White Christmas: The Blizzard of 1966

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A dusting of snow brings a touch of magic to Christmas, but a blizzard is another story! Don Mc Dermot recalls the year that a winter storm dumped between 12 and 21 inches of snow in the Philadelphia area on Christmas Eve:

It started snowing December 23 early afternoon and the next morning the snow was waist high. I was working at Wyeth Labs in Radnor and was ‘off’. It was ridiculous watching the snow pile up. Mid-afternoon Mother Boniface called me asking if there was any way I could open a path across 47th St. from the convent to the church so that the Sisters would be able to get to Midnight Mass.”

“Of course, I said that I would see what could be done. I called the boys on Windsor Avenue: John Welding and Ed German, and they contacted: Frank and Paul Allen, Jim and John Hay and others. They met around 6 PM and shoveled a path from the Convent door straight across the street to the side sacristy door. I walked home, ate supper, dressed and struggled back to the church. Tom Magee was in the sacristy wondering if there would be Midnight Mass. I went into the rectory and it was decided that Mass would be held for whoever showed-up.”

It was around 10 PM that the altar boys, popes (the “popes” were little altar servers in training), choir boys and men began arriving, vested in the auditorium, and the Sisters made it to the auditorium and tied on the large ribbon ties: red for the altar boys, fuschia for the choir boys.  Monsignor Sefton was amazed and they (the rectory) called the Dairy Maid Bakery on 47th Street and arranged for some firemen to deliver all the donuts that they (the snowed-in bakery) would be unable to deliver to the auditorium. Some men started using the large coffee urns in the small kitchen on the stage making coffee. The church was already full of the parents and families of the boys.”

The Sisters crossed 47th St and entered by the sacristy entrance and were seated in front of St. Joseph altar; the Monsignor and priests took their seats in the sanctuary. The Bell Ringers started playing the bells at 10:30 PM. Around 10:50 the choir members lined up in the left side aisle, the altar boys lined up across the front aisle and the popes in the center aisle. The choir entered, singing their opening hymn as they processed in back of their Processional Crucifix, followed by the altar boys with the popes lining the front aisle in front of the Nativity scene which had only the star lit. The priests with the Monsignor walked at the back of the procession. The choir sang a full hour of Christmas hymns. Just before midnight, one of the popes carried the statue of the Christ Child to the Monsignor who went into the stable and placed the Christ Child statue into the manger. The organ blasted out as the choir sang, ‘Joy to the World’, and all the lights were turned on—Christmas had arrived at De Sales!”

After Midnight Mass, “The Monsignor invited everyone to go into the auditorium for coffee and donuts before walking home. In the Auditorium, the altar and choir boys were given Christmas gifts from the priests. The choir members played the piano and the singing went on to around 5 AM” when everyone presumably staggered home, exhausted, for family celebrations!

 

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