Month: November 2019

Bowling at de Sales

What are the things that bring parishioners – and Catholics — together? From the 1940s to the 1970s, a big answer was “bowling”!

D005 De Sales Photos Binder 09 012In September 1939, the Catholic Standard and Times announced that “Philadelphia’s Catholic Bowling League, a circuit of parish teams that has been dreamed of for several years, comes into existence Wednesday…Forty parish teams, in five divisions of the city…will compete for the Cardinal Dougherty trophy.”

Our parish Bowling League began in 1941, when the Parish Monthly Bulletin noted that “This sport is being sponsored by the Holy Name Society. For the first time, two teams have been entered in the Philadelphia Catholic Bowling League which is the largest in the country…At the same time a parish bowling league has been formed. It will play every Wednesday evening at nine o’clock at the Centennial Bowling Alleys at Fifty-second Street and Baltimore Avenue. The intramural SFDS league opened with six teams in the men’s division, and six teams in the women’s division. Mixed teams of men and women evolved a few years later during World War II.

The Centennial Bowling Alley was technically at 5210 Broomall. After games, John and Ted Deady recall that their Dad, who didn’t drink, would, nonetheless, join the other members of the league for fellowship at Davis’s, a pub at 52nd and Litchfield, as part of the weekly ritual. Was it hard to schedule bowling? In some years, the League convened at Jimmy Dykes Colonial alley at 51st and Sansom instead of the Centennial (Jimmy Dykes owned several Philadelphia bowling alleys, but was better known for baseball, playing for the Philadelphia Athletics 1918-1932 and the Chicago White Sox 1933-1939. He is buried at our sister parish of St. Denis, Havertown). In later years, the league met at Bowlero and Gehris Lanes in Upper Darby.

Why did bowling end? Professor Robert Putnam at Harvard uses the fall of bowling as a metaphor for a general decline of the social bonds that tie people together. Others observe that those connections have simply changed: modern parents tend to bond while seated on the sidelines of their children’s sporting events and practices. In our parish, there was yet another reason for bowling’s demise, having to do with a changing neighborhood: Paul Harvey notes that “bowling had started out as a group of parishioners; it ended as ex-parishioners coming in from the suburbs.” In 1963, there were 4,233 families in the parish; by 1973, only 1,232 were left – the rest had moved out of the city. That changed everything.

Why was bowling important? The 1955 Parish Monthly Bulletin observed that sharing and working together in parish activities helped “grace to grow.” In 1965, the 25th Anniversary Banquet program noted “a whole generation of friendship has grown up around the de Sales League.” Jerry Mc Hugh, whose Dad was one of the charter members of the de Sales league, offers a bowling romance:

My Dad bowled with one Kitty Duffy.  She and her husband later moved to Medford Lakes.  Sadly, Joe Duffy died young.  Kitty supported her kids as a secretary for the FBI.  When my mom died in 1998, friends urged my Dad to talk With Kitty, who participated in the bereavement ministry in her Jersey parish. He did and found it helpful.  Then they had lunch.  Then they had dinner.  Then ultimately they eloped, my Dad being 80 at the time.  That’s when my dad finally left de Sales to join her in Jersey. And my Dad’s old bowling ball was literally the last thing I took out of the house from the very back of the first floor closet. (The Bostons bought his house.) Dad and Kitty had ten great years together – with the de Sales bowling league bringing them together several decades later.”


1942 centennial bowling
Ad in 1942 de Sales Night Program

A Bell Named Maurice

Rev. Maurice Cowl

The Catholic Standard and Times reported on the elaborate October 22, 1916 ceremony for the “Christening” of our St. Francis de Sales Church tower bells named Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice and Gervase, noting: “after each bell had been blessed it was rung by the Rev. Maurice F. Cowl…” Did Reverend Cowl register a special sense of Catholic belonging when his own named bell rang out?

The story of the bell named Maurice is a complicated Philadelphia tale, starting, surprisingly, with the  Episcopal Church – which has always had to balance tensions between those who favor a “High Church” (run by clergy with a focus on sense-oriented Catholic-style “smells and bells” incense and ritual), versus “Low Church” (with more lay administration and a more pared-down Calvinist Protestant austerity), with many gradations in between.

In the ornate late Victorian era, the more intricate “High Church” tendencies prevailed; as the century changed, the balance suddenly shifted in the opposite direction, leaving some Episcopalians behind – something like the changes in the Catholic Church, decades later, with the New Mass and Vatican II.

A rift occurred right here in Philadelphia, with “The Open Pulpit Controversy.” Simply put, compromises were made in order to move closer to other Protestant denominations, and Episcopal bishops agreed that a minister’s education and training would no longer be required in order to teach from the pulpit; any Christian man could be allowed to speak. Those with “High Church” leanings felt that inviting unqualified people to preach could open the Episcopal church to heresy. They were overruled. It was the “last straw” for some of those who wanted to keep a complex ceremony with a strong clerical structure. In 1908, a group of seven local Episcopal priests officially resigned and entered the Catholic seminary under Bishop Ryan. Reverend Maurice Cowl was among them. He was ordained as a Catholic priest on December 17, 1910.

Reverend Cowl assisted at our parish from 1910 to 1917. Our new church, with its symbol-rich medieval-guild-style stained glass, hand-carved statues, and hand-set mosaics, likely appealed to his sense of mystery and ritual, and he became “Master of Ceremonies” for various parish events. He may have had an authoritarian streak: the 1940 Parish Jubilee Book reports that “In December 1916, Reverend Maurice Cowl decided that the time was opportune to form an organization for the boys of the parish…It was decided to form a strictly military organization, to be called the “St. Francis de Sales Boys’ Battalion…” He kept busy: while Reverend Cowl assisted at de Sales, starting in January 1911, he was appointed Chaplain of St. Leonard’s Academy for girls at 38th and Chestnut (today St. Leonard’s Court at Penn), which would have given him some good walking exercise through the neighborhood!

Reverend Cowl went on to become the founding Pastor of Saint Laurence Church on Westchester Pike in Highland Park/Upper Darby, and the St. Francis de Sales Choir traveled to sing at the first Mass there on June 17. 1917. He retired, due to ill-health, in 1932, died at Misericordia Hospital in 1934, and is buried on the St. Laurence Church lawn, at the foot of a statue of the Sacred Heart. Several other de Sales priests have since gone on to serve at that church, including our eighth Pastor, Monsignor Francis Fitzmaurice.