Category: history

1973-1974 Oil Crisis

Reverend Francis Fitzmaurice

          The 1970s were not kind to our parish. Families left for the suburbs as part of a national trend, and the controversial Venturi modernization of the sanctuary – needed for the equally controversial New Mass of Vatican II – became a source of division among those that remained.  Monsignor Mitchell was unwell. Then world events piled on one more challenge. The Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed Parish Administrator Father Fitzmaurice, (who would officially be named 8th pastor in 1976) in March 1974, during the October 1973- March 1974 Oil Embargo (Arab states ban on oil trade) – shining a cautionary light into long-reaching shadows of global politics:

          “Escalation of fuel oil prices is making life tougher for inner city pastors and congregations…At Saint Francis de Sales, 47th St and Springfield Ave. in West Philadelphia, oil prices have more than doubled in the last year and are still climbing. As a result, classrooms in this school have become cooler, hallways in the rectory have become darker, and crowds at mass sometimes shiver as they listen to the homily (not because of its content!). Although no programs have been cut back yet, the pastor and parishioners are engaged in a ‘backbreaking struggle to make ends meet,’ the pastor, the Rev. Francis J.Fitzmaurice admitted…”

          The paper reported “Some pastors turned bitter, castigating oil company executives and the government in their resentment over the shortage of oil, which they contend was a conspiracy to drive prices up. They said it was ‘theft.’ Many of them got together to form CHOPP – Clergy and Householders Opposed to Petroleum Profiteering – last month to get a  rollback of oil prices to November 1973 levels. Monsignor Frederick J Moors, pastor of Saint Cecilia’s at 535 Rhawn St, said the clergyman were angry because the ‘basic issue is a moral one.’ It is wrong for oil companies to make ‘excessive profits’ from the sale of ‘necessities like oil…Besides, it impedes the charitable work of the church.’”

          “But for clergymen like Father Fitzmaurice, the soft spoken priest in his mid 50s who became pastor at Saint Francis last September, oil prices are just another worry on a list of insolvable difficulties associated with changing neighborhoods — declining church attendance and contributions, rising crime statistics, fear, deficits. A rollback of oil prices would have been welcome, he admitted, but it wouldn’t have put the budget in the black. The deficit last year, Father Fitzmaurice said, was $65,000 and to balance the budget, $48,000 had to come out of parish savings. If the deficit continues this year, there is not enough left in the treasury to cover it. Last winter, the parish spent $14,024 for 100,834 gallons of oil to heat the church, school, rectory and convent. This winter, the church has so far spent $16,647, and it has used only 58,524 gallons of fuel. By April, it may have to come up with another $4000 for heat, the priest said. Even before the winter began, the tuition for the Parish School increased and the pastor said he had gone begging, asking friends and parishioners to give more. It is a great strain, he said.”

          “The parish, formed in 1890, was once affluent, with Catholics from 5,000 households contributing more than the church needed to balance the budget. But the makeup of the parish has slowly changed. Now there are fewer than 1,300 families left in the parish and the school built for 1,500 children, has only 619, the lowest number in 50 years, Father Fitzmaurice said.”

          The Inquirer noted “The problems, compounded by fuel costs at Saint Francis, could be told over and over throughout the city” and not just for Catholics: “For example, eleven of the 22 churches in the Center City, Lutheran parish, are supported by mission funds from the Lutheran Church in America. The LCA reduced that support by $40,000…this year…” And Catholic News Service reported interfaith CHOPP groups of churches and synagogues forming across the country, uniting in concern over crippling energy costs.

          President Nixon would resign just a few months later due to Watergate. President Ford would take on a thankless task of trying to stabilize the country – in an age that Charles Dickens might have characterized “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…in short, the period was so far like the present period…” And our parish? Philadelphia loves an underdog. At the end of the Vietnam War, an influx of refugees galvanized a new sense of purpose and we pulled through.

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Bishop Crane Visits the Penitentiary

December 19, 1924. “The Eastern Penitentiary witnessed one of its strangest, most moving ceremonies Saturday. In the prison chapel, candles burned against the background of a tall crucifix, and flowers decked the altar. Before the altar there ranged, in the garb of the prison and with heads bowed, thirty-two men. Beside each stood one of Philadelphia’s substantial citizens. Pacing the line, in his ecclesiastical robes, stood the Rt. Rev. Michael J. Crane, Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia.” (and Second Pastor of SFDS).

“Then, as the ancient hymns of repentance, charity and forgiveness the Church were sung by yet other prisoners in the choir, the Bishop passed along the line and administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to the thirty-two men who are expiating crimes against the State. An organ and a violin, also played by prisoners, softened still more the Latin chants.”

“If here behind prison walls you have found faith, then your imprisonment has been a blessing in disguise,” said the Bishop simply, when the ceremony was ended. Later, the prisoners presented Bishop Crane with a table and smoking set they had made themselves in the prison shops. Ho told them he would put them in his room as one of his chief treasures.”

“The thirty-two citizens of Philadelphia are representatives of Catholic lay organizations here. They were recruited by Father Francis Hoey, chaplain at the penitentiary, and they have promised to visit their individual charges for whom they stood sponsor, as long as they remain in the prison, and to find Jobs for them when they are released.”

“Organizations which the thirty-two laymen represent are: The American Society for Visiting Catholic Prisoners, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Temperance Society, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Holy Name Society.”

***

This evocative story turned up in the archives of the Catholic News Service. A separate Catholic Standard and Times article filled in a few more details: seventeen of the thirty-two confirmands were converts to the Catholic faith, due mostly to the missionary efforts of the “young chaplain there, the Rev. Francis P.K. Hoey.” About two hundred prisoners attended the service.

The Confirmation, though not the first there, was still significant. Eastern State Penitentiary records note that when the prison opened in 1829, it “was the world’s first true ‘penitentiary,’ a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners.” Early prisoners were kept in solitary confinement, but that proved too strict. The state ruled in 1913 that inmates should be grouped “for the several purposes of worship, labor, learning, and recreation.” In 1914 a “storage room of Industrial building fitted up, in service as chapel” and on 5 Apr 1914: “the prisoners were for the first time in the history of the Institution allowed outside their cells for the purpose of religious worship.” The first Catholic Mass was held Easter Sunday, April 12, 1914, and by 1918, the “chapel and assembly room abundantly justifies itself for church.”

By the time Bishop Crane visited the facility, in 1924, living conditions were much improved. A January report that year, noted “Inmates eat for first time in group dining halls. Tablecloths were provided on Sundays and holidays, and the holiday decorations were described as a ‘morale building factor;’” and by April, “clergymen of all denoms have unlimited privileges of visitation…” and the various chaplains had their own offices.

We have no record of whether Bishop Crane ever returned, but other bishops did, through the decades, bringing confirmation to inmates up until the prison closed in 1971. Abandoned for twenty years afterwards, it then reopened as a museum and historic (and Halloween) attraction in 1991. Today, one of its treasured features is an impressive series of murals, created in the Catholic chaplain’s office in the 1950s by a devout, self-taught artist inmate, and recently restored.

Historical Context of a Prayer

A Prayer “For the Protection of the United States,” by Father Abram Ryan, printed in the December 1953 SFDS Parish Monthly Bulletin, was a little old-fashioned in phrasing, and oddly passionate. 

                In 1953, without the easy reference capabilities of the internet, the Bulletin editor probably had no idea of the piece’s origin.

                Blessed instinct said “find out more about it before you reprint it in 2021” (though a quick google finds this odd prayer online already, in various places, unattributed)!

“O Mary Immaculate! Guard with loving care this country dedicated to thee. Let thy purity keep it pure. Watch over its institutions. As thou art the Refuge of Sinners, this country is the refuge of the exiled and the oppressed. Guide it ever in the ways of peace. Let it never forget its high vocation to teach all the nations of the world, by word and example, the principles of well regulated liberty and reverence for rights of men. Let not its prosperity be its ruin. Alas, many of its children who know not what they do, are walking in uncertain paths, whch are dark and lead them away from the truth. Mother of all, pray for us and plead for them, that we thy children may love and adore thy adorable Son with more fervent faith; that those who are wandering in error’s path may, through thy intercession, return to the one Fold of the true Shepherd — to thy Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Father Abram Ryan

It appears in a book entitled A Crown for Our Queen, written by Rev. Abram J. Ryan, published in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1882.

Who was Reverend Abram Ryan?

The 1912  Catholic Encyclopedia  describes him as “the poet priest of the South, born at Norfolk, Virginia 15 August, 1839; died at Louisville, Kentucky, 22 April, 1886.” (Other sources correct his birthplace as Hagerstown, MD February 5, 1838 – shortly after the family moved from Norfolk). Father Ryan was ordained just before the Civil War and entered the war as a chaplain for the Confederacy. The Catholic Encyclopedia guardedly observes that “he inherited from his parents…the strange witchery of the Irish temper...” and he used “weird and exquisite imagery” in his works. The careful wording begs for further investigation.

Modern sources clarify that Father Ryan was called the “poet laureate of the Confederacy,” writing poems during and after the Civil War which “captured the spirit of sentimentality and martyrdom then rising in the South.” He was known well-enough, that he even had a cameo in Margaret Mitchell’s famous Civil War novel Gone With the Wind: “Father Ryan, the poet-priest of the Confederacy, never failed to call [at Melanie’s home] when passing through Atlanta. He charmed gatherings there with his wit and seldom needed much urging to recite his ‘Sword of Lee’ or his deathless ‘Conquered Banner,’ which never failed to make the ladies cry.

Several sources note that Ryan was fiercely “anti-abolitionist,” which draws new attention to the emotional phrasing of his exhortation. Reaching out from history, this curious artifact offers an unsettling glimpse back in time, and a stark reminder that context is important. Though the prayer itself is ambiguous enough that it could just as easily have been prayed by a Catholic abolitionist. Sometimes God answers prayers in unexpected ways.

“In all of your affairs, rely on the Providence of God through which alone you must look for success. Strive quietly to cooperate with its designs. If you have a sure trust in God, the success that comes to you will always be that which is most useful to you, whether it appears good or bad in your private judgment.” (Saint Francis de Sales)

God’s Geese Flock to the Satterlee Hospital

Sister Gonzaga

Eleanor Donnelly, the “Poet Laureate of the American Catholic Church,” donated our Blessed Mother altar and lived in the parish at 4502 Springfield Ave. She also penned a small tome in 1900, catchily titled: The Life of Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul 1812-1897 – which includes several vivid chapters detailing Sister Gonzaga’s experiences as head nurse at the Satterlee Civil War Hospital, in our neighborhood, decades before our church was founded.

 The Sisters (or Daughters) of Charity was a religious order, founded in Paris in 1633, to aid the poor and the sick. Their traditional clothing was “one of the most conspicuous of Catholic Sisters,” as it included a large, winged cap called a “cornette” — based on traditional peasant clothing when the order was founded. Because of the distinctive cap, the sisters were sometimes referred to as “God’s Geese,” and the hats were a frequent subject of wonder.

Donnelly quotes from Sister Gonzaga’ own journal, to explain how the sisters came to be at Satterlee: “In the twenty-fifth of May, 1862, a requisition was made by Surgeon-General Hammond, through Dr. I. J. Hayes, for twenty-five Sisters of Charity, to nurse the sick and wounded soldiers in the West Philadelphia Hospital — afterwards known as the Satterlee Hospital, in honor of General Satterlee…Dr. Hayes (of Arctic-exploration fame) was appointed Surgeon-in-Charge.” Today, the location of the hospital is described as a “sixteen-acre plot bounded by present-day Baltimore Avenue and Pine, Forty-third, and Forty-sixth Street” with a memorial stone in Clark Park.

Eleanor Donnelly

Sister Gonzaga records that the Sisters were directed to be ready to move in to the still-under-construction hospital by June 9, 1862:

Accordingly, twenty-two Sisters arrived at 10 a. m., on that day. The place was so large that we could not find the entrance. The workmen looked at us in amazement, thinking, perhaps, that we belonged to ‘the flying artillery’ (because of the hats!)  After stepping over bricks and mortar, pipes, etc., we were ushered into an immense ward, while a good Irishman went in search of the Surgeon-in-Charge. He and his staff welcomed us and showed us to our quarters, and desired us to order dinner to suit ourselves. He then showed us through the Hospital, of which but eight wards were finished. The full number, when completed, was thirty-three, each accommodating seventy-five patients comfortably, with his separate table and chair.  Attached to each ward, were two small rooms; one for the chief nurse, the other for the Sisters to keep medicines, little delicacies, etc., at hand. The Hospital grounds covered an area of fifteen acres, giving our sick ample space to rove about and recreate themselves.”

“At 12 pm. we repaired to the kitchen for dinner, and we could not help smiling when we saw the tea served in wash pitchers, and the meat and potatoes in basins. There was neither knife, nor fork, nor spoon. Upon asking for them, the cook answered that he had only four for the officers’ use, but as they did not dine until later, he could lend them to us. We used them in turn. By the time we had finished dinner, we found they were bringing in some sick — about one hundred and fifty. All went to workhttps://archive.org/details/lifeofsistermary00donn to prepare some nourishment for the poor fellows, who looked at us in amazement, not knowing what manner of beings we were” (because of the hats!).

“On the sixteenth of August, over fifteen hundred sick and wounded soldiers were brought to the Hospital, most of them from the battle of Bull Run….The wards being now crowded, tents were erected…” Patients tried to show their appreciation for the Sisters’ tireless patient ministrations: one convalescent, “when ‘on leave,’ — ran all over town, seeking in every millinery shop for a new white cornette such as the Sisters wore (and which he did not know were never purchased in such quarters), to replace the old, and sometimes blood-bespattered bonnet that covered his faithful nurse’s head.”  Donnelly reports that “During the three years which the sisters passed at the Military Hospital of West Philadelphia, they attended over eighty thousand sick or wounded soldiers!”

Herline & Co. Lithographers [1869-70], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Letters Under the Door

annemasse tek editSaint Francis de Sales is famous for delivering pamphlets under people’s doors in the 1590s – an early form of journalism — but the writings themselves are rarely referenced. Do we know anything about them?

Charles Auguste de Sales, nephew of the Saint (and later, a Bishop) wrote that in 1658, when he returned to his chateau of La Thuille after an absence of fourteen years, he discovered a manuscript “contained with other papers in a plain deal box which for greater security during those disturbed times had been cemented into the thick wall of an archive-chamber.” The manuscript was written “in the hand of the venerable servant of God and our predecessor, Francis de Sales, in which are treated many points of theology which are in controversy between Catholic doctors and the heretics…

These appear to have been the famous under-door-delivered writings of St. Francis de Sales – the reason he would later be declared “Patron Saint of Journalists!” The translator’s preface to the 1899 edition of the collected pieces, compiled as The Catholic Controversy, notes “The original was written on fugitive separate sheets, which were copied and distributed week by week, sometimes being placarded in the streets and squares. The Saint did not consider them of sufficient importance to be mentioned in the list of his works contained in the Preface to the Love of God, but they were carefully written, and he preserved a copy more or less complete which bears marks of being revised by him later.”  

What was in the pamphlets? Saint Francis de Sales wrote the first one to explain his plan for evangelization: since protestants who lived near Thonon in the French Chablais were afraid to come and listen to him, he would put his words in writing for them. This would allow more people to access his information in the quiet of their own homes. It would also give people something they could take to their church minister, if they wished, to get his opinion. “Writing can be better handled; it gives more leisure for consideration than the voice does; it can be pondered more profoundly.” And “it will be seen that…I write in everybody’s sight, and under the censorship of superiors, being assured that, while people will find herein plenty of ignorance, they will not find, God helping, any irreligion or any opposition to the doctrines of the Roman Church.

Over the course of many installments, de Sales outlined important differences between Calvinist protestants and Catholics on ideas of faith and free will. John Calvin had written that “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation.” His followers believed that everyone was drawn towards evil, but some were pre-selected by God to be saved in spite of themselves. The identities of those created for the “Secret Church” of the Saved, known only to God, would only be revealed on Judgement Day. Catholics, on the other hand, believed humans had free will to choose good or evil, and their individual actions and choices would determine their place in the afterlife. Earthly success was no measure of special favor. De Sales even acknowledged that “there are many…in the Militant Church whose end will be perdition...” (who will go to Hell) because of their poor choices. These include many “bishops and prelates who, after having been lawfully placed in this office and dignity, have fallen from their first grace and have died heretics...” The rule of faith was in the Bible, which all agreed was Holy Writ, but de Sales observed that its words were interpreted differently by different people: “heresy is in the understanding, not in the Scripture, and the fault is in the meaning, not in the words.” He noted that protestant leaders reconfigured the Bible to leave out portions that didn’t suit them: “Calvin finds that the Apocalypse is to be received, Luther denies it; the same with the Epistle of S. James…Either the one or the other is ill formed…” The “true” church, according to de Sales, is inclusive.

His arguments convinced many. Cardinal Zacchetti, in introducing the cause of Beatification, noted that de Sales “recalled so great a multitude of wandering souls to the Church that he happily raised up and restored first Thonon and then the other parishes.” Today, other works of St, Francis de Sales, such as the Introduction to the Devout Life, are much better known, but his long-ago writings to people in Thonon provide an interesting early example of information dissemination, while offering perspective on some deep roots of differences among those groups that share the name of “Christians.’’

 

Particles of Truth

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A widely-circulated online bio of our patron saint Francis de Sales as a “patient man” — picked up over the past few years by organizations and churches around the world — offers a tale that differs surprisingly from the accounts of his life that seem to have inspired it. This muddiness of facts is especially troubling for the Patron Saint of Journalists!

Many of the picturesque details of the saint’s early life in the anonymous online bio seem to have been drawn from  a 1909 book St. Francis de Sales: A Biography of the Gentle Saint by Louise Stacpoole-Kenny, but the online information has been oddly summarized and re-interpreted out of  context.

As an example, one paragraph in the online version addresses why it took so long for Francis to enter the priesthood, suggesting he needed to experience other things first, and “was wise to wait, for he wasn’t a natural pastor. His biggest concern on being ordained was that he had to have his lovely curly gold hair cut off. And his preaching left the listeners thinking he was making fun of him. Others reported to the bishop that this noble-turned- priest was conceited and controlling.”

The Stacpoole-Kenny book does state that when, in 1578, Francis “took the tonsure” – the monastic haircut that marked his interest in Holy Orders — “indeed, it cost him bitter pangs to part with his beautiful golden curls…” The online re-telling of the incident omits the important information that this was an event of his childhood: Stacpoole-Kenny notes that “in actual years Francis was only just eleven” when he chose to undertake this sign of spiritual commitment, just before he left home for school, with many years of study and career choice still ahead! And his father still hoped he would become a lawyer and assume his family’s noble title.

The comment about Francis’ poor public speaking is equally odd, since Francis is generally known for his eloquence. An early account by the Abbe de Marsollier does mention that Francis experienced stage fright before giving his first sermon, when he saw that “a numerous crowd were eagerly awaiting him,” but he gathered himself together and “electrified his audience by the strength and fervour of his language and the grace and clearness of his ideas. Many shed tears…” It was his father — having finally, reluctantly, accepted his son’s career choice – who claimed to be unimpressed with his son’s preaching, feeling that “his style was far too simple and unaffected…”

The online article is accurate in observing that Francis’ patience carried him through hard times, as he tried to convert protestants back to Catholicism on the French-Swiss border. On this, Stacpoole-Kenny reports in less dramatic prose that his chosen technique was to “take things quietly, to progress slowly but steadily….” and “it was by means of the most gentle persuasion that he endeavoured to convert the gloomy and stubborn Calvinists. The pamphlets which he wrote during his mission and caused to be distributed among the people breathe a spirit of sweetness and gentleness, at the same time clearly and decidedly expounding the truths of the Catholic Religion. The heretics, though they would not come to listen to his sermons, read these documents through curiosity; but many found them so convincing that they desired to learn more of a doctrine that appealed, not only to their reason, but to their hearts.” The success of this pamphlet campaign was what caused de Sales to later be named “Patron Saint of Journalists.

Was the online article deliberately misleading? Details were selected and events were exaggerated and re-framed to build a dramatic story, possibly intended to energize a particular audience at a particular time. It is a colourful tale, but at the same time, it does a disservice to the real saint, who wrote: “Let us be as precise and balanced as possible in our words” and “When you speak of your neighbour, look upon your tongue as a sharp razor in the surgeon’s hand, about to cut nerves and tendons; it should be used so carefully, as to insure that no particle more or less than the truth be said.” Truth matters.

To Infinity and Beyond

B029 It might be hard to get away from the city this summer, so let’s check out some distant worlds inside St. Francis de Sales church at 47th and Springfield!

We think of our 1911 church as old and elegant, but it was futuristic when it was built, decorated with the state-of-the-art fireproof tilework designed to sheath modern skyscrapers, and fully-wired for newfangled electricity. A 1922 photo of the church interior shows dramatic movie theatre light bulbs around all of the arches. Look closely: those antique back-to-the-future light fixtures are still embedded in the clay tiles!

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From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne

Our church bells have some curious associations. An early American translation of Jules Verne’s 1865 novel of space travel,  From the Earth to the Moon, used the name of the Meneely Bell Foundry – the same company that made our bells – for the manufacturer of the bell-shaped metal spacecraft in which astronauts were catapulted to the moon. One of our bells is named Gervase, probably after Bishop Crane’s sibling, who became Mother Mary Gervase, IHM. But there was also a medieval English monk named Gervase who was famous for describing a strange phenomenon in 1178 AD, when the horn of the moon split in two and  “from the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks…” Scientists hypothesize that Gervase-the-monk could have observed the formation of a crater on the moon, or, more likely, an exploding meteor between the earth and the moon – an event to think about when our bells toll!

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Artistic rendering of Gervase of Canterbury’s moon observation

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Detail from Saint Francisde Sales Church window

High in the tower on the East side of our church, is a window with a spectacular “outer space” theme showing stars, planets, and a big ball of light with radiant beams – or a tail. It may represent the Creation as described in the Book of Genesis. It could also have marked the arrival of Halley’s Comet, when our church was being built in 1910. Though it appeared every 75 years, the comet that year was supposed to be exceptionally bright, and the earth was scheduled to pass right through its dusty tail. No one quite knew what would happen and tabloids predicted the end of civilization. Our window-designer may have commemorated that fortunate escape.

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Bishop’s Insignia of Saint Francis de Sales

Even the Bishop’s insignia of our patron Saint Francis de Sales has an other-worldly reference in the form of twin stars Castor and Pollux. These were added to the Sales family shield around 1310, after an ancestor, Pierre de Sales, observed “two flying lights appeared above the mast” during a fierce storm at sea. Other sailors were terrified, but Pierre correctly identified “Castor and Pollux” – a name used to describe a double jet of Saint Elmo’s Fire – an eerie sea-going weather phenomenon. He advised the ships to stay their course through the Mediterranean to aid the Knights of St. John at Rhodes, and as a result, was awarded the right to embellish his family shield. Francis de Sales incorporated the stars from his family emblem in his Bishop’s insignia in 1602, perhaps also thinking about St. Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles, who sailed on an Alexandrian ship “whose sign was Castor and Pollux.”

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Detail from the cover of Atlantis: the Andtedilivian World

Finally, back to earth, our Blessed Mother altar was donated in by Eleanor Donnelly, the “poet laureate of the American Catholic Church,” in memory of her deceased family members — including her brother, Ignatius Donnelly, who taught her to write poetry. Ignatius, who was a Minnesota senator, is celebrated today for his 1882 book  Atlantis: the Antediluvian Worlda cult classic of  undersea “Lost City of Atlantis” lore.

So, though you may have to take a “staycation” this summer due to covid; there’s plenty of room for your mind to wander, from outer space to the depths of the ocean, back at church!

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Prayer for Journalists

Our church is named for Saint Francis de Sales, the Patron Saint of Journalists (1567-1622), who wrote:

We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear. Let us take breath, and go on afresh.

Let us be as precise and balanced as possible in our words.”

When you speak of your neighbour, look upon your tongue as a sharp razor in the surgeon’s hand, about to cut nerves and tendons; it should be used so carefully, as to insure that no particle more or less than the truth be said.

Above all, avoid false accusations and the distortion of truth regarding your neighbor.

“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

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St. Francis de Sales (1940 Parish Silver Jubilee Anniversary Book).

 

A modern Prayer for Journalists is shown on a plaque in St. Bride’s Episcopal Church in London, which ministers to the Fleet Street press:

Almighty God,
Strengthen and direct, we pray, the will of all whose work it is to write what many read,
and to speak where many listen. May we be bold to confront evil and injustice: understanding and compassionate of human weakness; rejecting alike the half-truth which deceives, and the slanted word which corrupts.

May the power which is ours, for good or ill, always be used with honesty and courage,
with respect and integrity, so that when all here has been written, said and done, we may, unashamed, meet Thee face to face,
Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Amen.

On World Communications Day, May 24, 2020, Pope Francis entreated: “May this event encourage us to tell and share constructive stories that help us to understand that we are all part of a story that is larger than ourselves, and can look forward to the future with hope if we truly care for one another as brothers and sisters.”

What’s in a Name

 

logoAsk any expectant parent, perusing a book of baby names, why the ritual is important: a name is the first gift that forms the heart of identity.

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Rev. Francis O’Neill, Pastor of St. James

Why did Reverend Joseph O’Neill choose to name our new parish Saint Francis de Sales in 1890? The Centennial book for the Parish of Saint James the Greater: Mother Parish of West Philadelphia, suggests that Joseph may have chosen the name to honor his brother, the Reverend Francis O’Neill – the fifth pastor of St. James — who began to build the church at 38th and Chestnut (it became the combined parish of  St. Agatha-St. James in 1976) and who died suddenly in 1882, ostensibly worn-out by the effort.

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Rev. Joseph O’Neill, First Pastor of St. Francis de Sales

It seems plausible. The brothers were reportedly close, and Joseph assisted Francis at St. James, so a saint named “Francis” could have been a quiet tribute to a beloved brother, while the particular choice of Francis de Sales – a learned Doctor of the Church connected the new church with its university-bordered parent. The Bishop of Geneva, exiled to Savoy,  was also a good patron saint for a new parish whose early donors and pew-holders included those of German and Irish descent, as well as French and other Europeans. Our parish, though proud, never was a cathedral – any more than Saint Alice or Saint Malachy, also homes to assistant bishops in their day.

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Reverend P.F. Burke, First Pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament

Nearly a decade after SFDS was founded, Reverend Patrick Burke (who also came from St. James), looked out at the farmland of his newly assigned patch at the southwestern edge of St. Francis de Sales, and all the new row houses for immigrants churning up through the mud around it, and threatened, smilingly, to name his parish “Agony in the Garden,” after the first sorrowful mystery of the rosary; Bishop Ryan is said to have responded “ you have here a fine garden, but the agony is yet to come… Most Blessed Sacrament Parish was founded in May 1901, close to the feast of Corpus Christi. Reverend Burke “was known at the time as one of the clearest expounders of Catholic doctrine and had a large following of converts,” so his chosen focus on the “Real Presence” was a missionary banner for his “garden.”

Decades passed, and by the time both parishes celebrated their centennials, parish identities were distinct, congregations were small and circumstances were changing. In 2007, representatives from the two old rivals SFDS and MBS, sat down together to agree upon the name “Saint Francis de Sales Parish United By the Most Blessed Sacrament” for a new parish that would unite the remnants of two diverse communities in one building. Its emblem would include a monstrance and a dome, symbols of the two groups, with the name of the newly-formed parish – a careful combination of both old parish names — sheltered underneath.

Today’s combined parish contains all that is left of Most Blessed Sacrament and we are responsible for preserving its memory, alongside that of the old Saint Francis de Sales Parish. It is easier to identify with Saint Francis de Sales, since we worship in its building, where the layers of  history are embedded in the walls. Most Blessed Sacrament – with its strong social mission, and a school once heralded as the “largest parochial school in the world” – has left behind fewer written records.

The Third Eucharistic Prayer says “You never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name...”  Our parish name contains an arc of history  – a perfect rainbow – that stretches all the way across the neighborhood, from our parent church of Saint James, at 38th and Chestnut, near the University of Pennsylvania, to the “garden” where MBS once cultivated a heritage of education and service at 56th and Chester, and where globally-focused Independence Charter School West stands today. Our full identity is encompassed in the spread – and in order to make that pure sacrifice, we need to draw sustenance from all of our traditions.

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!