Tag: 1920s

Car Trouble

Does it seem as though roads are becoming more hazardous? In the early days of our church, when cars were still a novelty, our second Pastor, Reverend Crane, thought so. And vehicles moved a lot slower back then!

As the number of motorcars began to increase in the city — intermingling with horse carts, carriages, trolleys, bicycles, and others sharing the roads – officials took some odd advice in the struggle to keep everyone safe. In June 1912 – a year after our church building was finished – The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that our Reverend Crane was asked by the coroner to serve on a jury “composed of clergymen” ruling on an “automobile fatality” case, in which a man driving a “motor truck” ran down and killed a woman pedestrian. Six clergymen of different (Christian) faiths “were asked to serve on the jury as a result of a recommendation made a few months ago at the national convention of coroners, the object being to give the clergy an opportunity to impress upon members of their congregation, as well as upon chauffeurs and the owners of automobile and other vehicles, the dangers from the careless driving of motorcars” (The driver in the case was held responsible for the death and remanded for trial).

January 1916 brought traffic issues a little closer to home when the Inquirer ran a short news item headed “Auto Runs Down Aged Man.” In that incident, an SFDS parishioner, John F. Wholey, of 4822 Windsor Ave. (whose father Timothy Wholey would donate our St. Francis de Sales statue in 1920) “was taking a party of friends in an automobile to a wedding in Merchantville” when a man “stepped in front of the machine” at Day and Federal Streets, Camden; was knocked over; and suffered a “probable fracture of the skull.

Not all automotive troubles were accident related. A different danger made the news in February 1919, with the headline “Motor Bandits Get Furs Worth $5000; Terrorize W. Phila.” The Inquirer reported that a woman who lived next door to the fur store of SFDS parishioner Henry T. Amlung, at 4810 Baltimore Avenue (today, an empty lot behind a wooden fence),  heard a noise one evening, looked out from an upstairs window, and “was struck speechless by witnessing one man tossing furs out of the window, and into the arms of an accomplice, who was putting them into a limousine automobile.”

Fast-moving motor bandits quickly became a significant class of criminals, so police – still on foot – had to invest in vehicles and equipment in order to keep up. On December 23, 1920, the Inquirer reported that “Philadelphia’s Christmas presents for motor bandits are ready. Here they are: One hundred and fifty armed motorcycles, most of them with sidecars. Six fast automobiles for bandit-chasing owned by the city and a fleet of privately owned automobiles at the call of the police. A stack of short-range sawed-off shotguns, each pumping six shells of buck shot in rapid succession…” (The shotguns were thought to be a kinder and gentler approach to crimefighting than the submachine guns proposed in New York City to deal with a similar automotive crime wave). Speedy police vehicles might have discouraged automotive crime, but were unlikely to improve safety for pedestrians or other traffic!

As to Reverend (by then Bishop) Crane, the hazards of the new automobile age soon became very personal. On Nov. 11, 1922, Catholic News Service reported that “Rev. Cornelius X. Leahy, pastor of the Church of SS. Peter and Paul at Tower City, died last Sunday as a result of a fracture of the skull sustained in an automobile accident. This accident occurred when Father Leahy was driving with a party, including Bishop Crane, of this city, from Tower City to Tremont, where Bishop Crane was to administer Confirmation.” Curiously, there is no further information on what caused the accident or whether any of the other passengers were injured. We know only that the funeral took place in “St. Canicus’ Church, Mahanoy City” and began “with Divine Office at 10 o’clock. The Right Rev. Bishop Crane presided.”

The world keeps moving. A century later, cars are old news, but the car troubles are still familiar – and now we face challenges Bishop Crane never could have imagined, as we navigate hazards of life online in the new age of the internet!

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Drama on the Front Steps

Nearly a century ago, in the “good old days” of alcohol Prohibition and associated gangsterism, a dramatic movie-script-like news story unfolded in front of our church.

On April 21, 1923, the Inquirer reported that in the small hours of the previous morning, “Miss Mabel Hills, 21 years old, of 421 South Forty-ninth street…was left gagged and dazed on the steps of St. Francis de Sales Church, Forty-seventh street and Springfield avenue.”

“Miss Hills, with two other women and three men, was returning home from a café at Broad street and Girard avenue. At Forty-ninth and Spruce streets a big, crimson-colored car pushed in front of the taxicab, bringing it to a halt. Four white-masked men jumped out. Throwing open the door of the cab, the bandits thrust revolvers into the faces of the occupants and one of them demanded: ‘Which one of you is named Hills?’”

“‘That is my name,’ Miss Hills answered, according to the story she told police, and the men then proceeded to drag her roughly from the machine and hustle her into their car. ’One of them stuffed a handkerchief into my mouth,’ the girl said, ‘and another wrapped me in a blanket. Then it seemed as if they drove me all over the city at a break-neck pace. I fainted several times. When I finally came to I found myself on the church steps. ‘Where’s the rocks?’ one of the men asked me. ‘We don’t want to commit murder, but we’ll knock you off right here at the church if you don’t tell us where the jewelry is.’ So I told them I carried it in two chamois bags in my stocking. One of them slit open my stocking’ (presumably not at the ankle) ‘and took them.’ Her jewelry consisted of a diamond ring set with a five-karat diamond, two other rings with diamonds set in platinum, a diamond bracelet and a platinum and diamond studded wrist watch. “

“After the bandits had departed with their loot, Miss Hills, dazed and sick, staggered to the parish house and told her story. Meanwhile, her companions drove to the Fifty-fifth and Pine streets police station, where their chauffeur, John Halpin…was arrested…” Two other suspects –Thomas Alexander and Nathan Kessler — were also soon captured.

Inquiring minds might wonder how Miss Hills came to have $5,000 worth of jewelry – a magnificent sum in the 1920s — hidden on her person. The reporter carefully records the whole colorful incident using distancing words: “according to the story she told police…” Bishop Crane’s rectory also quietly stepped back from the odd occurrence on its church property.

One of the men arrested, Thomas Alexander, was already known to police for his connection with “the Columbia avenue gang.” He would go to trial for Miss Hill’s kidnapping, but “despite the strength of the evidence,” would escape a guilty verdict. (The other major suspect, Nathan Kessler, died in Moyamensing Prison due to a mysterious heroin overdose while awaiting trial). The story wasn’t over: soon “after his acquittal,” Alexander “appeared in Atlantic City. There he went to a boardwalk cabaret and seeing Miss Hill among the merrymakers gave her a severe beating. He pulled his revolver, knocked her unconscious and then literally shot his way out. The cabaret proprietor…was hit by one of the flying bullets” and spent some time in hospital.

Two years later, in November 1925, The Inquirer reported that Thomas Alexander was again arrested, along with a man named Samuel Martin and “two well-dressed women,” in a house at Park Avenue and Dauphin Street for a different crime: “the killing of a policeman and another man during the attempted hold-up of the Freihofer Baking Company loading station...” Over 800 postal money orders and many other stolen items were found at the scene of the arrest, along with a “peculiar shaped mask” like that used in the murders, and “enough dynamite and nitro-glycerin to blow up a house.”

In a dramatic finale, the four Park Avenue suspects were captured when “detectives…trailed a weeping woman from a cabaret” near Broad and Columbia, “to the rendezvous of the alleged bandit gang…The identity of the girl whose tears led to the capture was not revealed by detectives, as she is not under arrest. According to police, she is a member of a respectable family who left home to seek adventure and found only disappointment, sordidness and sorrow…   THE END!

Priest Bails Out of Falling Jet

 “Priest Bails Out of Falling Jet, Lands in Tree – Gets to Wedding.” Was it the sensational news headline that distracted from the original research subject on the same page, or was it the oddly familiar name of the adventurous priest, Captain Cornelius F. McLaughlin?

Rev. McLaughlin   tells his tale to the newlyweds

It took a minute to place that distinctive name, then memory clicked with a smile on a small boy in a whimsical 1928 Parish Monthly Bulletin account of a children’s movie outing https://sfdshistory.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/a-trip-to-the-movies/ quoted in a history column a few years ago. “Bad Boy Brady…in the Third Grade at SFDS School,” had reported that “We all met at the school…and marched over to the Belmont Theatre on Fifty-second and Market Street…Me and Joe Rody and Cornelius McLaughlin (then about 11 years old) walked over together, and talked about marbles and baseball players. Joe said he wants to be an outfielder like Al Simmons, but Cornelius said he wants to help his father on the Ice Cream truck...” Cornelius popped up a few other times in other 1920s bulletins – in lists of altar boys, and school awards, and writing his own thank you for another movie treat

If he could have looked forward in time, young Cornelius might have been surprised by his future career and amazed by his calamitous adventure – a real-life caper as exciting as any of the movies he enjoyed!

On June 3, 1956, the Inquirer reported that Air Force chaplain Captain Cornelius McLaughlin (then age 39) was on his way from Sioux Falls IA, where he was stationed, to officiate at his cousin Barbara Coyle’s marriage to Edward Norbert Dooling in St. Alice’s Church, Upper Darby, PA, when his pilot realized that their T-33 jet trainer was running out of fuel. “Shortly thereafter, the pilot bailed out, having satisfied himself that his passenger had done likewise.” The jet crashed near Pine Bush, NY just before midnight, and “no-one knew what had happened to Father McLaughlin. It was 5:30 AM when police finally got a telephone call from the missing priest” who “had spent the intervening hours up a tree – trying to extricate himself from the harness of his parachute. Then came the breakneck race to get to Philadelphia in time for the 10 AM ceremony.” Would he make it? The Inquirer noted the first hurdle: “When New York State police picked up Father McLaughlin he was clad only in coveralls, the normal ‘uniform’ for jet flight…” so “he would have to obtain proper vestments, and quickly…After a few inquiries, the Rev. James Dalsey, of the Epiphany College in Newburgh, was willing and able to supply them…” Others helped as the race continued: “Police took him to Stewart Air Force Base at Newburgh, NY. There an obliging operations officer got Father McLaughlin a seat on a (C-47) transport plane just about to take off on a training flight. The transport landed at the International Airport here just four minutes after 10 AM. Father McLaughlin’s brother, Patrolman Martin M. McLaughlin, of the Upper Darby Police, met him there and sped him to St. Alice’s Church.”

But, as the Inquirer sadly noted, “yesterday was the first Saturday in June. At St. Alice’s, there was a wedding scheduled for 10 AM, another scheduled for 11 AM and still another scheduled for noon. Fifteen minutes was the maximum delay permissible under the circumstances. So the ceremony was already under way…when the McLaughlin brothers arrived at the church. Father McLaughlin entered the sanctuary and quietly took a seat there while Father Nolan, assistant rector of the church, performed in his stead.” All was forgiven, though, when Father McLaughlin attended the Wedding Breakfast and told his story!

Who was Cornelius McLaughlin? Baptized at SFDS in 1917, one of five children of William and Margaret McLaughlin, his family lived at 5028 Beaumont Street. He graduated from SFDS School and West Catholic High School, before entering St. Charles Seminary. McLaughlin was ordained at the Cathedral in 1945 by Bishop Hugh Lamb (who was, at the time, pastor of SFDS) and served at several parishes in the archdiocese before becoming a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force in 1952. Father McLaughlin served in the Air Force during the Korean War and remained on active duty for 20 years, earning several awards. He retired to San Diego, died in 1995, and is buried back here in PA, at Holy Cross Cemetery.

Gender Bender

71. St. Francis de Sales

We come to thee, O happy Saint

To claim thy care and love,

To beg thy guidance through this life,

To endless bliss above.

Chorus

Oh, pray for us, St. Francis,

For dangers hover near;

Oh pray for us, St. Francis,

To conquer every fear.

While in the rosy bloom of youth,

To God thy soul was given,

And true, through life, thy spotless soul

‘Mid suffering soared to heaven.

Thy purity has won for thee

A crown of fadeless light;

Oh, may its beauty shine on us

And cheer the gloom of night.

              The verses above are from a hymnal printed for SFDS by the Catholic Standard in 1926, under the direction of Rev. Charles McGinley who was the Director of the women’s BVM Sodality organization at the time.

              The words to the hymn are somewhat peculiar for our Patron Saint – particularly the second verse, about “the rosy bloom of youth” and the suffering of a spotless soul. Saint Francis de Sales wasn’t tortured or martyred; he became the Bishop of Geneva in 1602 and died peacefully of a heart ailment at what was then a respectable age of 55. It seems odd that the hymn doesn’t reference his patient efforts to keep the faith alive during the Protestant Reformation; his advice on the Devout Life or his other inspirational writings (“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“); or his designation as patron saint of journalists and the deaf (a role Pope Francis is now highlighting).

              Curiously, an internet search finds the same song used to honor Saint Charles Borromeo in Monterrey, CA in 1914: “…then all the people form a long procession. In the center is carried the statue of San Carlos, and, while the choir sings the Hymn to San Carlos, they march slowly around the church… ‘We come to thee, O happy Saint/ To claim thy care and love,/ To beg thy guidance through this life,/To endless bliss above…’” Here, too, the words don’t fit the life of that 16th century Bishop known for founding seminaries.

              Hymnary.org, which tracks different versions of hymns printed over time, provides an answer. Its first recorded instance of the verses, is as a Hymn to St. Agatha, “dedicated to St. Agatha’s Sodality by a member” in 1872 and popular from 1872 to 1935. Ah, now it all fits! St. Agatha made a vow of virginity in rosy youth; kept her purity, through the suffering of torture and imprisonment; and soared to heaven to claim a martyr’s crown, around the year 251 AD.

              So why was the hymn repurposed? Since saintly feast days fall once a year, usually on a weekday, there hasn’t been much call for special songs – surprisingly, even for use in the annual Forty Hours or for institutions named for saints. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy, now working on a new English language breviary, notes that music has existed for a number of saints but “Many of the nearly 300 Latin hymns, some dating back to the early centuries of the Church, have never had an official English translation…” If a need arose for an anthem, churches improvised. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has now approved the Green Book of the hymns of the Proper of Saints, so more official songs could eventually be available in English, but here’s a challenge and an opportunity for our own parish tribute to our patron St. Francis de Sales!

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.

The Bishop’s Feast

 Our second pastor, Reverend Michael J. Crane, was consecrated as a bishop one hundred years ago on September 19, 1921. Afterwards, he and his fellow priests celebrated with a grand feast. Some dishes seem ordinary now, but were exotic at the time. Some were chosen to surprise and delight. Today, the menu offers a portal into another age.

Celery was a status vegetable in the early 1900s — luxurious enough to be served in first-class cabins on the Titanic — and it appeared twice on the bishop’s menu: in Cream of Celery Soup and as an appetizer, probably served in a special-purpose dish.

Other pre-meal crunchies included olives and salted nuts – typically served with alcoholic beverages — which could hint at off-menu refreshments during Prohibition.  Radishes, also, are supposed to aid in “detoxing” the liver.

Braised Sweetbread” is a mystifying first course. Was it a favorite dish, a reminder of mother’s home cooking, or a nod to Irish heritage?  “Sweetbread” is a polite term for thymus or pancreas of calf or lamb – much more popular in Britain and Ireland, than in the United States. (Unconsciously ironic, since Bishop Crane was afflicted with a malfunctioning pancreas that caused his diabetes. The following year, Cardinal Dougherty would pull some strings to get his new bishop enrolled in a clinical trial of insulin on humans in Toronto, which saved his life for a few more years).

Rashers of bacon” and “Saratoga Chips” were next — both shown on the same menu line. “Saratoga Chips” was a fancy name for potato chips! Listing pig and potatoes together could have been another nod to the Bishop’s Irish heritage. It could also have referenced something closer: Saratoga, NY appears to have been a popular vacation spot for clergy (Rev. Francis O’Neill, after whom our parish may have been named, died there of a heart attack in 1882). Curiously, a town in Saratoga called “Bacon Hill,” had formerly been known as “Pope’s Corners” – which, if commonly known, could have made a good inside joke around the table of a newly-consecrated Bishop.

It’s a fair guess that “Long Island Duckling” was the closest that the menu planner could get to putting a crane on the table. Long Island was a center for raising Peking Ducks, which first arrived in this country in 1873; and duck with applesauce was a luxury dish (also served on the Titanic!).

For vegetables, Candied Sweet Potatoes, now often served at Thanksgiving, were a novelty, reportedly dating back just to 1917! Succotash – a mixture of corn and lima beans – was a traditional Thanksgiving dish in New England and upstate Pennsylvania. Bishop Crane was from Ashland, PA, and the occasion being celebrated was certainly one of thanksgiving.

The beverage accompanying the entree was “Punch A L’Évêque,” or “Bishop’s Punch.” Was it alcoholic? Unclear! The French name made the punch sound elegant and affords a cloak of ambiguity during Prohibition. Online recipes suggest it could have been a mixture of orange juice, lemon juice, and port. Bishop Crane was not a teetotaler, but Cardinal Dougherty, who publicly advocated against alcohol, is listed as a toastmaster at the event.

 “Filet Mignon Saint Michel” (St. Michael’s steak) was the entree at Bishop Michael Crane’s feast, and the reference seems self-explanatory, though the cut could, in theory, refer to beef (American) or Pork (French)!

Russian dressing” on the salad was trendy in 1921.The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink describes it as “a salad dressing made from mayonnaise, pimiento, chile sauce, green pepper, and chives. It is so called possibly because the mixture was thought to resemble those found in Russian salads, but it is American in origin, first found in print in 19

Meringue Glacée” (Meringues with ice cream) is Swiss; “Petit Fours” cakes are French. Was this a nod to our Patron Saint Francis de Sales, who came from French Savoy and became Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland?

It’s easy to read too much into the menu today, but its long-ago planners also had reason to over-think! It is clear, in any case, that the spread was carefully devised with genuine affection for the new bishop. Speculation about its details recalls that energy and coaxes dusty history back to life.

Secret Garden Door

Door on East side of church as shown in architectural drawings

Have you ever noticed that there is no sculpture in the arch (tympanum) above the parking lot door outside Saint Francis de Sales Church? It looks a little bare, but that seems to have been intentional.

Henry Dagit’s original architectural plan for the church shows sculptures in the arches above the three front doors on Springfield Ave., and above the 47th Street door, but the Eastern Elevation drawing, showing the Rectory Side of the church, has an empty half-moon above the door, with no ornamentation planned for that side of the building.

                Why would that be?

SFDS shown on 1909 map

When our church was finished in 1911, that part of the building wasn’t a priority, since it wasn’t visible from the street! The eastern entrance to the church was tucked away in a “secret garden” courtyard, formed with the back of the  rectory on one side; the wall of the new church on another; the side of the school (with the alley space between the church and school, probably used for deliveries from 47th street) filling the third side; and the back fences of a row of houses along Farragut Terrace completing the enclosure. We have no record of whether the small, closed yard space was planted or paved, or how it was used. It was probably a laundry and utility area for the rectory, and/or a school playground; there was, as yet, no need for parking, since people didn’t have cars.

Needs and conditions changed over time and that side of the property became exposed in 1926, when the parish bought and demolished the two corner houses on Springfield Ave. (numbers 4615 and 4617) to create the corner rectory garden; and numbers 936 to 932 on Farragut Terrace to build the addition to the school. The church parking lot on Farragut Terrace was part of that development. The ramp to the church door was added in the late 1990s.

SFDS shown on 1927 map

Who owned the houses that were removed back in 1926? One familiar name is that of Roger A. McShea at 928 South Farragut Terrace – he was the father of future Bishop Joseph Mark McShea, who would grow up to become our Fifth pastor from 1952-1961. Number 932, incidentally, was owned by a gentleman named John Sanderson Trump – a terribly familiar last name, but, as far as we know, unrelated.

As to the “portal sculpture” — if a design had ever been proposed for that empty half-moon space above the eastern door, what could it have been? The scenes above the doors on the front of the church show the Annunciation, the Crowning of Mary, and the Pieta. The 47th street side of the church shows another Mary-related scene, the Nativity. The Assumption might have completed her story – and that would have been very suitable, since Bishop Crane, who built the church, had a special devotion to Mary and to the Rosary. He could even have placed a Mary garden in the courtyard — invoking the medieval idea of the hortus conclusis or enclosed garden representing Mary’s virginity and purity – looking much like today’s Rectory garden with the MBS statues.

Instead, it was left to imaginations (and perhaps to future parishioners) to complete the decorations on that side of the building. We are reminded yet again, that we, like our magnificent church, are all “unfinished business” – ever adapting to new circumstances, never complete on this earth, and never, ever perfect.

SFDS front doors as shown in architectural drawings

A Room With A View

DSCN6647Constance O’Hara’s 1955 biography Heaven was Not Enough, chronicled a personal crisis of faith in an eerily relatable setting.

Born near Rittenhouse Square in 1905, Constance came from a well-connected, well-to-do Philadelphia Irish Catholic family in an “age of immense security and serenity.” Her father was the physician for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and local convents; her great uncle was the first Bishop of Scranton. Her family were also linked, in some way, with Eleanor Donnelly – the “poet laureate of the American Catholic Church” who contributed our Blessed Mother altar.

That solid world began to turn hollow in May 1914, when Constance made her First Holy Communion — two months before the start of World War I. Her father, rejected by every branch of the military due to his fragile health, then exhausted himself tending patients through the Influenza epidemic of 1918. Inspired by Blessed Thérèse, the “Little Flower,” who would be canonized in 1925, he quietly carried her relic and “offered up” his sufferings as his health slowly deteriorated.

Our neighborhood enters the story at this point: Constance writes that “my mother, with the realities of life swamping her, returned to the precepts of her ancestors – a belief in bricks and mortar. We bought a vast house on Baltimore Avenue (number 4331 per parish records), its front windows flooded with sunshine, its back rooms dark and damp. It faced Clark Park which seemed like the wilds of the country. The oak paneling was solid and magnificent, as my mother pointed out; the furnaces consumed tons of coal and we were never warm. Over this uneasy home was suspended a mortgage bearing a staggering interest rate...”

DSCN3138 (2)I still went to Sunday Mass with my father, often to the ornate Church of St. Francis de Sales where Bishop Michael Crane met us at the door, saying in a booming cheerful voice that maddened me: “It’s time you got a nice Irish Catholic boy to marry that one. I’ve just the lad in mind. I’ll send him over tonight...”

Constance was not receptive. She notes that the years after WWI and during Prohibition were “an ugly period in which to be young.…” Cynical youth like herself  “were going to be honest about everything, and as the old moral values were based on hypocrisy we would dispense with them” and “just get as much pleasure from money and our senses as possible before it all ended in the final defeat of death…” while an off-kilter world careened towards the Great Depression of the 1930s and WWII.

After an unfortunate visit to an unnamed confessor at SFDS when her father died in 1926 – she wanted comfort, but was scolded, instead, for “indulging in self-pity” — Constance rejected the Church for many years. Nonetheless, one day in 1933, when “the sun poured in the windows of my room, and the tall trees in Clark Park had never seemed so beautiful...” she wrote  a “profoundly Catholic play” called The Years of the Locusts, about an enclosed convent of Irish Benedictine nuns surviving in occupied Belgium during the First World War, based on real diaries. The play was performed locally at Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Tree and was picked up for a run in London, but the beginning of World War II derailed those expansive plans.

1943 photo fr. flatley in uniformA long period of small achievement followed, punctuated with illness and depression, before Constance reconciled with the Church in the early 1950s. This was due, in part, to Reverend William Flatley, recently returned to SFDS from service in WWII, who gently encouraged her to offer up her personal suffering for American soldiers then fighting in Korea – and she wrote her healing memoir. She died in 1985, but her story remains like a leaded-glass window to another age, offering odd glimpses of a familiar,  unfamiliar landscape though its diamond panes.

constance

Christmas Past

1924 bulletin ad 2
SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1924

Features and ads in St. Francis de Sales Parish Christmas Bulletins from the 1920s offer windows into a different age – when gifts might be hung on the Christmas tree and the Christmas stocking was a novelty!

THE CHRISTMAS STOCKING AND HOW TO FILL IT (1927)

“For some reason, the beloved Christmas stocking of our childhood is not as common as it once was.

Kiddies who do not enjoy the thrill of opening mysterious packages, rooted from the recesses of a stocking in the dawn’s early light, are missing something that is their inalienable right.

The sheerness, or delicate fabric of Mother’s stocking, may keep them from using hers, but a Christmas stocking of some kind should be the possession of every child.

The larger presents may be downstairs beneath the spruce or fir, but a little gift or two should be added to the fruit, nuts and candy that are carefully wrapped in crinky packages and placed in the stocking. The time-honored orange should be placed in the toe; the horn, the jumping jack or the whistle should stick from the top. Do not use rich candies or soft-shelled nuts as fillers, or the child’s breakfast appetite will be destroyed. Better wrap a few hard candies of some kind in tissue paper and use the various nuts that cannot be broken by little fingers.

A nickel, a dime and perhaps a quarter, wrapped in several wrappings, and possibly securely tied inside a box will furnish several minutes of intense excitement. An apple will be appreciated. A potato from the bin, carefully wrapped in colored paper and tied, will bring a squeal of delight.

By all means give the children their Christmas stockings.”

Our second Pastor, Bishop Crane, was from the Ashland, PA, coal mining area, and many parishioners had family connections in that region, so they probably appreciated the joke:

THE BEST IN THE CLASS  (1926)

Interested Neighbor: ‘You seem to be a bright little boy. I suppose you have a very good place in your class?’

Little Boy: ‘Oh, yes, I sit right by the stove.’

Teacher in Pennsylvania mining district: ‘Can any one of you tell me where the Savior was born?’

‘Allentown,’ shouted Gottlieb.

Teacher: ‘What, Allentown! I just told you yesterday the Savior was born in Bethlehem.’

Gottlieb: ‘That’s right! I knew it was somewhere along the Lehigh Valley railroad.’”

1925 ad
SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925

1925 dec ruane electric
SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925

1925 dec a.c. croff drugs
SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925

1924 bulletin ad
SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1924