Category: Uncategorized

Building a Nation: Fourth of July 1908

oklahomaThe central event of the 1908 Philadelphia Fourth of July celebrations, reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, was “The presentation of an American flag by Philadelphia to the Baby State of the Union, Oklahoma, and a reciprocal presentation to this city.”

Oklahoma had voted to become the 46th state in November, 1907. When its representatives came East, to be welcomed at the “seat of American Independence” for their first American Fourth of July, the festival “Chairman Frank W. Lambrith…pointed to the clicking telegraph instrument ready to keep them in touch” via the latest technology, with crowds gathered 1,367 miles away in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Festivities began with “a delegation of citizens from the new state, occupying a conspicuous place on the platform,” along with “a number of descendants of the signers of the Declaration. Both delegations proceeded to Independence Hall with a military escort.

 Representatives of different religious and civic groups across Philadelphia – what would, in 1908, have been considered an exemplary diversity — were invited to participate, starting with Rabbi Martin Nathans, of Beth Israel Synagogue, who delivered the opening prayer, followed by songs from the Matthew Baldwin School Chorus.

 A series of back-and-forth Oklahoma  telegrams provided live commentary: “’Guthrie wants to know what we are doing,’ called Chairman Lambrith, looking at a telegram, and we have telegraphed back: ‘We are raising over Independence Hall the flag that will be given to Oklahoma.’ Oklahoma clicked back: ‘Very good.’”

 The celebration continued, as “Rev. C. Edgar Adamson, of St. Paul’s M.E. Church, invited all to rise and repeat the Lord’s Prayer….Then came the battle-scarred Oklahoman, (Civil War)  Col. T.H. Soward, who stepped to the front on his crutch to be greeted by tremendous cheering…His expressions of the Western peoples’ love for Independence Hall, and their wonder whether the people who had it in their keeping really understood how they loved it, thrilled his auditors…He proclaimed ”…that the Liberty Bell spoke…not only to our own countrymen, but…the world is hearing and heeding the Cry of Liberty…”

 A graduate of Boys’ Central High School read aloud The Declaration of Independence, then a descendant of one of its Signers delivered a speech, and State flags were exchanged. “Then there were a few minutes of holding of watches, waiting for the first stroke of 12 o’clock. At the first call of the Bell, Mayor Reyburn clicked the telegraph to Guthrie and the salutes were fired and the bands and people began to render “The Star- Spangled Banner” in Philadelphia and Guthrie at once.

 After several minutes of joyous noises during forty-six strokes of the (Liberty) Bell, the people gathered into silence again and Rev. Joseph A. Whitaker of St. Francis de Sales pronounced the benediction.” (Bet you were wondering when Saint Francis de Sales Parish would come into the story!).

 

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1940 Summer Party

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The notes for the Saint Francis de Sales Summer Festival in 1940, the year of  the Golden Jubilee, provide interesting clues about parish life, long ago.

The party took place in the Parish parking lot on June 6, 7, 8 and June 13, 14, and 15, with “fancy goods, groceries, refreshments, recordings every night, ice cream, cakes and candy, novelties, games, and specialties, ” and the big attraction: the raffle of two 1940 Chevrolets, proudly displayed on the Rectory lawn.

Preparations involved a certain amount of arm twisting:  all parishioners were expected to sell books of raffle tickets, and sales were meticulously tallied, compared, and publicized per block and by parishioner. High school students were instructed that “Every time you dispose of a book, you receive credit for a Social Contribution to the High School Tuition.” Families were directed “to visit the Party at least one night each week.”

Notes from the wrapup hint at the size of the event and some neighborhood disruption: “We are well aware of the traffic on Springfield Avenue. Here is an interesting note: automobiles from eleven different states (including California) stopped to secure chances on our Grand Awards.” Traffic tangles, could, in part, have been due to assertive raffle ticket-selling: “No doubt you noticed the gentleman who sold chances in front of the Rectory. We are grateful to Mr. Martin Gillane for his services. We compliment him on the money secured by his work, Two Hundred Ninety-four Dollars and Ten Cents.” (That would have been 2,941 ten cent tickets!)

Did “Fancy Goods” (probably homemade crafts) fail to sell? A carefully-worded news item suggests some frantic behind-the-scenes efforts to increase revenue: “With very little time to prepare, the Fancy Goods table presented a mighty fine Card Party for the Summer Party Fund. We are grateful to these Ladies for the magnificent sum of One Hundred and Seventy-five Dollars, and we compliment them on the orderly manner in which their Party was conducted.

The Main Event was, of course, the raffle of the two 1940 Chevrolets, and the youthful winner likely caused some mirth (and envy): “The Summer Party Automobiles were awarded to Mrs. Clara Randolph of Upper Darby, and Master Allen Smith, 1123 Divinity Street. Master Smith is in the second grade of our School.

In the end, the Rectory commented: “We are most pleased and gratified…that the Summer Party will bring us more than Seven Thousand Six Hundred Dollars” for Jubilee-related repairs and renovations (mostly cleaning of  walls and updated lighting) – through the efforts of 396 workers, including adult parishioners, High School students, the Boys’ Battalion and Girls’ Corps (military-style organizations for parish children – precursors to Boy and Girl Scouts).  The report concluded: “With the help of God, with continued interest and co-operation, we shall complete our plans for a joyful celebration of our Golden Jubilee in the Fall.”

Why was God’s help invoked? The Great Depression had just ended with the beginning of World War II in Europe, but the parish was in debt and tension and uncertainty were in the air.  Reading between the lines, the carefully repeated insistence that among the volunteers “there was always close harmony. Everywhere there was goodwill. All of these speak for Parish Pride….” suggests, perhaps, some strategic optimism. Long-ago parishioners are often invested with halos, but perhaps they weren’t yet angels after all!

The Murder of Doctor Bull

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Lorraine Bull (Mix)

When Dr. George W. Bull, a wealthy New York widower, wanted to remarry in 1885, his adult children feared that he would “deed or try to give away his property,” so they attempted to have him committed to an insane asylum. He and his new wife decided that they’d rather live in Philadelphia.

They apparently were content enough for the next thirteen years, spending most of that time at 825 South 48th Street, within the boundaries of St. Francis de Sales Parish. Bull, retired, was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (an Irish Catholic fraternal organization), and may have been an amateur painter with a penchant for religious themes. Sadly, he was also said to be an alcoholic, which is supposed to have killed him at age 64, though the death certificate read “aortic stenosis” (heart disease).

bulletin 1908During his final moments, around 1:00 AM on June 14, 1898,  his wife, Lorraine sent messengers to fetch the family doctor and “Father O’Neill, the pastor of St. Francis Catholic Church…of which Dr. Bull and his wife were members...” SFDS first Pastor, Reverend Joseph O’Neill, arrived just “in time to minister the last rites of extreme unction,” but the doctor, returning  from a Knights of Columbus meeting, was minutes late. Bull was buried from our parish (the building that today contains the school auditorium, which was then the chapel; the church was not yet built).

Soon afterwards, Bull’s son-in-law started a rumor that Lorraine poisoned her husband. He provided juicy speculative details to Thomas Wanamaker’s North American newspaper, which relentlessly pursued Lorraine in a series of sensational stories.

When the case came to trial, Lorraine was defended by Anthony A. Hirst, Esq. (the same lawyer who arranged the archdiocesan purchase of land to build St.Francis de Sales church).

The prosecution produced a pharmacist’s assistant from Osterland’s Drug Store, 46th and Baltimore (a used-furniture store today), who identified Lorraine as the customer who purchased mercury insecticide and “nervously” signed the name “Lillie Stokes” in the poison register. Lorraine swore that she had never been to Osterland’s. The neighbor next door at 823 South 48th — the other half of the twin — counter-testified that “Lillie Stokes” was the name of the black servant girl she had sent to that drug store to purchase insecticide on the 14th, and the register showed that the purchase was made at 5:00 PM – long after Bull had died. Under cross examination, the pharmacist’s assistant admitted that Bull’s son-in-law had come to the store and pointed out the entry in the register as “suspicious.” The servant girl could not be located.

The judge ordered Dr. Bull’s body to be exhumed from Holy Cross Cemetery, and when no poison was found, Lorraine Mix (she had, by this time, remarried) was declared innocent.

Lorraine sued Thomas Wanamaker and the North American Newspaper for libel and slander in 1904, and was awarded a fortune in damages, but this was not reported by local press. The powerful Wanamaker (son of the retail giant) then had the judgment against him quietly overturned as a mistrial – in a bold filing, modestly tucked into an obscure court record.

Meanwhile, Lorraine’s stepson-in-law worked on trying to have Bull’s will declared invalid.

Careful hints left by reporters that everyone acting in Lorraine’s defense was Catholic, intriguingly suggest a possible undercurrent of anticatholicism in the saga – which would have been consistent to the period.

Our Lady of the Bell: 1949

 

Our Lady of the Bell

Lovely Lady, we have come
To honor you today
Again as in our childhood days
We crown you “Queen of May”

 Our crown is not a garland gay
Of gold or jewels so rare
It’s little acts of kindness
And a little silent prayer

‘Tis by our hands this world is linked
‘Cross country, coast to coast,
It’s we who hear the great success
Of which our statesmen boast

 We place the call ‘cross land or sea
To England France or Rome
We hear the weary traveler say,
“Connect me with my home,”

We ring the bells of industry
That all the world might know
Peace has been restored again
And onward we must go.

We make the mighty railroads move
And planes soar overhead
The ships at sea can safely Pass
Because we called ahead

O Mother! Please be always near
And guide us day by day
Our task is not an easy one
So teach us what to say

 Let us never wander far
Nor in the darkness dwell
Keep us ever close to thee
“OUR LADY OF THE BELL”

In the early days of “land line” telephones, the many regional phone companies were grouped together as the Bell conglomerate, nicknamed “Ma Bell.” In those long-ago days of phones with handsets and cords and round number dials, long-distance callers had to be connected by an “operator” – an actual human “Telephone Girl” — sitting at a switchboard at the telephone company, expertly plugging and unplugging wires all day long.

This poem, which appeared in the 1949 Saint Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin (slightly abridged here), was written by Marguerite K. Eisenhart for “the Communion Breakfast of 1800 Bell Telephone girls in Philadelphia on May 15, 1949.” Many activities, from sports leagues, to glee clubs, to religious gatherings, were available to the Bell “Telephone Girls” and similar but separate organizations for male employees.

The poem captures a time and a place – when young women proudly entered the workforce to provide vital skills with important communications technology. Change was coming, though: just two years later, in 1951, the first direct long-distance dialing was introduced, allowing customers to dial their own long-distance calls without help from a “Telephone Girl.”

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A Tale of Two Margarets

winthrop smith (2)On July 3, 1913, the Philadelphia Inquirer breathlessly reported: “Winthrop Smith Weds His Typist: Financier, 67, Makes Miss McMenamin His Second Wife. Information Concerning the Marriage is Refused by Sister of the Bride.” The New York Times also covered the story.

Why was it scandalous and what did it have to do with St. Francis de Sales Church?

Smith was a well-connected Philadelphia financier and member of the Union League, who, since his wife’s deathkellar_levitation_poster in 1911, had been living locally at the Covington Apartments. Miss Margaret McMenamin, of 4303 Baltimore Avenue, was reportedly 33 years old.  Their marriage was described as “culminating a friendship which originated in his office” – the banking firm of Winthrop Smith & Co.from which he had retired  in 1912, and where he was fondly remembered for once asking famous magician Harry Kellar, a bank customer, to entertain the staff.

They were married quietly, on a weekday,  at St. Francis de Sales. The Latin in the parish registry (coram me inierunt in matr.) translates “in my presence have entered into matrimony” – an unusual passive phrasing probably signifying a marriage in which one partner was not  Catholic — and no witnesses are listed, which is also odd. Reverend Maurice Cowl, a former Episcopalian priest, recently converted to Catholicism and assisting at de Sales, officiated. The Inquirer reported that after the ceremony, the couple left directly for New York, and a ship to Europe. The bride’s sister tersely commented that “they are married and that settles it.” His relatives remained silent.

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Margaret Smith (Monk) in 1935

When the couple returned from Europe, they settled at Smith’s estate in Glenside and St. Francis de Sales passes out of the story. Their daughter, Margaret, born around 1916, was introduced to society as a debutante in 1935. In 1942, she married Lt. Cmmdr. Charles T. Monk USNR (whose family lived, for a time, at 4402 Locust Street); he became an insurance executive after the war.

Winthrop Smith died at age 92 and is buried in their family plot at The Woodlands (40th and Woodland). A tall, proud obelisk, near the old stable, memorializes his father, another Winthrop Smith, publisher of the celebrated McGuffey Readers, on the front. Our Winthrop Smith is listed on the back, with his first wife, Florence Chapman Smith. The large square plot is full of Smiths. Lieutenant Cmmdr Monk is also buried there. But where are the two Margarets?

A mossy gravestone labeled “Winthrop Smith” in the family plot has no dates, and a space for a second name is left uncarved. Was that our Winthrop, forever waiting for his second wife? A fire at the Glenside home in 1946 is the final mention of Margaret Smith in the newspapers. The estate of her childless daughter, Margaret Monk, was auctioned in 1984. Today, the name Winthrop Smith continues only in a separate Connecticut branch of the family, associated with the firm of Merrill Lynch.

 

 

The Last Supper Altar

the_last_supper_-_leonardo_da_vinci_-_high_resolution_32x16Have you ever really studied the freestanding altar at St. Francis de Sales?

The frieze carved on the front is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s famous 15th century painting of the Last Supper, which seems appropriate, though, curiously, the scene, as Leonardo painted it, was intended to represent the moment when Jesus told his apostles that one of them would betray him! It’s not an exact copy: our anonymous altar sculptor made some significant design choices where details were unclear, but it’s pretty close.

Leonardo’s ancient planning notes identify the first three people on the left in the scene as Bartholomew, James son of Alpheus (James the Less), and Andrew, all looking astonished at the betrayal. In Leonardo’s original plan, which he later changed, one of those apostles is so surprised, that he “blows his mouthful” — a very human, but possibly too distracting image!

Next comes Judas, the villain in the piece. A 19th century analysis of Leonardo’s artwork notes that Judas “is the only person to have his elbow on the table and his head is also horizontally the lowest of anyone” in the scene. He is shown “clutching a small bag…He is also tipping over the salt cellar” – said to be a symbol of betrayal. Intriguingly, in Jewish religion, salt also signified God’s (Old-Testament) covenant.

A bread knife in a hand behind Judas has caused much speculation through the ages. Leonardo’s original notes describe a character later identified as Peter who “speaks into his neighbour’s (John’s) ear and he, as he listens to him, turns towards him to lend an ear, while he holds a knife in one hand, and in the other the loaf half cut through by the knife.” Carefully read, this convoluted sentence suggests that Leonardo originally intended John to hold the knife, although Peter is more usually credited, and our altar sculptor has chosen Peter.

Why is John a more interesting possibility? Here’s a thought: in Renaissance art, a “loaf with a knife in it” symbolized the Eucharist and Christ’s sacrifice. It seems like John, the beloved disciple, on hearing the news of betrayal, might instinctively try to yank the knife from the loaf and cast it away, to symbolically stop Jesus’ suffering. Peter, future head of the church, might grab his arm to stop him, knowing that Jesus must die as foretold. And Judas spills the salt.

Jesus, in the center, studiously ignores the drama, since he knows what must happen.

On his other side, Thomas points heavenward, while James the Greater gestures to Jesus and Philip points to himself, questioning. Matthew, Thaddeus (Jude) and Simon confer together at the far end of the table.

Our altar, by the way, has a story of its own. The ultramodern streamlined acrylic freestanding altar installed at SFDS to celebrate the new ideas of Vatican II and the 1960s proved to be too brittle, and it cracked. It was replaced several times by sturdier, less austere wooden substitutes (much like the adjustments to the New Mass). In 2007, the MBS altar was moved and installed here to commemorate the merging of the two parishes, symbolically gathering everyone around the same table. Its marble  was a perfect match — restoring the traditional look of the sanctuary and fitting in as though it has always been here!

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D’Ascenzo Stained Glass

d'ascenzo adA long-ago Pennsylvania guidebook highlighted the locally-crafted windows in our 1911 church, where “the leaded glass is particularly beautiful; windows are of the antique school and extremely rich in color. Have you ever wondered how they were made?

Nicola D’Acenzo, whose firm crafted the four round windows and six long windows, believed that “the architect is the maker of opportunities.”  Architect, Henry Dagit, would have planned the size, shape, and locations; and, after consulting with the Pastor, the general subjects for his windows. D’Ascenzo’s role was to assist the architect “in giving final expression to his buildings.”

The stained-glass workers brought their own expertise. A reporter visiting the D’Ascenzo studios downtown wrote: “Chat with a D’Ascenzo artist…and he will dwell on the importance of the window’s ultimate location.” Figures had to be scaled so that they would look good to the viewer, seeing them from below. “The supreme problem is color. The artist must know light. Glass made for the gray skies of France or England is apt to be an unintelligible blaze of color under the brilliant American sun.”

Walking through the workshop, the reporter described the process as he saw it: first, a small water-color sketch was painted. When that was “finished and approved, the cartoon must be made…That is simply a full-size, charcoal drawing of the window design. The place for each piece of glass is numbered, then the entire cartoon is cut up, jig-saw fashion, and affixed to a sheet of plain glass. The work-man, one eye on the little water-color sketch, selects the right-tinted glass, cuts it, then attaches it with beeswax to the plain glass in the spot vacated by his paper pattern. Soon the whole window is laid out on the glass easel. Decorative details and flesh tones are painted on with mineral pigments, which, when heated to a cherry-red – 1,1250 to 1,250 degrees Fahrenheit – fuse with the glass. Hydrofluoric acid is used to etch the surface for special effects. The bits of colored glass are now ready to be stuck together with the soldered lead strips. ‘Muck,” a waterproof cement, is ‘scrubbed’ into the crevices, and iron rods are worked into the decorative pattern to reinforce the whole.”

An earlier writer had noted that in reading a description  “one misses, of course, the cordial welcome of Mr. D’Ascenzo, the making of the full-size cartoons by his assistant designers, the snip of the scissors in the pattern room, the screech of the wheel as the glass is cut, the painting of the glass on the easels, the burning of the glass in the kilns and the hiss of the soldering iron.

What makes our church special?  Shut your eyes and imagine the distant echoes of earnest voices and clanging tools, carefully hand working each decorative detail.

The Lenten Dome

There’s a carefully arranged catechism with an interesting Lenten theme included in the twenty-four stained-glass windows of the Guastavino Dome at St. Francis de Sales Church, but since the windows are so high above the nave, few people are aware of it!

Imagine a cross made by connecting four compass points through the middle of the dome. The dome window to the North, showing three nails and the crown of thorns, would be at the “head” of the cross, its symbols representing the physical “sufferings of Christ.” At its “foot,” to the South, is a window showing the “hammer and tongs” that inflicted the wounds.

Now find the imaginary “crossbar.” To the West, is a window showing the “Scourges,” or whips, used in Christ’s humiliation. Exactly opposite, the Eastern window shows a “Lantern.” This was described in the 1911 and 1940 lists of dome window symbolism, as “the Light of Christian Doctrine which illuminates our pilgrim journey on earth.” An alternate reading, is as an emblem of Christ’s lonely nighttime agony and prayer vigil while his followers slept. Biblical symbolism sources note that “A lantern calls to mind nighttime activity, and it is used particularly as a symbol of Christ’s Passion, which began in the evening at the Garden of Gethsemane and continued under the cover of night” and “Lanterns were carried by the mob which arrested Jesus in Gethsemane.” The lantern completes the story of Christ’s suffering.

A previous column described another invisible cross in the dome – its axis running from the altar towards the back of the church, connecting the ascending and descending dove windows; and its crossbar stretching side-to-side linking the Papal Tiara window to St. Peter’s Keys.

The two groups of symbols encapsulate religious teaching: one set, defined by the building’s interior architecture, describes the structure of the Catholic church, showing the relationship between priest and pews; St. Peter and the Pope. The second cross, aligned to the strange forces represented by the compass and the sunrise, is about the central mystery of faith: Christ’s death and resurrection. Why is the lantern placed in the Eastern window? Think of the “Star of the East,” the beacon star, guiding wise travelers to Bethlehem. Also consider the direction of sunrise, when Jesus rose from the dead. Which leads us back to the original description of that holy lantern “which illuminates our pilgrim journey on earth.”

Our church decorations are quietly filled with layers of symbolism, which even its original parishioners likely did not fully appreciate (And we are still trying to find out more about the mysterious designer!).

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More Coloring Pages

From  February 4 to 10, 2019, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world are sharing free coloring sheets and books online based on materials in their collections. This year, our parish history archives is included among them. Check out all the offerings – from SFDS to Drexel University to the Vatican Libraries and beyond — at ColorOurCollections.org

You’ll also find a whole new coloring book of 1920s advertising from long-gone local businesses in the Coloring Pages section of our parish archives, at this link:

SFDS 1920s Ads Coloring Pages

1926 service with courtesy

Another Mother Theresa

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“Mother Theresa Maxis
The Holder of the Fire”
© 1995 SSIHM Monroe, Nancy Lee Smith, IHM Iconographer

From 1999 to 2014, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), who run SFDS School and the IHM Center For Literacy, also operated a site called the Theresa Maxis Outreach Center at MBS, offering food, clothing, and life management skills training to those in need.

Who was Theresa Maxis?

That’s a complicated, inspirational, and deeply American tale.

Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin, co-founder of the IHM order, was the daughter of Marie Anne Maxis, a Haitian refugee, brought to Baltimore in the 1790s by a French family named Duchemin. Her father was a British officer, briefly visiting American relatives. Marie Alma was born in 1810, and, like her mother, took the Duchemin name. According to documents in the Scranton IHM Archives, “The Duchemins were childless. Providing the little Marie Alma, or as she was usually called, Almaide. (a San Dominican nickname) …the same advantages of education and training which they would have given a child of their own, they saw her develop into a beautiful cultured woman of extraordinary intelligence…” bilingual in French and English and racially-mixed.

While attending a non-Caucasian Sunday School, Almaide met two young women hoping to establish the first religious order for women of color (long before the Civil War), and a boarding school to educate Haitian refugees. Almaide enrolled as their pupil, which functioned as her novitiate, and became one of the founding Sisters of the Oblates of Providence in 1829, taking the professed name of Theresa Maxis.

When the Baltimore Archdiocese tried to disband the Oblates, Mother Theresa was invited to the newly created state of Michigan. There, with Father Louis Gillet CSsR, she co-founded the IHM Sisters in 1845 with a mission to educate French-speaking immigrant girls. In 1855, Bishop (today Saint) John Neumann invited her to expand the teaching efforts of her sisters to Susquehanna County in the Philadelphia diocese. Then, a “jurisdictional dispute” between the bishops of Detroit and the newly-formed Scranton diocese in 1859 moved Mother Theresa “to the Pennsylvania foundation, which later became a separate branch of the congregation.”

An Immaculata University history recalls her fortitude: “Because of many difficulties and misunderstandings, Mother Theresa was forced to leave…” and spent 17 years exiled with the Grey Nuns of Ottawa in Canada. Bishop Wood invited her to return to West Chester in 1885, where she died in 1892. “Mother Theresa’s legacy of courage, peace and service to the poor continues now in three IHM congregations of Monroe, Michigan; Immaculata; and Scranton, Pennsylvania.”

Perhaps our IHM-strong parish needs a new memorial in her name!