Category: parish organizations

SFDS Boy Choir: Wheels of Change

Recently surfaced choir documents offer a glimpse back into the years when proudly magnificent SFDS Parish was pressed between the rollers of Vatican II, neighbourhood change, and the Baby Boom “youthquake” of the 1960s.

The first cracks showed in 1966, as English began to replace Latin in the Mass, and Peter La Manna, Director of the renowned Boy Choir, had trouble finding suitable new music. He wrote to Monsignor Mitchell: “My dilemma is that I can’t find Masses in English which can compare with those masterpieces…The men in the choir are so reluctant to making a complete switch to English because of the obviously lower compositional standards.”

Some of La Manna’s challenges seem odd today. In 1967, he wrote to Monsignor Mitchell: “One of the things which I have been begging for is the erection of two announcement boards for the numbers of the hymns. I think that it was feared that it would cheapen the architecture of the church. This is not necessarily true, and something in good taste could be placed on the two pillars along the front of the church. I have also asked for an announcement before Mass concerning the hymns at Solemn Mass and the fact that people should join in the singing of the Our Father and the responses. I have had no luck with that request.”

Money became tight as the parish shrunk and La Manna fought for funds to pay the Men’s choir: “For forty-five years the men of the choir have been paid…Bishop McShea…paid all of the men a uniform fee of $20 per month…to help pay for their carfare and gas expenses…” He also begged for new uniforms for the boys: “We have been asked to make a telecast on December 14 for KYW-TV. If we do this we will have to borrow cassocks from the altar boys again because ours are not fit for color TV.” Another time, he lamented that “For over a year I have asked for new cassocks. The ones which we have are in shreds...” and “these ragged vestments are not good for the morale of the group…” La Manna made the case that the choir was a critical “binding force within the parish. Many families have postponed moving out of the parish because their sons were members of the choir…” though he did admit that “the attendance at Solemn Mass is very poor...”

SFDS Boy Choir in 1965

As baroque pageantry gave way to 1960s streamlining, La Manna mourned the new simplicity. He felt that that people needed to “see evidence of their contributions…in the beauty of their church, in the flowers on the altar, etc. …I heard many remarks…that there had never been such a dull and unmarked feast of Christ the King at de Sales as there was this year. Also that there has never been a novena to Our Lady when her altar looked so bare. I know that these are small things, but when I came here Father Curran said to me, de Sales has won her reputation by making small things important, and by providing the parishioners with a liturgy which is edifying and beautiful.” La Manna felt some of this was due to a lack of continuity in the Rectory, where, until recently, “there were always curates here who were ‘trained’ under the programs and policy of the past.” He also gently suggested to Monsignor Mitchell that “when I first came here the homily was limited to seven minutes at Solemn Mass. Now it goes as long as twenty minutes. Our attendance has dropped drastically because we are sometimes in there an hour and twenty minutes, and it used to be slightly over an hour.” In La Manna’s view, shortening the processionals was not an option.

Changing priorities. In truth, the decorations, sermon length, and pageantry probably were of little consequence. Between 1963 and 1973 the number of parish families dropped from 4,233 to 1,232, and school students from 1,158 to 621, as the Catholic population citywide shifted to the suburbs. And there was also the famously divisive Venturi renovation!

Bruce Shultz arrived at SFDS as organist in 1969 and gradually, under choir director Dr. Michael Geheb, and then Rev. Hermann Behrens, an inclusive group of men and women (and choir babies!) built a tradition of excellence for a new era. Today’s choir family, under the direction of Isabel Boston, offers a diverse repertoire from Latin Chant to Spirituals, and welcomes new members.

Color OUR Collections: SFDS Coloring Book Goes Online Feb, 7-11

Every February, the NY Academy of Medicine invites archives around the world to share free coloring books online based on materials in their collections. This year’s SFDS Parish Coloring Book celebrates neighborhood businesses advertised in the parish bulletins of the 1940s and 1950s. Check out all the offerings – from SFDS, to Drexel University, to the Vatican Libraries, to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, and beyond, starting February 7 at https://library.nyam.org/colorourcollections/

SFDS Boys Choir

SFDS Boys Choir in 1965

In 1967, Choir Director Peter LaManna penned a report on the renowned SFDS “Schola Cantorum,” which offers a curious window into the last days of a more stately age!

LaManna recalled the long history of the SFDS Boys Choir, founded when the church was built in 1911, and reaching “prominence and recognition” under choirmaster and organist Mr. Albert Dooner. In 1956, when Father Angelo Della Picca took over as choirmaster, under Bishop McShea, “the choir took on the nature of a choirschool…The repertory was developed until it was recognized as one of the largest in the United States.” Peter LaManna came on board in 1961, and was proud that “The choir is unique to the archdiocese of Philadelphia, and there are only a few others with the same program and training in the Catholic churches in the United States…” The music was, of course, in Latin, classical, and ornate – and decisively pre-Vatican II. Among its many outside engagements, the choir also recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra and sang with the Lyric Opera.

Running the choir was a major undertaking. LaManna reported that “The official size of the choir is twenty men and thirty boys…There is also a junior boychoir which has twenty-five boys, and which acts as a preparatory group for the senior boychoir. Two Sisters are appointed each year as ‘choir Sisters’ by Mother Superior. They have charge of vesting the boys before services, and accompany the boys on assignments away from the parish, i.e., Christmas programs, etc.” All the boys were chosen by audition from the Parish school (the boys who weren’t chosen became altar servers).

Each section of the group had its own rigorous schedule: “The men of the choir rehearse alone of Wednesday evening…The men rehearse on Friday evening with the senior boychoir, and again on Sunday morning forty-five minutes before Mass….The Senior Boychoir (Middle School boys at SFDS School)…rehearses every day from 3 to 4 PM…They also rehearse on most Saturday mornings, and with the men on Friday evening and Sunday morning before Solemn Mass. During the month of December they rehearse from 8 to 8:30 AM also. The Junior Boychoir…is chosen each year from the third grade boys, and acts as a preparatory choir for the senior boychoir. Most boys remain in this group for two years. They are in the processional and recessional at Solemn Mass, but they attend Mass in the pews rather than the choirloft. This group rehearses every day at 11 AM…They also attend a short rehearsal to go over the hymns for the processional and recessional on Sunday morning.

The Solemn Mass every Sunday was a carefully-orchestrated production: “10:00 AM — Senior Boys report to be vested; 10:15 – Senior Boys and Men rehearse. 10:30 — Junior Boys report for vesting; 10:45 – Junior Boys, Senior Boys, and Men rehearse the hymns for the Processional and Recessional – organist leaves for choirloft; 10:50 – Line-up for procession; 10:55 – Procession – Junior and Senior Boys (Men on Major Feasts and Holy Days); 11:00 AM Solemn Mass – Senior Boys and Men upstairs, Junior Boys downstairs.” The elaborate musical program was always highlighted in the Parish Monthly Bulletin.

Was all the effort appreciated? LaManna admitted that “the attendance at Solemn Mass is very poor…” but “most of the parishioners brag about the choir to others even though they don’t come to hear it weekly…” What a shock to the system it must have been when the ultramodern plexiglass Venturi sanctuary was inaugurated to the squeal of electric guitars just a few years later!

Peter LaManna

Parish Report Card

An old folder recently yielded up a copy of our parish 2002 Self-Assessment of the Pastoral Plan – our parish self-written “report card” – put together under 12th pastor Father Roland Slobogin, almost twenty years ago, to mark the start of our “Second Hundred Years.” That surprisingly interesting time capsule included several pages from an earlier report, composed by Angie Coughlan and Maureen Tate in 1995 for 11th pastor Father Janton, offering some “reflections for consideration” that were still considered relevant in 2002. Do they seem familiar?

                “We have long sensed a need for collaborative decision-making at St. Francis de Sales. The need exists for the ministry team as well as the Parish and Finance Councils and parishioners. Great efforts are made in the areas of parish life but they are not coordinated or in communication with each other. There needs to be further development of the Parish Council so that it can be included in decision-making with the ministry team as well as solicit input from parishioners.

                “There has long been a great need for dialogue about liturgy. Because of our diverse community we have many views on liturgical music, symbol and ritual, and the spirit of worship that makes prayer possible...” (This was topical in 2002, since SFDS and MBS had recently been twinned; we became a combined parish in 2007)

                “We currently have no vehicle for addressing the social and spiritual needs of our teenagers. We need to find a way for them to be a more visible presence in the community and to enable them to make their own contribution.”

                “Our social action focus has been limited to direct service and referral. Parishioners who constitute the microcosm which is St. Francis de Sales face issues of race, class, economic injustice, violence and community disintegration on a daily basis in very real ways and we need the Church to provide some guidance or forum in which to address these major influences in our lives and community. For those who are working on these issues constantly, we feel that we should be making a Christian response and yet there is not a way to help one another discern what this might be.”

                “There have been very infrequent and limited opportunities for adult spiritual enrichment. We recognize that past efforts were not always well attended but we believe there needs to be a consistent effort to build this into our parish life. Many of our parishioners could be resource people for such programs.

                “When funds were available parishioners valued and benefited from the resources of a DRE (A Director of Religious Education to run the PREP. Now we have Sr. Alice!) Parents are willing and able to maintain the religious education program for children although administration, development and growth is very limited...”

                “Although our parish is well regarded by the community we have observed that there is no interaction with other churches in the immediate neighborhood. We do have some relationship with the other Catholic churches of West Philadelphia although this is also very limited. Because of the pressing social problems in our midst and because other church communities are trying to address these same immediate concerns we feel that the community and parishioners would benefit by collaboration with the other churches….”

                “We noted that our parish school is an important resource in the parish. There does exist, however, a significant separation between the school community and the parish...” (The school became independent in 2011)

Mystery Box

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A dusty box of metal pieces in the back of the rectory basement tells a tale of long ago.

You probably don’t recognize the Addressograph Multigraph (AM) company name, even though The New York Times reported that “its embossed metal address plates were once as common as business cards in millions of offices.

Once upon a time, every organization that mailed things in bulk, used Addressograph or similar specialized equipment to print envelopes and address labels. AM also produced the chunky devices used to process credit card purchases and roll out their carbon copy receipts in stores and businesses worldwide.

What’s the connection with our parish?

For many years, the ledgers show steady monthly payments to the Cleveland Ohio company for the equipment used to address parish mailings. This was an important administrative function for a busy large parish, using heavy machines housed with the equally-important weekly-collection coin counting mechanisms in the Rectory basement (remember coins!). First, an Addressograph device stamped out a permanent raised-letter metal address plate for each parish family (the same technology used to create military dog tags). Color-coded tabs added to each plate indicated membership in different parish organizations. A group of plates could then be selected, slotted into a cartridge, and fed into a machine which pushed them, one by one, against an inked ribbon, to impress the addresses onto envelopes or pages that passed through the rollers – similar in principle to an old-fashioned typewriter’s operation. Lots of parish activities meant lots of outgoing mail.

Like our parish membership, AM’s business reached its peak in the expansive, optimistic, moon-landing 1960s, when anything seemed possible. When the Post Office introduced Zip Codes in 1963, efficiency improved, and mass mailing became ever more popular. Business opportunities seemed endless. Then came the uncertainties of Watergate, President Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation, the energy crisis, and an economic recession. AM’s mood turned conservative, focused on maintaining existing business, and new product development stalled – though elsewhere, technology continued to evolve. Suddenly noticing that it was behind, The New York Times reported that in 1979, AM “stumbled in a desperate effort to migrate from the mechanical to the electronic age,” and went bankrupt: “a classic case of the failure of a major office-products concern to cope with new technology...” Its employees painfully moved into other businesses, learned other trades, and started over in new careers – sometimes in other countries.

Meanwhile, our parish faced its own challenges, as city demographics changed. Parish membership dropped alarmingly through the 1970s, as longtime parishioners moved out to the suburbs.  Stacks of unused obsolete address plates piled up in a forgotten corner as the parish adapted to its new slim size and budget, while at the same time trying to embrace Vatican II renewal. The Vietnamese refugee ministry offered a new focus with the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Information delivery sped up for a new era:  the stately monthly calendar became a weekly handout in church, eventually to be supplemented by websites and Facebook. The once-vital U.S. Postal Service became known as “snail mail.” We eventually became the combined parish of St. Francis de Sales United by the Most Blessed Sacrament.

What would the world have been like if things had stayed the same? Typewriters. Dictaphones. Mimeograph machines. Heard of those? Remember them? They’ve all been replaced and the companies that manufactured them either adapted to new conditions, developed new ideas, and revitalized — or became extinct – while the wheel of history rolled on. A cautionary tale for Parish life!

Coin counters in the Rectory basement circa 1962

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

Star Harbor

 

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Star Harbor (4700 Springfield Ave.) in 1966

In the 1960s, as the youthful Baby Boom generation began to take over the news, their parents and grandparents sometimes felt left behind. The question became “Do we have a place for them in our fast-moving, youth-oriented society?”

The U.S. Government recognized vital needs. The Older Americans Act, signed into law on July 14, 1965, established the Administration on Aging within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and created Medicare, a health insurance program for the elderly; and Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor.

Other social issues were more complicated. Vicky Perralta, the Filipino Program Director of the Philadelphia Center for Older People, told the Inquirer: “I have seen more elderly people die from sheer loneliness and isolation…” She offered a cultural perspective, based on “my being an Asian, where the old are really looked up to, where they are really loved, respected and wanted ‘till they reach their graves…”

Our parish developed a prototype solution, when Monsignor Sefton, along with Monsignor McDonough of Catholic Social Services, and Vicky Perralta, shared a common dream to create a space “for and by the elderly in their own neighborhood.

At the same time, our neighborhood was changing, which became part of the challenge. Our Parish 100th Anniversary Book points out that in the late 1950s, as longtime parishioners began to move out to the suburbs, new families of different racial and ethnic backgrounds — many of whom were not Catholic — began to move in. What was needed, then, was “the first community of its kind in the archdiocese, a recreational center for citizens regardless of race or creed.” (it is important to note that the word “citizen” was used, then, as a synonym for “people,” not to signify nationality!)

F006Monsignor Sefton purchased the former J.J. White Funeral Home on the corner of 47th and Springfield in 1966 and the Parish Centennial book notes that “many volunteers pitched in to clean, paint, repair, and decorate the former funeral home and make it an attractive place to meet.” Initial offerings – chosen by the community — included Arts and Crafts and Painting classes, as well as a discussion group, trips, and a “TV Lounge.”

The efforts were successful: the 1967 Parish Monthly Bulletin reports: “It was a joy indeed to see so many happy faces at the first Open House of our new enter for older citizens on Monday, September 18. Almost a hundred members and potential members spent the day inspecting the facilities at the center, lunching together and sharing in the afternoon’s entertainment. The future of Star Harbor seems assured because it has the enthusiastic approval of the people for whom it is designed. All the older citizens are invited to join. Many happy hours and welcome companionship are in store for them as they participate in the activities of the Center. Star Harbor is the fulfillment of a dream of Monsignor Sefton….His efforts in behalf of the senior citizens will be long and gratefully remembered…

Today, Star Harbor Senior Community Center is operated by Catholic Housing and Community Services in partnership with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), and continues “to provide services to ethnically and economically diverse seniors age 55 and over,” encouraging older adults to “engage in activities they enjoy and find meaningful. Health and wellness is a top priority with offerings in exercise, health education, screenings, and immunizations. Lunch is available for all members that are 60 years of age and older. Breakfast is available for purchase.” A counselor is on staff for senior issues. Today’s offerings also include opportunities such as “Learning to Use Your Tablet classes for iPad or Kindle.” Membership is Free. Check it out!

1967 star harbour ad

Star Harbor Senior Citizen Center, as in St. Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin, September 1967

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Concert at Star Harbor 1978

SFDS Parish Lending Library

sfds bookstore 1948
The SFDS Parish Bookstore was located at 4726 Baltimore Avenue

Our literary-minded St. Francis de Sales Parish has always kept up with local reading trends. Today, we have several book clubs; in the early 2000s, we had a library in the back of the church; long ago, we had a bookstore and lending library on Baltimore Ave.

The Journal of Library History reports that “Rental libraries were all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s coming seemingly out of nowhere and threatening to transform totally the reading and book buying habits of the American public.” On Baltimore Avenue number 4726 (Vientiane Cafe today) was the Terry Shop in 1939, run by W.A. Fares, and offering “unusual gifts” and a “lending library.” When that business left, SFDS took over and in May 1944, opened its own Parish Lending Library on the spot.

What did the lending library do? The Parish Monthly Bulletin noted that “The purpose of the Parish lending library is to make good literature easily available for everyone…” The library was open day and evening hours Patron membership of $5.00 allowed two books to be borrowed per week; an Annual $2 membership entitled patrons to rent one book a week at a fee of one cent per day; and nonmembers could rent single books for three cents a day.

The venture seemed to be successful: by its first anniversary, it had “a membership of 1,107 persons and over 200 of these are non-Catholics. It has on its shelves 1,576 volumes, all of the latest in Catholic books and the approved best-sellers. To date is has circulated 7,192 books among a variety of readers. The average patronage is 42 persons a day.” What were people reading?  Lists published in the Parish Monthly Bulletin included a variety of books such as  Communism and the Conscience of the West by Fulton Sheen; Powder Puff: the Adventures of the Easter Bunny in the City; The Remembered Face of Ireland by Josephine Hunt Raymond; Of Flight and Life by Charles Lindbergh; and More Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd among many others.

The Parish Monthly Bulletin also published a list of the 21 librarians. Census data from 1940 brings them to life: among them, Loretta Mulloy, who lived at 4811 Chester, was 18 in 1940, and the middle child of seven living at home with parents. Frances Cunniff, at 431 South 50th, was 31 in 1940, working as a clerk in a printing firm, living at home with parents and two siblings. Rita Duffy, at 4634 Chester, was a secretary/stenographer for a coffee importer. Her brother, age 32 and unmarried in 1940, was listed as “head of household,” with mother and ten siblings (youngest age 16) all living at home. Adele Smith, 1110 South 52nd Street, had attended three years of college and was a teacher, living at home with Mom and four siblings. Less than half were married, which makes sense: the library could have been considered a safe place to meet and socialize!

What happened to the Parish Lending Library in the end? Short answer: it moved to the basement (Choir Room) of the SFDS Little School in 1954. Long answer: The Journal of Library History concludes that “The rise of paperbacks and television, coupled with the increased cost of books after World War II, contributed to the demise of the rental business.

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SFDS Bookstore at 4726 Baltimore Avenue in 1948

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SFDS Parish Bookstore in 1948

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SFDS Bookstore in the basement of the Little School circa 1954

The Bellringers

bells 1965It takes one to ring one! Donald McDermott was “keeper of the keys” back in the 1950s and 1960s, in charge of Bellringers, CYO, and various other organizations at SFDS, and he writes about the experience:

From about 1958 to 1967, I selected (high school and older) boys to ‘ring the bells’ with strict guidelines. Before 6:45 PM, they used the Rectory side door, went into the back office to the key cabinet, took the sacristy and the choir- loft gate keys. They opened the sacristy door and went through the church to the vestibule stairs, unlocked the gate, went up to the bell console, and reconnected the rod on #1 bell ‘Adolph.’ At exactly 6:45 PM they played the ‘De Profundis’ actually the ‘Out of the Depths’ a musical Psalm 130 by Scott Soper. It is the last of the seven canonical hours – the last of the day, just after Vespers – often called Evening or Night Prayers.

Usually the choir loft room was crowded with the Bellringers and friends. Cards had the hymns on them written using numbers in place of notes. The ringer had to know the melody, otherwise whatever he played would just be discordant notes. Jim Slavin (one of the students) could transpose any music into numbers, so the boys played ‘Happy Birthday,’ ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the Mickey Mouse theme, etc. They were usually disguised by additional notes, adjusting the tempo, etc. Often, Bishop McShea, the priests, and the Sisters would laughingly ask ‘Was that the Mickey Mouse song that I heard?’ My response was ‘If that’s what you thought you heard…’

The Bellringers did a tremendous amount of work/jobs around the parish. Mother Boniface and Mother Rose Anita often requested their services – to whitewash the walls in the convent basement, clean-up the garden at the convent, decorate the Community Room for a party, etc.

One of the strangest things was when Jack Niehenke, Bill McLaughlin, Jim Slavin, etc. wanted to carry a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the May Procession. I asked Mother Rose Anita, and looking at me over her glasses, she laughingly asked ‘Are we now an Italian Parish?’ I took a table from my bedroom, disassembled it, using the four spindles as handles, to make a platform for the statue to be carried. Jim Slavin painted the platform powder blue. The boys, wearing suits and ties, carried the statue after the May Queen’s Court in front of the Bishop and priests. Nothing but compliments that Mother Anita and I always laughed about.”

Fran Byers notes that Jim Slavin sang in our choir for many years until his death in the late 1990s!

Legion of Decency

legion of decencyLegion of Decency” may conjure an image of a small band of pickle-faced people fussily objecting to the modern world, but that would be a mistake. As a subset of the Holy Name Society, the Legion was an army of Catholic men from parishes across the country, working earnestly to “promote, by word and deed, what is morally and artistically good in entertainment,” while protecting their families from harmful examples.

Concern about negative influence was justified, when the organization was founded in 1933. Government Prohibition of alcohol had paradoxically promoted and glamourized crime. With poverty in the Great Depression, came suspicion and persecution of immigrants, nonwhites, and non-protestants, particularly Catholics (who were largely immigrants). At the same time, the growing entertainment industry realized that “sex sells” and sold a lot of it. Issues of sex, violence, and intolerance in films became serious enough that Cardinal Dougherty forbade Philadelphia Catholics from attending any movies for several years starting in 1934 — a successful protest which drew attention to the surprising size of the Catholic population. Magazines and books had similar issues.

The Legion of Decency developed age-appropriateness ratings for movies, condemned movies that refused to meet standards, and pressured producers to clean up plot points in films that are now considered classics (Marilyn Monroe’s famous fly-up skirt was accepted in The Seven-Year Itch, which “deals humorously with a man’s temptations,” but an adulterous affair was removed)

Locally, the Legion picketed condemned movies and discouraged obscene literature. A 1942 SFDS Parish Monthly Bulletin reported that “…an intensive campaign has been carried on in this parish to remove from stores and newsstands, all magazines that are offensive to the Code of the National Organization for Decent Literature. Our Committee, composed of men from various sections of the Parish, have done splendid work and their efforts have met with great success…

Why was this a men’s project? Part of the pledge, published in the 1942 parish bulletin, was: “I promise to guide those under my care and influence them in their choice of pictures that are morally and culturally inspiring.” Consider that in those early days, men generally chose the movies for dates and family viewing. At the same time, objectionable magazines and books were largely targeted for a male audience – which often controlled the family finances.

The Legion of Decency merged into the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures in 1965, but may have paved the way for today’s many consumer-organized boycotts of goods and services based on political or philosophical ideas.

 

The Assumption of Mary Vietnamese Community

In 2016, the Vietnamese Community celebrated their fortieth anniversary at St. Francis de Sales.

Their history (translated) recalls that: “On April 30, 1975, with the collapse of South Vietnam, more than 130,000 Vietnamese left their homeland to seek freedom. Vietnamese refugees came to Philadelphia from refugee camps in Florida, Arkansas, California and Pennsylvania. Most came to Philadelphia from Indiantown Gap Camp, PA” (near Hershey).

The Philadelphia Archdiocese sponsored seven Vietnamese priests, who “were invited to St. Charles Seminary to learn American customs and English language, so that after three months of study, they could be appointed to the parishes they would serve.”

I002 IOct 5 1978 Father Annthony Vu Nu Huynh
Rev. Anthony Vu Nhu Huynh

In December 1975, Reverend Anthony Vu Nhu Huynh was appointed Assistant Priest at St. Francis de Sales Parish and Director of the Vietnamese Apostolate for the Philadelphia Archdiocese. His Vietnamese ministry started first at de Sales. Then, “in 1976, as the number of refugees grew, he began establishing communities in Delaware, Chester, Bucks and Montgomery counties. Once his diocese was stabilized, he then helped small communities in neighboring locations, such as Wilmington, Reading, Allentown, Atlantic City and Camden.”

It was not an easy time: “in the early days, when everyone was a new refugee, the language was foreign, transportation was not available, many had to depend on American sponsors, there was a shortage of  Vietnamese food, Vietnamese markets were not available, and the communication between Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese was difficult.” A reunion Mass at St. Charles Seminary that first Christmas was bittersweet, with happy faces and sad memories to share.

Our parish helped with resettlement efforts. Monsignor Hilferty, who became Pastor in 1977, had served as Military Chaplain in Vietnam for twenty years from 1957 to 1977, so he understood the needs of immigrants and the challenges of starting over in a new place. Parishioner Betty Allen worked tirelessly to find housing for Vietnamese families – as well as newly-arriving Laotians, Cambodians, Koreans, and H’mong – many of whom were not Catholic. The Parish School began an ESL (English as a Second Language) program for children, who were soon able to participate in regular classes.

Until he passed away suddenly in 1990, Father Anthony worked diligently to insure that Vietnamese heritage survived in a new land, and children continued to learn their culture, religion, language, and customs. Today’s flourishing community of over 300 faithful from the tri-state area is a tribute to the success of his early efforts, as is the ordination of eight Vietnamese  priests and a deacon.