Tag: 1960s

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.”

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SFDS Boy Choir: Wheels of Change

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

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

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

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

SFDS Boy Choir in 1965

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

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

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

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

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

SFDS Boys Choir

SFDS Boys Choir in 1965

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter LaManna

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

Mystery Box

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

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

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

What’s the connection with our parish?

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

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

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

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

Coin counters in the Rectory basement circa 1962

Operation Discovery

Amid the unsettled mix of optimism, experimentation, disruption, and social change that were the 1960s, Jeanne McGettigan (SFDS ’61-’67) recalls being part of a capstone character-building summer program at SFDS aptly named “Operation Discovery.”

The pilot project was launched in 1964 by the Archdiocesan Commission on Human Relations with a goal to “develop the hidden talents and to foster a sense of community responsibility” among mostly black youth in the low-income area around Most Precious Blood Parish in North Central Philadelphia. By 1966, the program had expanded to four other Philadelphia city parish neighborhoods – including SFDS — and one in Chester.

Students invited to SFDS (the Southwest Center) and the other centers were seventh, eighth and ninth graders from surrounding parochial and public schools, selected for good grades “and a keen  intellectual curiosity… no distinctions were made regarding race, nationality or religion…” This was notable at the time, since Civil Rights were still new. For SFDS participants, Jeanne recalls that the idea of parochial school students mingling with public school students was an exciting and strange experience!

What happened in the six-week program? In addition to creative classes, the Catholic Standard and Times noted that “Each center produces its own weekly newspaper, The Discovery Times…Frequent debates are held on questions related to teenage dress, civil rights, capital punishment, the minimum voting age and the high school ‘drop out’ problem…Basic logic,…parliamentary procedure and the art of conducting public meetings also form part of ‘Operation Discovery’s’ challenging curriculum…” along with “trips to area museums and historic places of interest….

Jeanne reports on the debate classes in which “I competed with what was really an essay (not a speech) on taking responsibility. I was in way over my head and other, public school debaters blew me out of the water.  As I mentioned to you, I remember best the comparative self-assuredness of the black students from public schools.  They demonstrated more confidence and much less deference to authority.  I was a bit in awe of them.”

In September, 1966, the Catholic Standard and Times reported that about 500 “Operation Discovery” students completed “a summer of discovery and learning Tuesday by visiting the Nation’s Capital and hearing an inspiring speech by Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey” who “told of how he had to delay his education for lack of funds, but emphasized that he finally won his college diploma. Mr. Humphrey, chairman of the President’s Space Council, painted a rosy picture for the youngsters of the Nation’s capabilities in space. He predicted that the U. S. will put a man on the moon before 1971..and  ‘In less than five years, we’re going to have a village on the moon in the sense that a manned station will be set up to maintain scientific data.’” (Jeanne’s verdict: “He seemed ‘fake’ to me at the time, but I was probably suspicious of most adults who were overly jolly, as he presented himself”). 

The paper reported that “The final act of the six-week leadership development program was the placing of a wreath on the grave of President Kennedy in Arlington Cemetery.” It was a sobering moment after the optimistic pep talk: Kennedy – the first Catholic president and national emblem of youth – had been assassinated in November 1963, just a few months after Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech. King would be killed in 1968. Americans landed on the moon in 1969. Sadly, moon villages never materialized and racial inequality never disappeared. “Operation Discovery” seems to have become lost in history, but could have had positive lasting effects: Jeanne reports “My experience with Operation Discovery was really the first time I had been encouraged to see myself as someone with an active role to play in the broader community.  I also recall enthusiastically grabbing hold of the idea that poverty was a problem that could be analyzed and, with sufficient good will, solved.” The challenge remains!

Operation Discovery Program Booklet, circa 1967
Operation Discovery students shown at one of the Centers

White Christmas: The Blizzard of 1966

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A dusting of snow brings a touch of magic to Christmas, but a blizzard is another story! Don Mc Dermot recalls the year that a winter storm dumped between 12 and 21 inches of snow in the Philadelphia area on Christmas Eve:

It started snowing December 23 early afternoon and the next morning the snow was waist high. I was working at Wyeth Labs in Radnor and was ‘off’. It was ridiculous watching the snow pile up. Mid-afternoon Mother Boniface called me asking if there was any way I could open a path across 47th St. from the convent to the church so that the Sisters would be able to get to Midnight Mass.”

“Of course, I said that I would see what could be done. I called the boys on Windsor Avenue: John Welding and Ed German, and they contacted: Frank and Paul Allen, Jim and John Hay and others. They met around 6 PM and shoveled a path from the Convent door straight across the street to the side sacristy door. I walked home, ate supper, dressed and struggled back to the church. Tom Magee was in the sacristy wondering if there would be Midnight Mass. I went into the rectory and it was decided that Mass would be held for whoever showed-up.”

It was around 10 PM that the altar boys, popes (the “popes” were little altar servers in training), choir boys and men began arriving, vested in the auditorium, and the Sisters made it to the auditorium and tied on the large ribbon ties: red for the altar boys, fuschia for the choir boys.  Monsignor Sefton was amazed and they (the rectory) called the Dairy Maid Bakery on 47th Street and arranged for some firemen to deliver all the donuts that they (the snowed-in bakery) would be unable to deliver to the auditorium. Some men started using the large coffee urns in the small kitchen on the stage making coffee. The church was already full of the parents and families of the boys.”

The Sisters crossed 47th St and entered by the sacristy entrance and were seated in front of St. Joseph altar; the Monsignor and priests took their seats in the sanctuary. The Bell Ringers started playing the bells at 10:30 PM. Around 10:50 the choir members lined up in the left side aisle, the altar boys lined up across the front aisle and the popes in the center aisle. The choir entered, singing their opening hymn as they processed in back of their Processional Crucifix, followed by the altar boys with the popes lining the front aisle in front of the Nativity scene which had only the star lit. The priests with the Monsignor walked at the back of the procession. The choir sang a full hour of Christmas hymns. Just before midnight, one of the popes carried the statue of the Christ Child to the Monsignor who went into the stable and placed the Christ Child statue into the manger. The organ blasted out as the choir sang, ‘Joy to the World’, and all the lights were turned on—Christmas had arrived at De Sales!”

After Midnight Mass, “The Monsignor invited everyone to go into the auditorium for coffee and donuts before walking home. In the Auditorium, the altar and choir boys were given Christmas gifts from the priests. The choir members played the piano and the singing went on to around 5 AM” when everyone presumably staggered home, exhausted, for family celebrations!

 

Bowling at de Sales

What are the things that bring parishioners – and Catholics — together? From the 1940s to the 1970s, a big answer was “bowling”!

D005 De Sales Photos Binder 09 012In September 1939, the Catholic Standard and Times announced that “Philadelphia’s Catholic Bowling League, a circuit of parish teams that has been dreamed of for several years, comes into existence Wednesday…Forty parish teams, in five divisions of the city…will compete for the Cardinal Dougherty trophy.”

Our parish Bowling League began in 1941, when the Parish Monthly Bulletin noted that “This sport is being sponsored by the Holy Name Society. For the first time, two teams have been entered in the Philadelphia Catholic Bowling League which is the largest in the country…At the same time a parish bowling league has been formed. It will play every Wednesday evening at nine o’clock at the Centennial Bowling Alleys at Fifty-second Street and Baltimore Avenue. The intramural SFDS league opened with six teams in the men’s division, and six teams in the women’s division. Mixed teams of men and women evolved a few years later during World War II.

The Centennial Bowling Alley was technically at 5210 Broomall. After games, John and Ted Deady recall that their Dad, who didn’t drink, would, nonetheless, join the other members of the league for fellowship at Davis’s, a pub at 52nd and Litchfield, as part of the weekly ritual. Was it hard to schedule bowling? In some years, the League convened at Jimmy Dykes Colonial alley at 51st and Sansom instead of the Centennial (Jimmy Dykes owned several Philadelphia bowling alleys, but was better known for baseball, playing for the Philadelphia Athletics 1918-1932 and the Chicago White Sox 1933-1939. He is buried at our sister parish of St. Denis, Havertown). In later years, the league met at Bowlero and Gehris Lanes in Upper Darby.

Why did bowling end? Professor Robert Putnam at Harvard uses the fall of bowling as a metaphor for a general decline of the social bonds that tie people together. Others observe that those connections have simply changed: modern parents tend to bond while seated on the sidelines of their children’s sporting events and practices. In our parish, there was yet another reason for bowling’s demise, having to do with a changing neighborhood: Paul Harvey notes that “bowling had started out as a group of parishioners; it ended as ex-parishioners coming in from the suburbs.” In 1963, there were 4,233 families in the parish; by 1973, only 1,232 were left – the rest had moved out of the city. That changed everything.

Why was bowling important? The 1955 Parish Monthly Bulletin observed that sharing and working together in parish activities helped “grace to grow.” In 1965, the 25th Anniversary Banquet program noted “a whole generation of friendship has grown up around the de Sales League.” Jerry Mc Hugh, whose Dad was one of the charter members of the de Sales league, offers a bowling romance:

My Dad bowled with one Kitty Duffy.  She and her husband later moved to Medford Lakes.  Sadly, Joe Duffy died young.  Kitty supported her kids as a secretary for the FBI.  When my mom died in 1998, friends urged my Dad to talk With Kitty, who participated in the bereavement ministry in her Jersey parish. He did and found it helpful.  Then they had lunch.  Then they had dinner.  Then ultimately they eloped, my Dad being 80 at the time.  That’s when my dad finally left de Sales to join her in Jersey. And my Dad’s old bowling ball was literally the last thing I took out of the house from the very back of the first floor closet. (The Bostons bought his house.) Dad and Kitty had ten great years together – with the de Sales bowling league bringing them together several decades later.”

 

1942 centennial bowling
Ad in 1942 de Sales Night Program

Star Harbor

 

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Star Harbor (4700 Springfield Ave.) in 1966

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1967 star harbour ad

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

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Concert at Star Harbor 1978

The Bellringers

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

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

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

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

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

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