughter and jollity. And her guests and her friends could not help but be bettered by her presence.
In the past several years, Irene worked as a monitor at St. Mary’s Academy. Her office was a popular resort among the girls, who stopped to enjoy her wisdom and wit. As she sat there and chatted with the girls, her fingers worked constantly making rosaries for souls in various missions in Africa, Asia, and in many other parts of the world. Even recently, someone sent Irene a photo of a young Ukrainian soldier preparing for battle. Around his neck he was wearing one of the rosaries that Irene had made.
Irene, however, suffered from cancer. As her health deteriorated quickly in the summer of 2022, she told her family and friends that she would most likely not survive until Christmas or even Thanksgiving. But such generosity and joviality does not die overnight and she lived six months longer than she projected. She died in the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 21, 2023.
Now, if a passerby should knock at the door of 811 W. Durink, he may still hear, “Come in.” Somehow the words sound the same, but with less volume. They come from the family parrot, Harvey, who had learned to mimic the voice and the words, but alas, not the spirit of dear Irene.
In life, Irene is survived by her husband John; their children, Maximina (Doug) Ronnau, David (Jackie) Pryor, Mary (Thomas) Neeck, Gerard (Sarah) Pryor, Alexandra (Nathaniel) Hall, and Ann Pryor, as well as 15 grandchildren: Meredith, Callie, Abby, Kevin, Penny, Karl, Sophie, Margret, Katherine, William, Edward, Genevieve, Beatrice, Theodore, and Liam.
She is also survived by her five sisters, Joyce Nakelski, Lorraine Krasinski, Ruth Walsh, Janet McNally, and Marion Walsh, and a brother Vincent (Mary) Dabrowski. In death, she is preceded by her parents Thaddeus and Camille Dabrowski, and her brother Paul Dabrowski.
Requiem Mass will be at 10:00 A.M. Wednesday, June 28, 2023 at the Immaculata. Burial will be in Our Lady of Peace Cemetery. There will be a visitation from 1:00 to 4:00 PM Tuesday, June 27, 2023 at Piper Funeral Home followed by a Rosary at 5:20 P.M. at the Church.