Month: August 2018

Holy Year 1934

In the crisis of the Great Depression, and in a time of growing global unrest, the February, 1933 Saint Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin announced that Pope Pius XI had proclaimed a Holy Year for 1934. The writing is more formal than modern texts, and with the unconscious gender bias of its age, but the world described is strangely familiar:

vatican stampNineteen centuries after the death of Our Lord, in an age when a world gone awry is tortured by spiritual perplexities, the Sovereign Pontiff calls the world to reconsider its golden Christian heritage. No man denies that the times are out of joint. It is unquestioned that something must be done…

Taught humility by our failures, we can well afford to indulge in a little heart-searching. Men prate about the ‘failure of Christianity.’ Analyze the statement. Where has Christianity ever failed when its commitments were fully accepted and faithfully observed?… The failure of Christianity is the failure of unregenerate human selfishness and wickedness, nothing more.  The inability of the Christian Church to reform this world is part with the failure of Christ to convert his own generation. Humanity has failed often; Our Lord, never.

We need a year of extraordinary grace, a year of meditations and prayer. Its spiritual opportunities accepted, it can change the face of the earth.”

Looking back down the tunnel of history, we know that collective thoughts and prayers were tainted by the hypocrisy of individuals whose hearts were secretly self-interested and insincere. We’ve seen how global power struggles of World War I, followed by the 1918 influenza health crisis, inequalities of industrialization, the rise of crime during Prohibition, and poverty in the Great Depression, progressed into the horrors of genocide and World War II – and into the cynical modern age.

Today, as we face extraordinary challenges to our ideas of authority and order in church and government, we need to learn from the past. Jesus, long ago, laid out a single timeless route to follow – based on love of God and caring for those around us. Humans, gifted with free choice, make bad decisions, and may confuse, mislead, or be misled along the way, but the route itself never changes. Each one of us is called to seek out the Star of Bethlehem as our beacon, leading us back to Christ. As our patron Saint Francis de Sales observed:

We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear; let us take breath, and go on afresh.”

A Trip to the Movies

belmont theatre
Belmont Theatre, Philadelphia PA in 1920 (Creative Commons)

The 1928 Saint Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin offers a description of a long-ago outing, supposedly written by one “Bad Boy Brady… in the Third Grade at SFDS School:”

Our sister told us this morning in school to write…about something we did during the Easter holidays…I thought of the treat that… Joe Forte gave us on Easter Monday…Joe…lives in our parish (4839 Larchwood) and has charge of a lot of movies in West Philadelphia. He has a big green car and wears a soft hat….So one day (Father Canney) met Joe Forte in Mr. Rody’s barber shop (1213 S. 50th Street) where they get their haircut, and asked him to give the school a treat…”

We all met at the school…and marched over to the Belmont Theatre on Fifty-second and Market Street. There were over eight hundred of us…Me and Joe Rody and Cornelius McLaughlin walked over together, and talked about marbles and baseball players. Joe said he wants to be an outfielder like Al Simmons, but Cornelius said he wants to help his father on the Ice Cream truck. I thought I would like to be a cop… A couple of cops who knew Father Canney kept the green lights on so that we could all pass across Chestnut and Walnut Streets without any break in the line. A…man named Frank Yates was in charge of the Belmont Theatre and he certainly gave us a great treat…”

Imagine friendly local police, in dark uniforms with shiny buttons, officiously stopping horse carts, delivery trucks, and Model T Fords for the neighbourhood children. The long parade filed past James Beers’ Drugstore at 47th and Baltimore, and Nace Hopple’s Radio Repair shop at 47th and Cedar; then up Cedar and along Fiftieth Street, “the head of their line of march turning into Market Street as the end approached to Pine Street” (that’s ten blocks!). The Belmont Theatre, which opened in 1914, seated 1,000 people. A trendy Philadelphia-born fast-food eatery – the Horn & Hardart Automat — was next door, and doubtless, some little faces covetously eyed its interesting prepared foods behind little clear coin-operated windows.

Movie treats for parish children ended in 1934 when Cardinal Dougherty issued a pastoral letter, prohibiting Catholics from attending the movies due to cinematic violence and bad language. Boycotts worked: within a few years, the industry cleaned up its offerings and the Catholic audience trickled back – but by then, Father Canney was gone.

dougherty movie boycott
Philadelphia Inquirer June 9, 1934