Tag: 1950s

Mary Alice McLaughlin

An historic marker at The Woodlands Cemetery (40th and Woodland) celebrates achievements of Alice Fisher and S. Lillian Clayton, two prominent historic figures in the field of Nursing, but tucked into a quiet corner nearby (N190-192 on the VA side of the cemetery) is another nursing figure with an SFDS connection and local roots who also deserves some recognition.

A 1978 history of the Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH) School of Nursing describes Mary Alice McLaughlin as “a tall woman, stately and immaculate in uniform…she possessed a combination of dignity, strength of purpose and total professionalism blended with patience, fairness, and compassion.” Today, she should be remembered for her efforts to improve nursing education in a time when few universities were interested, and hospitals – including PGH — operated nursing schools, mostly just to take advantage of the student labor.Dedicated to her vocation, it was said that Mary “never lost interest in her students’ welfare despite the terrible physical ordeals she suffered” in a long, ultimately fatal bout with breast cancer.

Mary received her diploma from Pennsylvania General Hospital in 1930 (the city’s public hospital, once part of Blockley Almshouse, which operated until 1977 on property now shared by HUP, CHOP, and the VA). A firm believer in continuing education for nurses, she became “the first student to register in the newly formed Department of Nursing Education at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in 1940.” For sixteen years, she worked as Assistant Director of Nursing Service at PGH, then Assistant Director in charge of Nursing Education, before becoming Director of the School of Nursing and Nursing Service from 1949 until her death at age 44.

Throughout her professional life, Mary labored to get nursing recognized as a serious career: “It was at her instigation that the first program in Pennsylvania to train Licensed Practical Nurses was begun.” In 1950, she pushed through a rigorous evaluation, so that the PGH School of Nursing achieved full academic accreditation with a curriculum centered around training nurses in effective patient care,teaching disease prevention and health education, and developing students’ “ability to adjust to all nursing situations.” In pediatric wards, student nurses learned ordinary child behavior expectations, as well as how to deal with “blindness and other specialized problems…” (the children’s department at PGH was equipped with top-of-the-line Isolettes – incubators piping pure oxygen to aid premature babies’ breathing. The archdiocesan St. Lucy School for the Blind would be founded across the street from SFDS in 1955 to fill an important need after it was realized that pure oxygen saved babies but had become a prime cause of childhood blindness!). Professional training also opened new horizons: a course on Professional Adjustments, “once intended to teach only professional courtesies,” was “redesigned to help seniors adjust to a career that could take them far away from friends and advisors.”

In addition to improving nursing education, Mary worked to make studying at PGH more attractive: for years, she advocated with the hospital board so that “finally, in 1950, students again received a stipend of $15 monthly from the city – a practice that had been discontinued during the Depression years” and more scholarships were made available.  She also “boosted student morale greatly by allowing seniors to go into white shoes and stockings. They must have felt they were almost full-fledged nurses!” and “interns and student nurses all joined in the fun of burning black shoes and stockings, or else draping them in rather surprising places around the hospital grounds, as soon as the intermediate year ended.” Seniors received special curfew privileges. As a sign of changing times, students were also “permitted a moderate amount of makeup and were allowed to wear shorts on the tennis court.”

Sadly, nursed through her last days “by those who loved and respected her.” Mary finally succumbed to her disease. She had attended All Saints Chapel at PGH, (which, incidentally, had its rectory at 3951 Baltimore Ave.), and also St. Francis de Sales with her mother, Mrs. Catherine McLaughlin, who lived at 4619 Chester Ave. She was buried at the Woodlands from St. Francis de Sales in 1954.

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.

In Search of the Grail on Chester Ave.

Philadelphia Grail Center at 4520 Chester Avenue in 1955. (Courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center. Temple University Libraries. Philadelphia, PA)

 Aileen McGovern, widow of Nativity artist Bob McGovern, inspired an interesting quest when she mentioned that Bob’s first wife Beverly (d. 1970) had been a “Grail Girl” before marriage. It sounded so medieval!  What could it mean?

                Research led to 4520 Chester Avenue (The Gables B&B, today), once used by Carmelite nuns as a retirement home. Purchased by The Grail in 1954, it underwent “an orgy of renovating,” in which volunteers joined in “removing varnish, sanding floors, plastering, painting, and repairing,” before the twenty-room house opened as “The Grail Center,” “a new type of resident Adult Education, designed to help young women develop themselves more fully in Catholic life…

What was the Grail? The international organization was the 1921 vision of a Dutch Jesuit priest, who “felt that many new possibilities were opening up for women and that a group of lay women, unconfined by convent walls and rules, could make an immense contribution to the transformation of the world.” By 1939, thousands of women belonged to the Grail in the Netherlands, Britain, and Germany.Marian Ronan then notes that two Dutch Grail members “brought the Grail to the U.S. in 1940, just before the Nazi invasion.” Its first U.S. home was Chicago, IL; then, it moved to a farm called Grailville outside Cincinnati, OH, with a mission “deeply connected to the Catholic ‘Back to the Land’ movement.” As it expanded, the Grail also supported a social mission. The Philadelphia Grail, approved in 1952 by Archbishop O’Hara (who had an SFDS connection), and headed by Anna McGarry, “a pioneer in Catholic interracial work,” had a special hope: “to discover potential leaders among black women” and nurture their talents.

How did it all work? The NCWC News Service reported that girls would live at The Grail for a three-month course covering “everything from Scripture to social action,” and “those with special interests will be offered courses in arts and crafts, writing, music and the recreation home arts in their relation to the lay apostolate.” Many girls stayed on or came back to enjoy the “Open House on Saturday nights for Mass preparation, Sunday breakfasts after Mass devoted to discussions on women’s apostolate, an evening a week for a choir and another on family service. An art and bookstore was soon set up in a large room on the first floor.”

                Parishioner Maureen Tate, active since the 1980s, learned that in the 1960s, “Many of the women who lived and worked at the Grail Center came from a year-long training experience at GrailvilleMen and women participated in lecture series and prayer experiences at the Grail Center. Many women met their husbands at these programs and many later settled in Mt. Airy with their families…The Grail was active in Civil Right marches and anti-racism efforts locally. They sponsored, and were active in ecumenical programs…

How did the Grail connect with our Parish? The Catholic Standard and Times reported that “Participation in the Mass is the high, point of the day—the girls must rise early…but this is training for a lifetime of conviction that it’s the Mass that matters.”  Grail member Maclovia Rodriguez who ran the Grail Bookshop in 1958-59, recalls daily Mass was at SFDS. So were the marriages! Bob and Beverly McGovern were married at SFDS in 1963.

There were also other neighborhood interactions: parishioner Jerry McHugh recalls his mother taking him to a “different” store when he was about six – the Grail Bookstore – where they bought his first Advent Calendar! He also remembers the bread made in the Grail bakery. His relatives recall the Grail Family Service, “through which Grail members would come into the homes of women after childbirth, to provide assistance.”

                After Jerry’s Dad, realtor Gerald McHugh, helped sell 4520 Chester to the Jesuits in 1966, The Grail Center was in Wynnefield until 2003, then met at various city locations. Today, as an ecumenical women’s spiritual organization with centers in OH and NY, https://www.grail-us.org/  “envisions a world of peace, justice and renewal of the earth, brought about by women working together as catalysts for change.”

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

Historical Context of a Prayer

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

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

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

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

Father Abram Ryan

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

Who was Reverend Abram Ryan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petroleum Sunday

petroleum guild (2)

Why does the banner in this SFDS archival photo show the Virgin Mary standing in the middle of an oil refinery?

A little drilling reveals that “Petroleum Sunday” was observed around the last Sunday of April, from the 1940s to the 1960s, by members of the petroleum industry and their families. A book on religion and the oil industry by Darren Dochuk explains that “An oil trucker had come up with the idea in 1941” to share Mass once a year with Catholic co-workers. The idea gained traction when the Catholic Petroleum Guild was formed in 1948 with the goal to “‘to pray for every member of the petroleum industry, both living and dead’; ‘to promote success of the petroleum industry and prevent any major disaster’; ‘to seek divine guidance in all dealings of management and labor’; and to ‘stimulate the observance of Petroleum Sunday among all creeds in the industry by encouraging them to attend their churches in group at least once a year.’

What did that have to do with our Parish?  The two priests shown in the photo are Reverend William H. Flatley and Reverend David Thompson, both of SFDS. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in May 1952, that when 1,909 employees of the Atlantic Refining Company met for the first annual Communion-breakfast of the Philadelphia branch of the Catholic Petroleum Guild, their Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church “was sung by the Rev. William H. Flatley, assistant rector of St. Francis de Sales Church, and chaplain of the guild.”

The local group grew quickly. By April 1954, the Inquirer reported that “Employees of Atlantic Refining Co., Cities Service Oil Co. and Union Tank Car, comprising the Ave Maria Group of the Catholic Petroleum Guild,” were holding their Annual Communion Breakfast at the Cathedral, celebrated by our Reverend Flatley, while an Our Lady of Fatima Group had a separate event, with a different chaplain, at St. John the Evangelist. Why was the Catholic Petroleum Guild so popular? Sociologist Robert Finke notes that America was, at the time, a “melting pot” of cultures and ethnicities, but the mixture was lumpy.  Many employee clubs and gatherings in businesses and industries were overtly Protestant, and even some of the secular organizations were not Catholic-friendly, so “Catholics in most professional and semiprofessional occupations enrolled in local chapters of (Catholic) organizations…In these and countless other ways, American Catholics created a parallel society within which they were protected from Protestant insults as well as from Protestant influences…

Some of these differences began to fade as greater issues emerged. In the oil industry, as production began to move to the Middle East – a region also interesting to the Soviet Communists – Dochuk notes that American petroleum companies worked to promote a more shared “sense of citizenship…forged out of common …commitment to Judeo-Christianity..Throughout the early 1950s, oil companies proselytized faith as the bedrock of American civilization. Confronted with countervailing forces of atheism and socialism and Cold War nuclear and geopolitical tensions, Americans, they charged, needed to cling tightly to spiritual truths…

In Philadelphia, when Judge Clare Gerald Fenerty addressed the first annual Communion-breakfast of the Catholic Petroleum Guild in 1952, he spoke against “Soviet aggression” and highlighted the “need for those who believe in Western Christian values” to build “impregnable ramparts against dictator Stalin’s attempt to become ruler of the world.” Liberty Magazine noted in 1956 that “For the first time this year Petroleum Sunday was observed in Baghdad.” by American workers.

What ultimately happened to “Petroleum Sunday?” History!

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

How the Domes Got Tiled

E013 july 1956 dome 2Parish-led renovations in the 1950s looked good at the time, but changed an historic church.

Contractor Charles Kain recalled a long-ago project at St. Francis de Sales Church in Philadelphia: “Early in the 1950’s we were approached by Bishop Joseph McShea,..the pastor…, to resurface the domes. They were quite old, in poor condition, and leaking into the church…The Bishop was proud of the fact that the domes could be seen as part of the skyline from a distance in the city on the highways going north and he wanted to maintain the character of the domes as they existed…We assured him that we could renew them with ceramic tile.

We consulted a tile contractor, Belfi Brothers, with whom we had done work previously. They advised us that the common bathroom tile was not sufficiently durable under exterior conditions and directed us to a tile manufacturer in upper New York State who made the type of exterior tile which would be appropriate. Next, I performed the structural calculations necessary for a domed structure. We determined that we should leave the existing dome in place to serve as a base for the superstructure, cover this with a four-ply fabric and pitch roofing membrane for waterproofing, then place a 3-inch thick reinforced concrete layer to accommodate the loads of snow and wind, then install the finished tile layer. We also divided the surface into eight quadrants, designed artistic patterns similar to those in the existing dome, and used a herringbone pattern for installing the tile.

The old dome had a base structure of masonry tile which was adequate to carry the necessary roof loads. One question asked was how this structure could carry the additional loads of the new concrete and tile. We explained that the old structure would have to carry the added loads only on a temporary basis until the new concrete dome on top could harden and become the basic supporting structure of itself and the normal roof loads…When we presented our design… to the Bishop, he…called upon…a structural engineer…to re-check my calculations…The Bishop…had previously read Latin descriptions of how some of the Roman domes were constructed…this confirmed his approval of our work.”

In the process of construction…we designed a small steel frame to roll around the dome on wheels at the base and at the top, enabling the workmen to reach all areas of the dome. For the exterior tile work, the tile setters, accustomed to placing tile on bathroom walls, had to experiment to get the flat tiles in a herringbone pattern on a spherical surface. Obviously, they succeeded.”

Fifty years later, when the joint between the big dome and the lantern at the top leaked, and the veneer of modern tiles peeled off, Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner and her team from Historic Building Architects were called in to study the original Guastavino dome underneath – a unique historic structure not understood by the 1950s parish contractors — and the engineering complications created by the 1950s concrete overlay. After considerable research and consultation with a variety of experts, they determined that the best available option was to remove the hazardous modern tiles and confirm that the 1950s concrete was working well to prevent water leakage. The simplest and cheapest solution was to paint the concrete dome to match the original dome tile colors. Paint samples were tested and left in place for several years and they did very well. However, a different paint product was ultimately used and that has not adhered to the concrete and has faded over time. It’s under warranty. We’re working on resolving issues and hope to get the dome repainted in 2020. So, as St. Francis de Sales himself once said: “Let us await our advancement with patience.”

 

 

_MG_2489
The main dome with the 1950 tiles, as it looked in the 1990s.

A000 aerial view