Month: November 2018

Weekly Parish Dances

tuesday dances 1946 (2)The 1940’s and 50’s were part of a big dance hall era,” Joe Ruane recalls, and dancing was the popular pastime: “our crowd would go to St Joe’s (his home parish in Collingdale) on Sunday night; de Sales Tuesday and Friday night. On Wednesday night I would go to the Carousel Hall in Clifton Heights which my father owned which had a big band…and then I would…go to the Arcade Hall on the 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue where my friends hung out. Saturday would be Holy Cross, Springfield.” 

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Saint Francis de Sales offered regular Tuesday night dances in the parish auditorium for all the “young people of the parish and their friends.”  A typical 1950 Monthly Bulletin notice advertised: Music for the occasion is played by the well known and very popular orchestra of George Sommer. Admission is seventy-five cents. Good music and a very beautiful auditorium provide the atmosphere for a very enjoyable evening. All the young folks of the parish (no High School students) are cordially invited to attend these Tuesday evening Socials. We would like to see many of our young married couples attending and can assure them of a very enjoyable evening.”

George Sommer, with his “Big Band” sound, was known as “one of the best dance bands in the city and one of the most popular.” Information about the band appeared in Billboard Magazine, and they played at ballrooms across the city.

What about the High School students? They had their own dance night at de Sales auditorium every Friday. John Deady recalls that “I attended the Friday night dances. Admission $.50. On the stair case going up to the stage (rectory side) is a closet. There was a turntable in the closet where 45 rpm records were stacked. Cokes were sold at the kitchen on the other side of the stage. Did not go to the Tuesday night dances. Understand it was a wide age group that attended them.”

The Tuesday and Friday groups likely catered to slightly different musical tastes. A 1959 Parish Bulletin opined: “Older people often express disapproval of rock and roll because it is so noisy and so violent, and the music accompanying it seems so unbearably monotonous. But for oldsters to be unsympathetic toward rock and roll for these reasons does not make it morally wrong.”

Joe Ruane’s father, incidentally, was a disk jockey for the dances in Collingdale, and Joe recalls a big event there: “a pre-publication test run of Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock’ in 1953.” However, Catholic high school students were discouraged from joining the dance floor at American Bandstand, Dick Clark’s famous TV dance program, broadcast from its 4548 Market Street TV Studio (Today’s Enterprise Center for minority entrepreneurs). That was still considered too “fast!”




Ship of Faith

ship of religionLook around St. Francis de Sales Church and notice your fellow passengers. The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art reports that the word nave — describing “the main space occupied by the congregation in a church.” — comes from the Latin word navis, for ship, “partly because the nave is not unlike an upside-down ship, but also because it is the ARK of salvation.”

Richard Stemp makes it even more clear in his book on “The Secret Language of Churches and Cathedrals:” The word nave comes from the Latin navis, meaning ‘ship,’  reminding us that the congregation is on a journey through life, during which the church will protect and guide them in the same way that a ship protects its passengers on the stormy seas. Maritime associations run deep in Christianity. Jesus carried out much of his teaching around the Sea of Galilee, and several apostles were fishermen.”

_MG_2416 (3)Our nave looks like a seaworthy, right-side-up ark, rather than an upside-down hull. That should be a good thing. Imagine the windows around the dome as the portholes around the cabin. We even have a window showing the “ascending dove” – with its wings outstretched and feet pressing against the glass, like the dove that returned to Noah during the great flood (and over the years, the dome has survived its share of watery leaks!).

dome-star-e1541614560625.jpgAbove those windows are the stars in the heavenly dome. The eight-pointed star of David – of Jesus’ earthly lineage — has a cross at its center, with four rays added to turn it into the Star of Jesus’ Birth – the star used by the Wise Visitors to navigate to Bethlehem – and the star of faith which guides us still today.

We look to the stars, but we are also moored to the earth. The “Adoration Chapel” in the back of the church, on the left, was once the “Baptistery,” where people received the sacrament of baptism – a sacrament of water. Embedded in the floor of the baptistery is a mosaic design of an anchor and dolphin. The anchor, used to keep a ship from drifting, can be “the hope set before us…a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:18-19).

Our church also has a hidden nautical reference. The original back-facing altar – elevated on steps like the bridge of a ship — was donated by a man named John Cooney. Cooney was an oyster fisherman on the Delaware Bay – a fisherman and a “fisher of men,” since he occasionally had to fish drunken sailors out of the water with a boathook. Very biblical!