Tag: maureen tate

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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Parish Report Card

An old folder recently yielded up a copy of our parish 2002 Self-Assessment of the Pastoral Plan – our parish self-written “report card” – put together under 12th pastor Father Roland Slobogin, almost twenty years ago, to mark the start of our “Second Hundred Years.” That surprisingly interesting time capsule included several pages from an earlier report, composed by Angie Coughlan and Maureen Tate in 1995 for 11th pastor Father Janton, offering some “reflections for consideration” that were still considered relevant in 2002. Do they seem familiar?

                “We have long sensed a need for collaborative decision-making at St. Francis de Sales. The need exists for the ministry team as well as the Parish and Finance Councils and parishioners. Great efforts are made in the areas of parish life but they are not coordinated or in communication with each other. There needs to be further development of the Parish Council so that it can be included in decision-making with the ministry team as well as solicit input from parishioners.

                “There has long been a great need for dialogue about liturgy. Because of our diverse community we have many views on liturgical music, symbol and ritual, and the spirit of worship that makes prayer possible...” (This was topical in 2002, since SFDS and MBS had recently been twinned; we became a combined parish in 2007)

                “We currently have no vehicle for addressing the social and spiritual needs of our teenagers. We need to find a way for them to be a more visible presence in the community and to enable them to make their own contribution.”

                “Our social action focus has been limited to direct service and referral. Parishioners who constitute the microcosm which is St. Francis de Sales face issues of race, class, economic injustice, violence and community disintegration on a daily basis in very real ways and we need the Church to provide some guidance or forum in which to address these major influences in our lives and community. For those who are working on these issues constantly, we feel that we should be making a Christian response and yet there is not a way to help one another discern what this might be.”

                “There have been very infrequent and limited opportunities for adult spiritual enrichment. We recognize that past efforts were not always well attended but we believe there needs to be a consistent effort to build this into our parish life. Many of our parishioners could be resource people for such programs.

                “When funds were available parishioners valued and benefited from the resources of a DRE (A Director of Religious Education to run the PREP. Now we have Sr. Alice!) Parents are willing and able to maintain the religious education program for children although administration, development and growth is very limited...”

                “Although our parish is well regarded by the community we have observed that there is no interaction with other churches in the immediate neighborhood. We do have some relationship with the other Catholic churches of West Philadelphia although this is also very limited. Because of the pressing social problems in our midst and because other church communities are trying to address these same immediate concerns we feel that the community and parishioners would benefit by collaboration with the other churches….”

                “We noted that our parish school is an important resource in the parish. There does exist, however, a significant separation between the school community and the parish...” (The school became independent in 2011)