Tag: 1940s

A Snapshot in Time


A browse through the parish archives turned up an unlabeled  photo from a long-ago ceremony – back when the sanctuary was lighted with electric candles on a tall stand, the altar rail had brass gates, there was no front-facing altar, and the old dark pews were still in place.

Parishioner historians John and Ted Deady, who grew up in the parish, offered some observations about the elaborate pageantry they recall from pre-Vatican II ritual, and a few of the names:

Okay. Will start with this. The priest holding the book of the gospels is Father Sefton, later monsignor and pastor (at SFDS 1946-1947; pastor 1961-1967). The priest incensing the book is Father Flatley (at SFDS 1940-1943 and 1946-1955; WWII military chaplain in between). The two altar boys holding candles are the acolytes and the other altar boy is the thurifer (who carries the incense container, or thurible). The other priest in a surplice is the master of ceremonies. At a regular solemn high mass this would be an altar boy. Fr Sefton is the sub deacon and Fr. Flatley is the deacon. He will read the gospel in Latin. Then not sure if he or someone else will suddenly appear in the pulpit and read the gospel in English. Whoever is in the pulpit will then preach the sermon starting with ‘may it please your excellency’ or ‘eminence’ depending on who the celebrant is. That is a mystery.”

The bishop in the seat is presiding and the two monsignors are his chaplains. The two altar boys in white cassocks are part of a gang of six called flambeaus. When Fr Navit was pastor (2004-2009) he had a similar group. They hold the lanterns during the consecration. The ones in the picture are just better dressed. “

What the occasion is and who is celebrating the mass are mysteries. It was in the winter, fur coats. The sisters did not routinely attend the 11:00 o’clock (solemn) mass. The master of ceremonies is not a familiar face meaning he might have come with the celebrant in a package deal.”

Fran Byers, another from-the-cradle parish historian, replied to this  “Wow, John,   I am really impressed.   We girls were not privy to any of this,” which is, itself,  notable. Ted notes that “Women were not allowed in the Sanctuary except for their wedding (Vatican rule).” What did girls do Pre-Vatican-II? John recalls that all SFDS School children, except those boys who were scheduled to serve or sing at the weekly solemn Mass, were required to attend a separate Sunday children’s service, where attendance was taken – parents had to send a written excuse for absence. Girls couldn’t serve at Mass or sing in the choir. Twice a year, they were invited to follow the boys in a Eucharistic procession, strewing flower petals, and girls were selected to perform the crowning of the Mary statue in the annual May Procession (which was led by the boy “popes” and altar servers). Their mothers joined the Sodality, a ladies’ organization devoted to prayer and good works.


MBS Nativity

The Nativity scene that has graced the Rectory lawn in the Christmas season these past few years is a Most Blessed Sacrament Parish artifact with important St. Francis de Sales connections

The two-dimensional relief-carved Holy Family sculptures were commissioned by longtime MBS pastor, Father John Newns, in 1991. Aileen McGovern, wife of artist Bob McGovern, recalls that Father Newns “was renovating, and had old pews,” and that wood was used for the carvings. An accounting sheet lists these as MBS Upper Church pews, but the Lower Church was deconsecrated in 1987, and its furnishings put in storage, so that is also possible. In any case, Aileen recalls that “we chipped a lot of chewing gum off them” so the DNA of MBS – and generations of its young parishioners — is deeply embedded in that old oak.

The DNA of St. Francis de Sales Parish was in the blood of the artist, Bob McGovern, who was born into our parish in 1933, and whose family lived at 1239 Hansen St.  Bob attended the parish school, and was one of “Dooner’s Crooners” (Boys Choir under Choirmaster Albert Dooner). De Sales was central to his early development. Interviewing him in 2001, Robert Wuthnow wrote that “McGovern was still young when he recognized what he now calls ‘the double-edged scary and comforting business of spirituality’…the comforting part appeared in the daily and weekly religious rituals” that appealed to his poetic side – and SFDS had many of those. The scary side came in moments such as when “he remembers the nuns making him write ’I won’t talk in line’ in his notebook a thousand times, then going out in the rain, dropping his notebook, and seeing the words, written in soluble ink, disappear…” McGovern admitted to being a poor student at De Sales, more interested in art than academics. Monsignor Francis Carbine observes that McGovern’s artistic poetic sensibilities showed early at home: “As a young boy in the 1940’s, he drew a giant ear in chalk on Hansen Street in West Philadelphia. Next came a Christmas crèche made from wood of orange crates and grape boxes…

In 1947, at age 16, McGovern was struck with Polio and life instantly changed. Then attending West Philadelphia Public High School, he had to drop out and be tutored at home, “but through a state disability program was soon able to attend art school. ‘It was magical.’” Sally Downey reported that “He was encouraged to pursue his art and, while wearing full braces on both legs and using crutches, he commuted from his home to the Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts. Later he learned to drive a car with hand controls. After graduating from what is now the University of Arts, he was invited to join the faculty. For the next 43 years, he taught freshmen drawing and design as well as printmaking and other courses until retiring in 1999”

Bob continued to live in the neighborhood as an adult. Parishioner John Deady recalls visiting him at his parents’ house, at 4807 Kingsessing, where “he must have had a studio upstairs. I remember staying in the living room with his parents” while he printed an artwork. “Felt badly as I believe he was wearing braces and had to go up and down the stairs.” After Bob married Beverly at SFDS in 1963, the young McGoverns moved into the apartment house then owned by the Parish, on 47th Street between the convent and the Little School. Later, they moved to a more accessible place with a studio in Narberth – where Bob stayed after Beverly died and he married Aileen (also at SFDS!) in 1971. Bob and Aileen ultimately became members of both St Malachy and St, Margaret of Antioch in Narberth, so they had many church connections.

When Bob McGovern passed away in 2011, Lou Baldwin wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer: “So vast a number of McGovern’s woodcarvings, sculptures, wood and linoleum cuts, paintings and watercolors adorn churches, institutions and major museums in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and across the country (and Father Eric’s office) that his epitaph could well imitate that of Sir Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London: ‘If you seek his monument look around you.’’” We are privileged to be a part of his story.

Bob McGovern

The Nativity Portal: We Like Sheep

The Nativity scene is very weathered above the 47th Street door to our church, and today it’s hard to tell if the visitors to the Christ Child, are kings or shepherds!

Does it matter?

You might have expected that our “magnificent church” would have identified with the Three Kings, dressed in worldly finery, and offering splendid gifts to honor the Christ Child. And, indeed, the Adoration of the Magi is a traditional theme for doorway sculptures on many elaborate old churches.

Our church seems to have chosen a different route, though. A partial view of our sculpture, visible in several 1940 SFDS school photos, appears to confirm that the central visitor is a child shepherd with a sheep — and this is supported by the phrase around the scene, still readable as “The Word Was Made Flesh” rather than “They Offered Him Gifts…”

Why depict a shepherd?  Pope Francis observes that the arrival of the shepherds marks a critical moment in the story of Christ’s birth, since, after hearing from the angels, “the shepherds become the first to see the most essential thing of all: the gift of salvation. It is the humble and the poor who greet the event of the Incarnation.”

Our doorway sculptures are part of an overall design theme in our church, based on John’s Gospel that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” This doctrine is central to faith: as the BBC concisely explains, “Through the incarnation of Jesus, humans were able to start repairing their damaged relationship with God. This relationship had been imperfect since Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Through Jesus’ incarnation, God began the process of salvation from sin, making it possible for humans to have a full relationship with him and go to Heaven.

How does this appear in artwork? The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art states that “The Incarnation, i.e. God becoming man in the person of Christ, is…symbolized, either as the Annunciation (at Mary’s words ‘Let it be with me according to your word’), or as the Nativity.” So the Nativity depiction above the 47th street door represents the witness to God becoming human. On the front of the building, the Annunciation scene – another Incarnation –is shown above the left or “choir” door. The theme continues above the center door, with the Christ child shown standing with arms outstretched in the same pose as Christ on the crucifix above the altar inside – foreshadowing his future sacrifice. And on the right, the crucified Jesus is mourned by his mother – a human moment – with an inscription reminding that “Christ died for us” – emphasizing that God became human to save us.

The same theme is echoed inside, with the three Life of Christ windows on the parking lot side of the church. Like the first door on the front of our church, the first window shows the Annunciation. The middle window is another Nativity scene with humble shepherds as the human witnesses to the Incarnation. The third window shows young Jesus building a cross with his Dad – a family moment, parallel to the scene of his mother taking him down from the cross on the front of the church. Below all three windows are different artistic interpretations of double crosses — symbols of the dual nature of Christ, both human and divine.

Why are the outdoor scenes above the church doors important? The entryway, or “Portal,” frames the experience. Those who pass through the front doors into the church are reminded of the power of prayer and instructed to be aware that Christ died for our sins. At the side door, we are advised to approach with humility. If that “portal” includes a child shepherd, then the meaning is even more pointed, since Jesus said “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” And the sheep in the scene remind us that we are God’s flock, and he is both our shepherd and the sacrificial “Lamb of God.”

St. Francis de Sales School Sixth Grade, 1940

Father Flatley Enlists

1943 photo fr. flatley in uniformRev. William Flatley assisted at SFDS from May 1940 until he enlisted in June 1943. The Parish Monthly Bulletin reported: “While here, Father did grand work among the High School students, Ushers and the men of the Holy Name Society, also in various other projects which were assigned to him. We are certain that Father will make a good Chaplain and will be an asset to the Chaplains Corps of the United States Army” in World War II.

The Bulletin reported his progress: “At present Father Flatley is in the training school for Chaplains at Harvard University. He will remain there for a period of four weeks after which he will be assigned to some Army Camp…” A 1945 De Sales Night Program later added “On October 19, 1943, Captain Flatley embarked for England. In July, 1944, he reached France, Belgium, and probably elsewhere. His assignments included an Evacuation Hospital, an Anti-Aircraft Group, and a Tank Destroyer Outfit. We hear from Father Flatley regularly. In his travels abroad he has met many of our boys, among them PFS John C. Mundy, who is with the First Army. Christmas afforded him a most pleasant experience. After saying Mass, he came upon another boy of the Parish, Sgt. Francis C. Boyle.”

In March 1945, the St. Louis Register reported on one of his assignments: “The Stars and Stripes fly over the celebrated Abbey of Maria-Laach…” (German Rhineland) where “The 800-year-old abbey, a masterpiece of Romanesque, is intact. Abbot Ildefons Herwegen and the entire community were found well. The magnificent liturgical services continue, although the community is considerably reduced. Seven priests, three clerics, four postulants, and fourteen brothers drafted by the Nazis, are still in the army….The abbey buildings were used as a Nazi hospital. The U.S. Catholic Army Chaplain now stationed in Maria-Laach is the Rev. William H. Flatley, Philadelphia, who has Mass every afternoon in the famous abbey church.

It could have been an awkward posting and Flatley did well to focus on the abbey’s ancient heritage. In the early 1930s, the Maria-Laach Abbey reportedly became a center for “right-wing Catholics…The monks, politicians, businessmen, theologians and students who gathered there were strongly influenced by the idea of a coming ‘Reich’, hoping to build a third Holy Roman Empire…” and in 1933, Herwegen had proclaimed “Let us say a wholehearted yes to the new structure of the total state, which is thought to be entirely analogous to the structure of the church.” Nazism later proved hostile to Catholicism and the monks became “a regular target of state attacks. It was only the Nazi persecution of the churches… that forced Herwegen to see the regime in a new light…” Getting things back in order, Flatley may at times have had to channel our patron St. Francis de Sales, who advised “When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.

Father Flatley came home in 1946: the Parish Monthly Bulletin reports that “After three years in the service, Father William Flatley has been discharged and has been appointed to return to St. Francis de Sales…” He stayed here until 1955.  Fran Byers says: “I remember Father Flatley well and liked him (and all the other priests) very much.  To me, he was kind of a nice tough guy.  He could enforce discipline effectively.   For example, if two boys acted up at one of our Friday night dances, Father Flatley would come over to the auditorium, usher the offenders out the side door to the school yard and do whatever was needed to convince them to behave properly. I didn’t witness what his methods were.” Author Constance O’Hara wrote that he had “the gentleness of all strong people” with his “patience, kindness, and…the compassion of his Christ.” She credited him with a crucial role in her return to Catholicism, gently, persistently, urging her to focus outward and offer up her personal sufferings for faraway soldiers in Korea.

Monsignor William Flatley eventually became Pastor and then Pastor Emeritus of Immaculate Conception Parish, Jenkintown. He died May 23, 1992, one day after the 55th Anniversary of his ordination.


flatley returns bulletin

flatley and chaplains

flately and chaplains captions

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

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.

1948 photo de sales bookstore2
SFDS Bookstore at 4726 Baltimore Avenue in 1948

1948 photo de sales bookstore4
SFDS Parish Bookstore in 1948

SFDS Bookstore in the basement of the Little School circa 1954

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!

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

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.”

phone Northern_Electric_Model-500_1954