Month: April 2020

Petroleum Sunday

petroleum guild (2)

Why does the banner in this SFDS archival photo show the Virgin Mary standing in the middle of an oil refinery?

A little drilling reveals that “Petroleum Sunday” was observed around the last Sunday of April, from the 1940s to the 1960s, by members of the petroleum industry and their families. A book on religion and the oil industry by Darren Dochuk explains that “An oil trucker had come up with the idea in 1941” to share Mass once a year with Catholic co-workers. The idea gained traction when the Catholic Petroleum Guild was formed in 1948 with the goal to “‘to pray for every member of the petroleum industry, both living and dead’; ‘to promote success of the petroleum industry and prevent any major disaster’; ‘to seek divine guidance in all dealings of management and labor’; and to ‘stimulate the observance of Petroleum Sunday among all creeds in the industry by encouraging them to attend their churches in group at least once a year.’

What did that have to do with our Parish?  The two priests shown in the photo are Reverend William H. Flatley and Reverend David Thompson, both of SFDS. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in May 1952, that when 1,909 employees of the Atlantic Refining Company met for the first annual Communion-breakfast of the Philadelphia branch of the Catholic Petroleum Guild, their Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church “was sung by the Rev. William H. Flatley, assistant rector of St. Francis de Sales Church, and chaplain of the guild.”

The local group grew quickly. By April 1954, the Inquirer reported that “Employees of Atlantic Refining Co., Cities Service Oil Co. and Union Tank Car, comprising the Ave Maria Group of the Catholic Petroleum Guild,” were holding their Annual Communion Breakfast at the Cathedral, celebrated by our Reverend Flatley, while an Our Lady of Fatima Group had a separate event, with a different chaplain, at St. John the Evangelist. Why was the Catholic Petroleum Guild so popular? Sociologist Robert Finke notes that America was, at the time, a “melting pot” of cultures and ethnicities, but the mixture was lumpy.  Many employee clubs and gatherings in businesses and industries were overtly Protestant, and even some of the secular organizations were not Catholic-friendly, so “Catholics in most professional and semiprofessional occupations enrolled in local chapters of (Catholic) organizations…In these and countless other ways, American Catholics created a parallel society within which they were protected from Protestant insults as well as from Protestant influences…

Some of these differences began to fade as greater issues emerged. In the oil industry, as production began to move to the Middle East – a region also interesting to the Soviet Communists – Dochuk notes that American petroleum companies worked to promote a more shared “sense of citizenship…forged out of common …commitment to Judeo-Christianity..Throughout the early 1950s, oil companies proselytized faith as the bedrock of American civilization. Confronted with countervailing forces of atheism and socialism and Cold War nuclear and geopolitical tensions, Americans, they charged, needed to cling tightly to spiritual truths…

In Philadelphia, when Judge Clare Gerald Fenerty addressed the first annual Communion-breakfast of the Catholic Petroleum Guild in 1952, he spoke against “Soviet aggression” and highlighted the “need for those who believe in Western Christian values” to build “impregnable ramparts against dictator Stalin’s attempt to become ruler of the world.” Liberty Magazine noted in 1956 that “For the first time this year Petroleum Sunday was observed in Baghdad.” by American workers.

What ultimately happened to “Petroleum Sunday?” History!


Henry Amlung and the Motor Bandits

amlung furs

Today, neighbors routinely fret about parking spaces and inattentive drivers, but in the early 1900s,  parishioners like Henry Amlung (who owned a fur store in a time when furs and cars were both desirable luxuries) – and city government – had to adjust to some “new normal”  challenges at the dawn of the automotive age.

On February 11, 1919, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s front page reported an innovative crime wave: “Motor Bandits Get Furs Worth $5000; Terrorize W. Phila.” The news story continued:  “Motor bandits — believed by the police to have been the same who were frustrated in an evident plot to hold up storekeepers in the vicinity of Sixty-second and Race Streets…made a $5000 haul just twenty-four hours later from the fur store of Henry T. Amlung at 4810 Baltimore avenue.” (today, an empty lot behind a wooden fence).

“Discovery of the thieves in the very act of transferring furs from the store to a waiting automobile led to an alarm which saved the balance of the stock, valued at close to $50,000…”

“Mrs. Letitia Hanganer, who occupies an apartment on the third floor of 4808 Baltimore Avenue, directly adjoining the Amlung establishment, first heard the robbers at work, but thought it was Amlung trying to enter his store and for a few moments returned to bed. She had been attracted to her window by the noise of someone in the adjoining sideyard below. She thought Amlung had locked the store up leaving his key inside, and was trying to re-enter by the window.”

“A few minutes later she was again attracted by the same noise, this time accompanied by the subdued voices of men. She returned to the window and for a moment was struck speechless by witnessing one man tossing furs out of the window, and into the arms of an accomplice who was putting them into a limousine automobile…Mrs. Hanganer …awakened William Brooke, who conducts a tailoring establishment on the first floor of 4808 Baltimore avenue, and he ran to a second-floor window, shouting at the thieves.”

“Without abandoning the bundle of furs they then had in their arms the men dashed for their car, clambered in and fled.”

Police, on foot, stopped a trolley driver, who “saw the car drive east on Baltimore avenue as far as Forty-fifth street, at which point it might either have turned or continued on toward the central part of the city.” The police couldn’t chase them without vehicles! The paper reported that “an interesting development of the day was the loan to the police of the station at Fifty-fifth and Pine Streets of two fast automobiles for the purpose of waging war upon the motor bandits…” by local garage owners, but it wasn’t enough, and “motor bandits” just became bolder.

It wasn’t until the end of the following year, on December 23, 1920, that the Inquirer reported “Philadelphia’s Christmas presents for motor bandits are ready..: One hundred and fifty armed motorcycles, most of them with sidecars. Six fast automobiles for bandit-chasing owned by the city and a fleet of privately owned automobiles at the call of the police. A stack of short-range sawed-off shotguns, each pumping six shells of buck shot in rapid succession…” The sawed-off shotguns were thought to be a kinder and gentler approach to crimefighting than the submachine guns proposed in New York City to deal with its similar automotive crime wave.

Sadly, it came too late for Henry Amlung, a member of the Holy Name Society and Knight of Columbus – he died a month after the incident, of “cardiac decompensation,” possibly weakened by influenza, and, perhaps, by worry. He was buried from our parish in an “auto funeral” (with an automotive, rather than horse-drawn, hearse and procession of cars driving from SFDS to Holy Cross cemetery) on March 29, 1919.