Month: February 2019

Dolphin and Anchor

DSCN4637 (2)The anchor-and-dolphin design shown on the side of the baptismal font and embedded in the mosaic floor of the old baptistery (today’s Adoration Chapel), is a surprisingly complicated symbol.

The two parts of the design are often read as two separate pictures, then combined. The 1960 SFDS Parish Monthly Bulletin offered a typical explanation of the anchor, connecting it with water and hope: “Hope was represented…by the anchor which the sailor drops into the water, so that it may go down deep into the bottom of the sea and fix itself firmly in order to steady the ship and hold it secure against the winds and waves of any storm. But our hope is an anchor which we throw upward, into the skies of heaven…” Philip Kosloski, at Aleteia, more recently discussed the dolphin symbol, observing that in the ancient world, dolphins “were known as the ‘sailor’s friend’ and there are many legends of dolphins leading mariners to safer shores…” He suggested that over time, “dolphins became a symbol of Jesus Christ, a friend and deliverer to the ‘safer shores’ of heaven.” He then addressed the combined symbol of “dolphins… twisted around an anchor or trident…” which symbolize” the hope of eternal life…”

Rather than a picture symbol, the original meaning could actually have been language-based.  Charles Kennedy puzzled long ago in Biblical Archeology Review, that anchor designs were common on graves in Christian catacombs until the third century, but then they disappeared. Around the same time, the main language of Christians switched from Greek to Latin. Kennedy suggested that “Ankura,” (Greek for “anchor”), could have been a pun on the Greek phrase “en kurio” (“in the Lord”) — so that with the symbol of an anchor, “the dead are sealed with the name of the Lord.” When the language changed, the pun didn’t work anymore and the symbol was abandoned for a time.

As to dolphins – Aristotle called them “fishes,” and his basic classification scheme remained in use in Europe until the 1800s. ICTHYS, Greek for fish, was used in catacombs as an acronym for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So, a fish on an anchor in the catacombs could have been a simple linguistic symbol meaning that someone was protected “In the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

 Whatever its origin, the combined symbol of the dolphin and anchor was not much used until the Renaissance, when printer Aldus Manutius, who printed books for the influential Medici popes, adopted a dolphin-and-anchor representation of Neptune as his printer’s emblem – but that’s a whole ‘nother story for another day!



The Bellringers

bells 1965It takes one to ring one! Donald McDermott was “keeper of the keys” back in the 1950s and 1960s, in charge of Bellringers, CYO, and various other organizations at SFDS, and he writes about the experience:

From about 1958 to 1967, I selected (high school and older) boys to ‘ring the bells’ with strict guidelines. Before 6:45 PM, they used the Rectory side door, went into the back office to the key cabinet, took the sacristy and the choir- loft gate keys. They opened the sacristy door and went through the church to the vestibule stairs, unlocked the gate, went up to the bell console, and reconnected the rod on #1 bell ‘Adolph.’ At exactly 6:45 PM they played the ‘De Profundis’ actually the ‘Out of the Depths’ a musical Psalm 130 by Scott Soper. It is the last of the seven canonical hours – the last of the day, just after Vespers – often called Evening or Night Prayers.

Usually the choir loft room was crowded with the Bellringers and friends. Cards had the hymns on them written using numbers in place of notes. The ringer had to know the melody, otherwise whatever he played would just be discordant notes. Jim Slavin (one of the students) could transpose any music into numbers, so the boys played ‘Happy Birthday,’ ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the Mickey Mouse theme, etc. They were usually disguised by additional notes, adjusting the tempo, etc. Often, Bishop McShea, the priests, and the Sisters would laughingly ask ‘Was that the Mickey Mouse song that I heard?’ My response was ‘If that’s what you thought you heard…’

The Bellringers did a tremendous amount of work/jobs around the parish. Mother Boniface and Mother Rose Anita often requested their services – to whitewash the walls in the convent basement, clean-up the garden at the convent, decorate the Community Room for a party, etc.

One of the strangest things was when Jack Niehenke, Bill McLaughlin, Jim Slavin, etc. wanted to carry a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the May Procession. I asked Mother Rose Anita, and looking at me over her glasses, she laughingly asked ‘Are we now an Italian Parish?’ I took a table from my bedroom, disassembled it, using the four spindles as handles, to make a platform for the statue to be carried. Jim Slavin painted the platform powder blue. The boys, wearing suits and ties, carried the statue after the May Queen’s Court in front of the Bishop and priests. Nothing but compliments that Mother Anita and I always laughed about.”

Fran Byers notes that Jim Slavin sang in our choir for many years until his death in the late 1990s!

More Coloring Pages

From  February 4 to 10, 2019, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world are sharing free coloring sheets and books online based on materials in their collections. This year, our parish history archives is included among them. Check out all the offerings – from SFDS to Drexel University to the Vatican Libraries and beyond — at

You’ll also find a whole new coloring book of 1920s advertising from long-gone local businesses in the Coloring Pages section of our parish archives, at this link:

SFDS 1920s Ads Coloring Pages

1926 service with courtesy