1940 Summer Party

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The notes for the Saint Francis de Sales Summer Festival in 1940, the year of  the Golden Jubilee, provide interesting clues about parish life, long ago.

The party took place in the Parish parking lot on June 6, 7, 8 and June 13, 14, and 15, with “fancy goods, groceries, refreshments, recordings every night, ice cream, cakes and candy, novelties, games, and specialties, ” and the big attraction: the raffle of two 1940 Chevrolets, proudly displayed on the Rectory lawn.

Preparations involved a certain amount of arm twisting:  all parishioners were expected to sell books of raffle tickets, and sales were meticulously tallied, compared, and publicized per block and by parishioner. High school students were instructed that “Every time you dispose of a book, you receive credit for a Social Contribution to the High School Tuition.” Families were directed “to visit the Party at least one night each week.”

Notes from the wrapup hint at the size of the event and some neighborhood disruption: “We are well aware of the traffic on Springfield Avenue. Here is an interesting note: automobiles from eleven different states (including California) stopped to secure chances on our Grand Awards.” Traffic tangles, could, in part, have been due to assertive raffle ticket-selling: “No doubt you noticed the gentleman who sold chances in front of the Rectory. We are grateful to Mr. Martin Gillane for his services. We compliment him on the money secured by his work, Two Hundred Ninety-four Dollars and Ten Cents.” (That would have been 2,941 ten cent tickets!)

Did “Fancy Goods” (probably homemade crafts) fail to sell? A carefully-worded news item suggests some frantic behind-the-scenes efforts to increase revenue: “With very little time to prepare, the Fancy Goods table presented a mighty fine Card Party for the Summer Party Fund. We are grateful to these Ladies for the magnificent sum of One Hundred and Seventy-five Dollars, and we compliment them on the orderly manner in which their Party was conducted.

The Main Event was, of course, the raffle of the two 1940 Chevrolets, and the youthful winner likely caused some mirth (and envy): “The Summer Party Automobiles were awarded to Mrs. Clara Randolph of Upper Darby, and Master Allen Smith, 1123 Divinity Street. Master Smith is in the second grade of our School.

In the end, the Rectory commented: “We are most pleased and gratified…that the Summer Party will bring us more than Seven Thousand Six Hundred Dollars” for Jubilee-related repairs and renovations (mostly cleaning of  walls and updated lighting) – through the efforts of 396 workers, including adult parishioners, High School students, the Boys’ Battalion and Girls’ Corps (military-style organizations for parish children – precursors to Boy and Girl Scouts).  The report concluded: “With the help of God, with continued interest and co-operation, we shall complete our plans for a joyful celebration of our Golden Jubilee in the Fall.”

Why was God’s help invoked? The Great Depression had just ended with the beginning of World War II in Europe, but the parish was in debt and tension and uncertainty were in the air.  Reading between the lines, the carefully repeated insistence that among the volunteers “there was always close harmony. Everywhere there was goodwill. All of these speak for Parish Pride….” suggests, perhaps, some strategic optimism. Long-ago parishioners are often invested with halos, but perhaps they weren’t yet angels after all!


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