Stations of the Cross at Saint Francis de Sales

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First Station, from the Stations of the Cross at Saint Francis de Sales Church, Philadelphia

Our church was completed in 1911, with this set of mosaic Stations of the Cross by Mayer & Co, — identical to those our second pastor Reverend Crane had installed at St. Malachy just a few years before!

They are accompanied here with a 1924 Key of Heaven text donated to the Parish archives by a parishioner. The writing is more formal than we expect today, and pre-Vatican II, but those who prayed using this text had recently survived the 1918 Influenza epidemic, providing a link to our history! (Click here for the PDF: stations of the cross. The link is also provided under the Self-Guided Tours tab). Incidentally, this particular volume of the Key of Heaven has a 1931 gift inscription in the front by Reverend William Canney who grew up in the parish, became a priest, assisted at the parish from 1924 to 1934 and died in 1937 (his story is posted here: Tuberculosis).

Thomas V. Lilly: Human Cork

DSCN6400 (2)SFDS has had its share of “quirky” personalities through the years, but, as far as we are aware, only one who was described as cork-like or “corky”!!

The story of parishioner and Knight of Columbus Thomas V. Lilly seems at first unremarkable: he was born and grew up in Philadelphia, left school after eighth grade, and started as a draftsman in a machine shop, according to the census – possibly employed by his brother-in-law, James Dunton, a Machine Shop Superintendent. In 1897, the two men shared a patent for a bicycle bell. At some point, Lilly joined the Dunton household and moved with his sister and brother-in-law to 920 South 50th Street, where he would spend most of the rest of his life – first with the Duntons and then on his own — until he transferred to a nursing home shortly before he died.

Lilly dreamed of escaping from machine shop work, though, so when Cedar Park opened at 50th and Baltimore in 1911, he took an appointment as its first Superintendent. Collier’s magazine reports this left him time for hobbies: “Lilly was an amateur boxer, professional tap dancer and amateur diver before he became a cork. It happened on his fifty-fifth birthday when skeptical friends bound his ankles, knees and wrists with sash cord and tossed him— fully clothed—into a swimming pool. Lilly shucked off the ropes, undressed (to his trunks), wrung out his wet clothes, stored them on his stomach, floated around for a bit, then dressed and swam to the pool ladder.”

Lilly kept escaping. In 1932, he made the news with an exhibition of floating and diving, as “the 65-year-old natator (swimmer) who is still able to show the youngsters a few tricks about the water sport.” Collier’s Magazine reported in 1948 that “Thomas Vincent Lilly of Philadelphia…recently celebrated his eighty-second birthday by asking his neighbors to throw him, bound and gagged, off a diving board. They obliged. Thomas Vincent wiggled out of the ropes in one minute and five seconds. Lilly, a pensioned city employee, modestly discounts any element of risk. “I can’t sink,” he explains. ‘I float all day without twitching a muscle. Doctors have examined me plenty of times but they can’t account for my corkiness.’

 In November 1950, Lilly’s obituary noted that he “was famous for his aquatic feats, and demonstrated his ‘Houdini’ rope escape trick in the West Branch YMCA pool two years ago.” Parishioner Joe Ruane, whose Dad had an Electrical shop at 4830 Baltimore Avenue, offers “I don’t know anything about Thomas Lilly, per se. I do recall the legend of a person who did Houdini escapes at the YMCA which in those days was on 52nd Street…The rumor was something I heard from someone in my Dad’s store when I was about 13 or 14.

Lilly was known for rope tricks in his lifetime, but he surprised with one final stunt as a magician at investments. In June, 1951, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported “for 23 years Thomas V. Lilly…was Superintendent of Cedar Park, a public square at 50th St. and Baltimore Ave. Appointed to the post in 1911 by the Bureau of City Property at a per diem wage of $1.50, he never earned a wage more than $3.75 a day, which he was receiving when he retired in 1934. Yet, through profitable investments in securities and stocks, started with his small savings, he amassed a $50,000 fortune, the bulk of which he bequeathed to charity…” a sizeable amount at the time. Among his bequests was a large sum for St. Francis de Sales Church; in addition, the residue of his estate was willed to Bishop Lamb – then pastor of St. Francis de Sales – “to be used for charitable purposes as he sees fit.

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A Little Bit of Ireland

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There’s a little bit of Ireland in the candlesticks that usually adorn our Altar – possibly the only bit of Ireland in our church!

When Reverend Crane hired architect Henry Dagit to remodel St. Malachy Church at 1429 north 11th St. “in the Byzantine style” in 1902 – their first project together — they created an exuberant  celebration of Irishness for a church named after an Irish patron saint, with an Irish congregation.

A few years later, in 1907, when the pair worked on plans for St. Francis de Sales Church, they envisioned something more cosmopolitan to reflect a different neighborhood and a different heritage. Our patron saint was from a European region once claimed by France and Italy, with part of his diocese in Switzerland. Early parishioners were a mix of Irish and German, among other nationalities (Henry Dagit was of German ancestry, and this was his home parish!). If you look around our church, you will find shields of Savoy; acanthus leaves and other European sculptural motifs; Byzantine-romanesque architectural inspiration from southern France; mosaics like Ravenna, Italy; and windows based on European paintings. Notably, there are no shamrocks, floridly Celtic crosses, or statues of Saint Patrick, though the color green – generally stylish for the era – is prominent in the molded tilework.

Our second Pastor, Reverend (later Bishop) Crane, who built our church, was proud of his Irish family background, though, and there were many Irish parishioners, so Henry Dagit quietly incorporated Irish Connemara marble inlays to the design of his altar candlesticks. It’s a subtle but appropriate tribute: found only in Western Ireland, “many adherents claim that the rich green hues of Connemara marble imitate the sages, mosses, lichens, and grasses that flourish throughout Ireland.” The current owner of the Irish Connemara Marble Co notes that “Americans…like demonstrating their origins, but there are few quality products that are identifiably Irish with which they are able to do so…” and “Because of its scarcity, Connemara marble is also one of the rarest marbles still available.”  The marble has been used in many places in this country for its green accent color and also as a symbol of Irish heritage – perhaps most notably in our State Capitol building in Harrisburg.

Connemara marble is not just a piece of Ireland – the stone formed millions of years before St. Patrick, in the Precambrian age at the dawn of earth’s history. Created from “lime mud sediment deposited on a shallow sea floor around 650-750 million years ago, it was later subjected to high temperatures and pressures during a mountain building event” and ribboned with different minerals over time: “Connemara marble shows twisted and interlocking bands of serpentine in varying shades of green, sepia, and gray, punctuated with seams of crystalline and dolomite – each piece making its own statement.” The pretty stone is a piece of earth’s layered history. Its presence on the candlesticks which illuminate the altar, reminds us that the solidity of rock has been central to the Universal Church, since Jesus named Peter and announced “upon this rock I will build my church.”

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Woodland Avenue Roots

A002A story has been making the rounds that St. Francis de Sales Parish “was founded upstairs from a bar on Baltimore Avenue.”

It’s not true! And it’s just one of many casual pieces of misinformation that have been tossed into circulation about our church in recent times.

Where did our Parish actually begin? The Catholic Standard reported that the first Mass for the “New Mission Chapel” that would become our parish took place in a rented hall on the second floor of a commercial building on the “south east side of Woodland below Forty-ninth street” on February 16, 1890.

Woodland Avenue was one of the oldest, most well-known roads in the area. It began its life as part of the “King’s Highway” – a roughly 1,300-mile road laid out in the 1600s on the order of King Charles II of England, to link Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina. The local section was eventually renamed “Darby Road,” then became known as the “Darby Plank Road” in the 1850s, when it was covered with wooden boards to provide a better surface  “for the sporting fraternity, who speeded their fast horses over it.” When the boards wore out, racing stopped, and the road was renamed yet again as “Woodland Avenue.” Through all its early history, it was a busy, well-established commercial corridor; so when nearby farms and fields gave way to the rows of houses that we know today, and a need developed for a new parish to serve them, it was natural that our first Masses would find a home there.

The Woodland Avenue building where our first services were held is now long gone. The only photos available are the two supposed versions taken in 1940 for the Parish Jubilee Book: one with signs edited out, and an un-retouched version which shows a dry cleaner and an Oyster House on the ground floor, with a photographer or dentist occupying the second floor. We have so far been unable to determine what businesses occupied the premises in 1890, and the 1940 photos may not actually show the correct address.

The first Masses for Most Blessed Sacrament Parish are reported to have been held in a rented house at 5550 Woodland Avenue starting in May 1901.

How did the “Bar on Baltimore Ave.” story come about? Perhaps it emerged when someone misunderstood or misremembered that the piece of land on which our first chapel was built in 1891 (today it’s the part of the school that contains  the auditorium) included a small portion of the back lot of the Cherry Tree Inn – an historic hotel and tavern on Baltimore Avenue. The assertion could have been made flippantly, on the “spur-of-the-moment,” in one place — and then developed a life of its own.

Truth still matters.  In a modern age, when rapidly moving information is quoted and requoted in multiple places and different situations, it’s unhelpful to circulate half-remembered information without checking it, or to improve upon the facts in order to suit an agenda or to make a better story. Every misstatement or misrepresentation becomes a new tangle to upset or confuse and further complicate the future. We’ve seen that happen around the world in multiple contexts, in matters big and small, sometimes with horrifying results. Honest mistakes will occur but let’s make the sincere effort to limit them where we can.

Madonna of the Harpies

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D’Ascenzo Studios crafted four large round “rose” windows for our church between 1909 and 1910. Their archives confirm that the one behind the altar depicts the Trinity, and the window in the choir loft shows St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, but the other two are unrecorded.

The window on the Mary side of our church is a “sacra conversazione,” or “sacred conversation,” showing Mary standing on a pedestal, holding Baby Jesus, with a saint on either side.  It is based on an Andrea del Sarto painting known as the Madonna of the Harpies  because of the birdlike human monsters,  resembling characters from Greek mythology, on the original column base (changed to a cross on a shield in our window).

That painting has its own odd history. Hanging in the Uffizi today, it was created in 1517 for the Poor Clares  Convent of  San Francesco dei Macci in Florence, which also sheltered “unhappily married women.” (aka women separated from their husbands, and victims of domestic violence). The original commission specified that St. Bonaventure — a Franciscan who valued study, as well as simplicity, poverty, and work —  should be painted on the left, but their patron Saint Francis of Assisi was ultimately placed there instead. Saint John the Evangelist was always on the right. No one knows why the “harpies” were included.  Some interpret the painting as depicting Mary’s Assumption or Coronation; others, as “the Virgin triumphant over evil.”

The mystery continues in our church. We don’t know why the painting was chosen for our stained glass window.

One curiosity comes to light: the contract for Andrea de Sarto’s original painting was signed on May 14, 1515. Our parish was founded on May 14, 1890. Is the similarity in dates significant? It’s possible. Imagery in the opposite window could be consistent with Our Lady of the Rosary, on whose feast day (October 6, 1907) our cornerstone was laid.

We’re still working on this one. Perhaps the biggest mystery is why we know so little about such an important decorative element in our church!

A Sister Named Francis de Sales

The St. Francis de Sales Parish rectory often helps people trying to  research family history through parish birth, marriage, or death records, but every now and then, there’s an unusual request —  as when someone, last year, hoped to find out about a long-ago religious relative who simply shared the same name as our Parish.

Jeannie obligingly checked our books and found no record here of a Sister Francis de Sales. Monsignor Joe, who happened to be in the office, thought the address on her death certificate — 225 North Camac Street (near today’s Convention Center) – might be the historic home of the Visitation Sisters when they first came to Philadelphia. With that clue, we spent a pleasant morning pooling our knowledge and resources to uncover an interesting corner of Philadelphia history.

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St. Francis de Sales institutes the Order of the Vistiation with St. Jane Chantal in 1610 (detail of a window by Nicola D’ascenzo. St. Francis de Sales Church, Philadelphia).

The Sisters of the Visitation were founded in Savoy (France), in 1610, by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Chantal, as shown in the middle long window on the 47th street side of our church. The order opened a monastery in the United States, in Mobile, Alabama, in 1833. In 1898, they were invited to start a monastery and school in Mexico, where they were joined by several Mexican Sisters – among them, a young Mexican-Italian woman named Sister Francis de Sales Bortoni.

Political unrest in Mexico in early 1926 endangered the American Sisters and they fled back to the United States, bringing the Mexican Sisters with them as part of the community. It was a difficult time for everyone, and a letter from one of the Sisters  reported “When our community was forced to leave Coyoacan under such painful circumstances our dear Sister Francis de Sales contracted a severe cold…from that time we noted a decline in her health…”

Sister Francis de Sales made her final vows later that year in the crowded Alabama convent, while the Mother Superior was “in Philadelphia preparing a home for our exiled family.” That October, the Sisters moved in to a property on Camac Street (where the order had run a mission and school from 1848 to 1852, which closed during a period of anti-Catholic riots), under the protection of Cardinal Dougherty, who headed the Philadelphia Archdiocese. The Cardinal decided that the nuns, who had been teachers, would not open a school in Philadelphia because the Mexican sisters did not speak English; instead, they would live in a cloister as contemplatives.

The letter offers clues about that life, noting that Sister Francis de Sales had special devotions for “our dear Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and for Our Lady of the Rosary.” Although she was aide “in the Sacristy and in the Dispensary for short periods, and also in the woolen wardrobery, our dear Sister did such exquisite embroidery that during the last years of her life, as long as she was able, she worked for the Service of the Tabernacle.” She never recovered, however, from that initial illness, and eventually, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis: “her heart action became very painful and her sufferings from asphyxia were heartrending” but she united “her sufferings to those of our Blessed Lord” and claimed her soul was “in perfect peace” when she died at age 35.

The Camac Street location was unhealthy, and around 1940, Cardinal Dougherty became concerned that many of the sisters were tubercular. This was a common, deadly, contagious illness in those days: antibiotics were not available to treat it until the late 1940s (Reverend William Canney, of SFDS, died of tuberculosis in 1936) and “fresh air” was the chief treatment. When the order shrunk from 44 to 28 members, the Cardinal found them a new, airier home next to his residence just outside the city at 5820 City Line Avenue – paid for in part with funds from his Jubilee — but by then, Sister Francis de Sales, was long dead from the disease. The Visitation Sisters remain at that address today, though the Cardinal’s residence was sold to St. Joe’s University in 2012.

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Color OUR Collections! From February 3 to 7, 2020, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world are sharing free coloring sheets and books online based on materials in their collections. Last year, our SFDS parish history archives contributed a selection of stained-glass windows and other church details to color; this year, we feature 1920s parish bulletin advertising art to click and print. Check out all the offerings – from SFDS to Drexel University to the Vatican Libraries and beyond — at ColorOurCollections.org

Byzantine Lozenge

P1740237 (5)A “Byzantine lozenge” sounds like a curious cough drop of doubtful medicinal value. Logos, in modern times, generally refer to corporate emblems. But in St. Francis de Sales Church, the terms lozenge and Logos have different meanings, related to the geometric patterns that you see on the crucifix and baldachin, around the tabernacle, on the steps to the original altar, in the border of the sanctuary floor, in windows, and elsewhere – all based on the Byzantine art and symbolism (from the Greek-speaking part of the Eastern Roman Empire 500 to 1450 AD)  that inspired its church decorations back in 1911.

First, what is a lozenge? In art, it’s a fancy word for a diamond shape or a tilted square. Art historians debate its significance. A typical source notes that “…its exact meaning is unclear, but its four corners may be an allusion to the classical concept of the tetragonus mundus (four square world) and its four elements earth, fire, water and air, four seasons etc., or the universe (created on the fourth day according to the Christian Bible, Genesis 1:14-19).” A symbol dictionary suggests that a diamond shape – “the perfection of crystal” — represents “absolute purity and spirituality…In the Renaissance…it was a symbol of courage and strength of character…”

More relevant, are scholarly sources stating “We know that the lozenge was a Christian symbol in early times. It is found on early Christian lamps, perhaps denoting The Light of the World, and is often interchangeable with the cross in Byzantine work.” Now we’re getting somewhere. The diamond symbol represented a cross in Byzantine art (imagine perpendicular lines drawn through the middle). Christ was crucified on a cross, and based on where the shape appears (often adorning specific manuscript pages), “…it can be deduced with confidence that the lozenge stands for the second person of the Trinity, the Logos.

What is the Logos? The Greek word, meaning “Word” or “Reason,”is a name or title of Jesus Christ, derived from the prologue to the Gospel of John ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’” So, in Byzantine tradition, the diamond shape specifically represents the idea that Jesus on the Cross is the Word of God Made Flesh — and the geometric figure is one more contribution to the “field guide to crosses” in our church. The pattern becomes particularly significant, since it appears so many times in our sanctuary!

The symbol has a special association with Saint John the Evangelist, who wrote the book of the Gospel that starts “In the beginning was the Word…” So, Saint John the Evangelist, who is already present in so many places in our church (at the foot of the cross; in the Last Supper; in the Evangelist medallions at the base of the dome; among the Apostle insignias; in two of the round windows and several of the long ones; and as the Eagle bookrest in the high pulpit), is here referenced in one more form.

It all makes sense, if you think about it, that our church should be filled with book-related motifs and different crosses, since one of the many works of our Patron Saint, who is one of the Doctors of the Church, is a book about devotion to the Cross! The literary association is a happy coincidence for a parish neighborhood that, through the years, has grown up close to so many educational institutions.

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Color OUR Collections! From February 3 to 7, 2020, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world are sharing free coloring sheets and books online based on materials in their collections. Last year, our SFDS parish history archives contributed a selection of stained-glass windows and other church details to color; this year, we feature 1920s parish bulletin advertising art to click and print. Check out all the offerings – from SFDS to Drexel University to the Vatican Libraries and beyond — at ColorOurCollections.org

The Passing of Saint Francis de Sales

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The long stained-glass window on the 47th Street side of our church, showing the final moments of our patron St. Francis de Sales (by Nicola D’Ascenzo in 1911), features a detail of a small green plant on the mantel as a reminder of his connection to God through the natural world.

An 1871 biography notes that after years of defending the Faith, Francis, Bishop of Geneva, “began to feel worn and weary” at age 55 (old in the 1600s), and dreamed of retiring “to a quiet spot on the Lake of Annecy,”  (Duchy of Savoy; part of France today) to spend his final years writing books, close to nature. Francis was in poor health: “his legs swelled painfully, so that he could scarcely walk, and they were also covered with sores;” and his chest pains were “distressing.

In May 1622, Pope Gregory XV, nonetheless, ordered him to travel to Turin (Savoy then; Italy today) to settle a religious dispute. There, after Francis fainted in the church, he stayed on to recover, returning to Annecy in August, after he heard that crops at home had failed, and people were suffering. Francis decided “I will sell my mitre and crosier (hat and staff), and my garments themselves, to relieve my poor people.” He got rid of everything he could – including a valuable diamond ring he had just received from the princess in Turin. Upon hearing this, some of his flock bought it back for him, then he sold it again: “This happened several times, till it became a popular saying that it was the beggars’ ring rather than the Bishop’s.”

Francis made one final journey that November. The Duke of Savoy planned to meet French King Louis XIII at Avignon and accompany him on a royal tour. The Duke’s daughter-in-law, the Princess of Piedmont, wanted to bring the Bishop, who was her Grand Almoner (the most important member of the Church in the royal court), as part of her entourage. Unable to refuse, Bishop Francis wearily acknowledged “we must go where God calls us, as long as we can move at all…” Hoping to petition the King for aid for his diocese, he prepared to travel, knowing he probably would not return.

The plant shown in our window signals the humble surroundings at his final stop in Lyon, where “the Bishop avoided all Court entertainments and gatherings, save such as were a part of his duty…and refused all invitations…preferring to occupy a little apartment in the gardener’s house belonging to the Visitation Convent…The Sisters were distressed at their Founder being so unsuitably lodged,” but Francis insisted that he preferred the simple, natural setting.

Though frail, he was still busy: “Madame de Chantal (with whom he had co-founded the Visitation Order in 1601), who had not seen him for more than three years…came to Lyons to see her beloved Spiritual Father again…Persons of every class and age poured in upon him to gather up precious words of instruction and guidance, and the gardener’s little cottage was besieged with visitors from the town and from the members of both Courts…”

A few days after Francis celebrated Christmas Midnight Mass for the Visitation Sisters in Lyon, and the Superior remarked that the sermon was so inspired that “I could have fancied that I saw the Angel Gabriel standing beside you....,” Francis had a seizure and was carried to his bed in the gardener’s house. He received medical treatments of the day: “blisters applied to the head, hot irons, and even cauterizations to the spine...” but nothing helped, and the priests administered Last Rites.

Madame de Chantal was at the convent in Grenoble, saying her prayers, “when she distinctly heard a voice say He is no more.’” She did not understand until later what this meant: it was at that moment, back in Lyon, at about eight in the evening on the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28), that Saint Francis de Sales died. He was buried, as was his desire, at the Church of the Visitation in Annecy on January 24.

 

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Saint Francis de Sales

The Feast Day of Our Patron SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES is January 24.

Born in 1567, Francis de Sales grew up to become an inspirational preacher; a powerful writer; a friend of the poor; and a saint who, like his model, Saint Francis of Assisi, promoted a simple and devout life. Some of his story was told by stained glass artist Nicola D’Ascenzo in the lower half of our long windows. On the St. Joseph side of the church, starting at the left, young Francis learns the catechism from his mother in Savoy (part of France today). He receives his First Holy Communion in the middle window, then his father agrees to let him take Holy Orders in 1593. Across the aisle, on the Saint Mary side of the church, Saint Francis de Sales is a priest, preaching a mission at Annemasse in 1597. In the middle window he has become a bishop, co-founding the order of the Visitation, an order of nuns, with St. Jane Chantal in 1610. The right-hand window depicts his deathbed in 1622. What happened in the spaces between the windows?  Francis was appointed Bishop of Geneva in 1602, but resided in nearby Annecy, Savoy, because Geneva was under Protestant control. There, he worked with gentle firmness to keep the Catholic faith alive in his diocese. He is known for sliding written sermons under the doors of the faithful who could not, by law, attend mass — which is how he became The Patron Saint of Journalists. He is also patron saint of the deaf, based on a miracle he performed.

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White Christmas: The Blizzard of 1966

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A dusting of snow brings a touch of magic to Christmas, but a blizzard is another story! Don Mc Dermot recalls the year that a winter storm dumped between 12 and 21 inches of snow in the Philadelphia area on Christmas Eve:

It started snowing December 23 early afternoon and the next morning the snow was waist high. I was working at Wyeth Labs in Radnor and was ‘off’. It was ridiculous watching the snow pile up. Mid-afternoon Mother Boniface called me asking if there was any way I could open a path across 47th St. from the convent to the church so that the Sisters would be able to get to Midnight Mass.”

“Of course, I said that I would see what could be done. I called the boys on Windsor Avenue: John Welding and Ed German, and they contacted: Frank and Paul Allen, Jim and John Hay and others. They met around 6 PM and shoveled a path from the Convent door straight across the street to the side sacristy door. I walked home, ate supper, dressed and struggled back to the church. Tom Magee was in the sacristy wondering if there would be Midnight Mass. I went into the rectory and it was decided that Mass would be held for whoever showed-up.”

It was around 10 PM that the altar boys, popes (the “popes” were little altar servers in training), choir boys and men began arriving, vested in the auditorium, and the Sisters made it to the auditorium and tied on the large ribbon ties: red for the altar boys, fuschia for the choir boys.  Monsignor Sefton was amazed and they (the rectory) called the Dairy Maid Bakery on 47th Street and arranged for some firemen to deliver all the donuts that they (the snowed-in bakery) would be unable to deliver to the auditorium. Some men started using the large coffee urns in the small kitchen on the stage making coffee. The church was already full of the parents and families of the boys.”

The Sisters crossed 47th St and entered by the sacristy entrance and were seated in front of St. Joseph altar; the Monsignor and priests took their seats in the sanctuary. The Bell Ringers started playing the bells at 10:30 PM. Around 10:50 the choir members lined up in the left side aisle, the altar boys lined up across the front aisle and the popes in the center aisle. The choir entered, singing their opening hymn as they processed in back of their Processional Crucifix, followed by the altar boys with the popes lining the front aisle in front of the Nativity scene which had only the star lit. The priests with the Monsignor walked at the back of the procession. The choir sang a full hour of Christmas hymns. Just before midnight, one of the popes carried the statue of the Christ Child to the Monsignor who went into the stable and placed the Christ Child statue into the manger. The organ blasted out as the choir sang, ‘Joy to the World’, and all the lights were turned on—Christmas had arrived at De Sales!”

After Midnight Mass, “The Monsignor invited everyone to go into the auditorium for coffee and donuts before walking home. In the Auditorium, the altar and choir boys were given Christmas gifts from the priests. The choir members played the piano and the singing went on to around 5 AM” when everyone presumably staggered home, exhausted, for family celebrations!

 

Christmas Past

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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1924

Features and ads in St. Francis de Sales Parish Christmas Bulletins from the 1920s offer windows into a different age – when gifts might be hung on the Christmas tree and the Christmas stocking was a novelty!

THE CHRISTMAS STOCKING AND HOW TO FILL IT (1927)

“For some reason, the beloved Christmas stocking of our childhood is not as common as it once was.

Kiddies who do not enjoy the thrill of opening mysterious packages, rooted from the recesses of a stocking in the dawn’s early light, are missing something that is their inalienable right.

The sheerness, or delicate fabric of Mother’s stocking, may keep them from using hers, but a Christmas stocking of some kind should be the possession of every child.

The larger presents may be downstairs beneath the spruce or fir, but a little gift or two should be added to the fruit, nuts and candy that are carefully wrapped in crinky packages and placed in the stocking. The time-honored orange should be placed in the toe; the horn, the jumping jack or the whistle should stick from the top. Do not use rich candies or soft-shelled nuts as fillers, or the child’s breakfast appetite will be destroyed. Better wrap a few hard candies of some kind in tissue paper and use the various nuts that cannot be broken by little fingers.

A nickel, a dime and perhaps a quarter, wrapped in several wrappings, and possibly securely tied inside a box will furnish several minutes of intense excitement. An apple will be appreciated. A potato from the bin, carefully wrapped in colored paper and tied, will bring a squeal of delight.

By all means give the children their Christmas stockings.”

Our second Pastor, Bishop Crane, was from the Ashland, PA, coal mining area, and many parishioners had family connections in that region, so they probably appreciated the joke:

THE BEST IN THE CLASS  (1926)

Interested Neighbor: ‘You seem to be a bright little boy. I suppose you have a very good place in your class?’

Little Boy: ‘Oh, yes, I sit right by the stove.’

Teacher in Pennsylvania mining district: ‘Can any one of you tell me where the Savior was born?’

‘Allentown,’ shouted Gottlieb.

Teacher: ‘What, Allentown! I just told you yesterday the Savior was born in Bethlehem.’

Gottlieb: ‘That’s right! I knew it was somewhere along the Lehigh Valley railroad.’”

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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925
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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925
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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925
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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1924