Tag: SFDS School

The Big Picture

This history column usually focuses on the single “planet” that is our parish, showing how it fits into the “solar system” of our immediate neighborhood. Every now and then, though, it’s good to step back and look beyond our single point of light, to the whole sky and the many galaxies beyond our view that form our universe – and the many cultures and communities that form the wider Catholic Church, of which we are such a small part. And in that, Sister Gertrude Borres is our key!

Sister Gertrude, of the Religious of the Assumption – in the convent across the street from the church – was named Director of the Archdiocesan Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees in 2019 – just before the Covid pandemic hit — and has been working steadily ever since, through crisis after crisis, with different waves of immigrants and migrants. Her mission is two-fold: working with Catholic Social Services to connect people with resources to take care of their physical needs (loss of jobs, healthcare during covid, documentation, etc.), and, also, to help people feel welcomed by recognizing that “language, culture, and customs are important” and it’s vital to “nurture faith as lived.” Her office currently supports chaplains saying Mass in seventeen different languages other than English or Spanish – and embraces the rich diversity of customs and traditions that anchor and enrich Catholic experiences around the world – from Asia and the South Pacific to Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

How has our parish intersected with Sister Gertrude’s work?

As the Afghan crisis unfolded, Sister Gertrude says, when Catholic Social Services welcomed about fifty Afghans arriving in Philadelphia, her role was to support and help with resettlement. When a family who moved to our neighborhood wanted to send their children to St. Francis de Sales School, she went to Father Eric, who went to Sister Mary McNulty, and among them, they arranged for this to happen. Parishioners contributed to help cover tuition. The parents then needed to learn English, so Sister Kathy Benham, IHM, was also looped in, and the parents began to attend English as a Second Language classes at the IHM Literacy Center.

Ukraine is currently immersed in an ongoing war and conflict. The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy is Orthodox Catholic and has its own support organization, so Sister Gertrude’s efforts have focused on spiritual solidarity and the understanding that there is little we can do physically to help, but “it strengthens them to know that people are praying for them.” The Zoom Novena Pilgrimage that just ended – a joint effort with the local Ukrainian Church, in which, each night, participants learned the story of one city and the impact of war – cultivated empathy for people in Ukraine who, she notes, in their suffering, “are experiencing the passion of Christ.” The Taizé Prayer Service at our parish, at the end of the novena, strengthened the newly-forged bonds with the Ukrainian community and the sense of sharing in the same mission.

On World Communications Day, Pope Francis compared the church to a choir, in which “unity does not require uniformity, monotony, but the plurality and variety of voices…” He hopes to “rediscover a symphonic Church, in which each person is able to sing with his or her own voice, welcoming the voices of others as a gift to manifest the harmony of the whole that the Holy Spirit composes.” Sister Gertrude who is herself a migrant, born and raised in the Philippines, feels that the role of her office is to “make the big church closer to the migrants and refugees.” Here at SFDS, she would like to “open us to not only our little world but to the universality of the church and our parish mission expressed right there in our title, as ‘United by the Most Blessed Sacrament’!” Let the dialogue begin!

2021 Border Mission: Pod 23A

Sisters Constance and Jeannette in San Antonio, TX, May 2021

When two thousand anxious immigrant children were separated from their families at the U.S. southern border in early 2021, Catholic Charities summoned its unique superpower — nuns from orders across the country – to help in the crisis. Among those IHM sisters who answered the call, were several familiar names: Sister Kathy Benham of the IHM Ctr for Literacy, who worked with families in CA; and Sisters Constance and Jeannette, formerly of SFDS School. Snippets from Sister Jeannette’s San Antonio TX diary hint at the size of the task there:

This morning we reported at 6:45, police, security everywhere….Covid test…Dept Homeland Security lanyard and ID, then… Catholic Charities…took pix, got ID there…gave us Catholic Charities vests and gave us instructions…We were given total charge of a pod ourselves!! 23A.   The place took our breath away. A Huge coliseum with maybe 1,000 cots in it!!!!!  And 1,000 boys to match the cots…They gave us a map and a list of names and information and told to go watch them, that the overnight person had just left…23A was Only 21 boys ages 13 to 17… We couldn’t see the end of our cots and the beginning of the cots on the pods around us…Some were sitting on their cots and a few tried to talk to us…They were scheduled for ‘indoor activity’…Our pod is scheduled to go outside to a small yard tomorrow. Around lunch time we were told to line up our pod for lunch. They are really good at getting in line and waiting to be told when to go…It’s amazing Totally organized…We picked up boxes on the way in and ate with them: sausage, beans and salsa, potatoes and a roll. It was hot and good. The minute you’re finished they move your pod out and more are coming in all the time. After lunch they are supposed to ‘rest’ and they did. Lots were reading paperback Bibles in Spanish, of course, or playing UNO. But Most of All, they were using pieces of yarn and had beads and they were making beautiful bracelets.  They were so earnest about this…The boys are so gentle and thoughtful…Three different times there was clapping, whistling, cheering and it meant that a boy from some pod was being taken out because they were reuniting him with his family…they were happy for the lucky boy and really showed it…”

Day 2 was exciting:the boys “each got to make a telephone call!!… They were arranged in a line according to bed #, then seated in chairs….The boys were called to the tables and the volunteer called the number on the paper and asked for the person to verify the info. Then they gave the cell phone to the boy and he talked. We heard one to a mother and another to a priest. They talked for 12 minutes (there was a stopwatch), then they came over to us and the next boys were called to the table. It’s like musical chairs here….”

As days went by, some boys were released to relatives, and the rest waited patiently for their turn. Indoors, “along the side aisles there were soccer ball games going on all over. It reminded me of the schoolyard (small) at St. Francis de Sales…” The sisters bought craft supplies and games at Walmart. The boys studied basic English phrases and looked at a map to see the states where they would someday live. They had haircuts and figured out how to make elaborate folded paper swans. “The shrine on the table to Our Lady of Guadeloupe has been cleaned, straightened and added to. It looks very nice.  A picture of St. Martin de Porres has been placed there, also.”

The Sisters ound out that “All the boys here are from Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua…The US is allowing these in as a safe haven” because “their lives are in danger. If they stayed in their countries “they would be forced into gangs for drug running or sex or killed for refusing.”

At the end of their two exhausting weeks, Sister Constance called together the remaining boys in their Pod 23A “family” to tell them “this will be our last day.  We are going back to our school…” (St. Matthew’s). Explanation was important so the boys wouldn’t feel abandoned: “We learned that lesson… at De Sales. When Sisters were changed, the kids often thought that they didn’t like…them and that’s why they went away…Because we can’t touch them, we fist-bumped each one. It brought tears to us and them. They presented each of us with a RECUERDOS bracelet – remember, regards, memories.”

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

First SFDS Ordination: Philip Hasson

Marist Mission Band ca. 1930s-1940s. Hasson third frm left in back.

Rev. Philip Hasson, who grew up at 4931 Pentridge Street, was the first boy from our parish school to enter the priesthood – ordained as a Marist (Society of Mary) in 1919.

Hasson’s father was an Irish immigrant stonecutter. We have no information about where he may have worked; it’s even possible that he was one of the labourers who built our church, which would open the way to all sorts of reflections on Biblical cornerstones and builders!

Born in 1893, as the eldest of seven children, young Philip attended SFDS Parish School with his sisters. He was admitted to the Marist Seminary, a prep school for boys training for the priesthood, in 1908, at age 15 (That would have been just as our church was being built). He entered the Marist College associated with Catholic University in Washington DC when he was 20; spent his Canonical Novitiate year at St. Mary’s Manor in Langhorne, PA, in 1914; then returned to Marist College to finish his studies. Hasson was ordained by the Rector of Catholic University, Bishop Thomas Shahan, on June 19, 1919.

When I contacted the Marist archivist, looking for information on Hasson, she mentioned that he had been a member of their Mission Band. Since I had recently researched Captain James Cousart and the SFDS Boys Battalion marching band, my mind naturally went to music, and I asked “Do you know what instrument he played?”

I guess the correct answer would be “hearts”!  It turns out the Mission Band (shown in the photo) were traveling missionaries. For fifteen years, from 1927 to 1941, Hasson crisscrossed the country and “preached Missions, Retreats, conducted Triduums, and preached at Forty Hour Devotions.” It was said he “endeared himself to all.”

Before he became a missionary, Hasson spent the first few years of his career teaching, then as an Assistant Pastor in Georgia. After his missionary years, he was appointed pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church and the Missions of SE Georgia “and was Superior of the Marist Fathers who served with and under his direction.” Later, he assisted at several other parishes in different states.

Hasson returned to Pennsylvania in ill health and died of esophageal cancer at age 65 in 1958. He was buried on the grounds of St. Mary’s Manor, Penndel, where he made his novitiate.

Hasson’s obituary notes that “he was the first of many pupils of St. Francis de Sale Parochial School to be ordained priests. This was a thing of much joy to his devoted and saintly Pastor, the late beloved Bishop Michael J. Crane as well as to his beloved parents and sisters.”

Marist Seminary. Hasson third from left (tallest) in back.

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

Baltimore Avenue Amble

A short three-block stroll along Baltimore Avenue hints at how St. Francis de Sales Parish  is woven into the fabric of the neighbourhood.

cherry tree inn

Beginning at 46th Street, the Aksum Cafe at 4630 Baltimore stands on the site of the original yellow clapboard Cherry Tree Inn – a historic rest stop on the Baltimore Pike, named for an ancient cherry tree that once stood out front (a bar at 4540 — today’s Gojo — adopted the name as an homage in 1933, causing lasting confusion). Our first parish chapel/school building – now a wing of SFDS School — was built on the back section of the old inn’s property towards 47th Street in 1891.  Some records suggest that piece was once a lake – more likely, it was the water-accumulating “dip in the waffle” created by surrounding raised road construction. (Incidentally, the firm of James “Sunny Jim” McNichol, who donated our St. Joseph Altar, built and paved some of the larger roads in the city including Baltimore Ave., the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and Roosevelt Boulevard).

In the early 1900s, most of the 4700 block of Baltimore Ave over to Warrington was occupied by the Wilson farm which included a house, a barn, an orchard, and several cows. Our parish purchased the property in 1920, intending to build an annex to the school. Third grade and commercial classes were held at the farmhouse (approximately where the Warrington garden is today) for a couple of years, and several parish fairs were held on the grounds. In 1926, plans changed, and a wing was added to the school along Farragut Terrace, instead. The Wilson property was then sold to Brown & Sons Developers, who built the present block. This ad appeared in the Parish Monthly Bulletin:

47th & balt

 

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Byrd Theatre 4720 Baltimore Ave.

Dream of popcorn in today’s municipal parking lot at 4720. Or huskies pulling sleds? The Byrd Theatre, named after famous polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, opened in 1928 and was torn down in the 1960s. It was, reportedly,  never profitable as a movie venue, but in 1933, during the Great Depression, it had a moment of glory when SFDS held its de Sales Night gala there one year, instead of the usual big showy “do” at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel downtown:

C008 sfds 1933b
SFDS De Sales Night at the Byrd Theatre 1933

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While you are there, take a little time to admire the beautiful murals in the parking lot painted by David Guinn in 2008. He’s included a number of local landmarks – can you find our church?

 

sfds bookstore 1948
The SFDS Parish Bookstore was located at 4726 Baltimore Avenue

 

Now continue on to 4726 Baltimore Ave. Today, it’s part of Vientiane Cafe. Some folks might remember that Mariposa Food Co-Op used to be here (before it moved to 4824). Long before that, from 1944 to 1954, it was home to the SFDS Parish Bookstore and Lending Library – offering blockbusters such as Communism and the Conscience of the West by Fulton Sheen and Of Flight and Life, by Charles Lindbergh. Imagine the walls lined with bookshelves, and earnest customers choosing uplifting reading material through the general haze of cigarette and pipe smoke characteristic of the era.

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McHugh Realty was at 4800 Baltimore (where the Gold Standard now is) for over forty years. Gerald McHugh, Sr. represented the parish in many real estate matters, and went on to become the broker for the Archdiocese. The McHugh family has been in DeSales for four generations.

1955 mchugh realty

An old parish record notes that the IHM Sisters moved to a house at 4804 Baltimore Avenue for two months in 1915 while their original convent – a house at 47th and Windsor — was renovated (The present convent was built in 1926).

It’s an empty lot, today, behind a fence, but parishioner Henry Amlung’s fur store once stood at 4810 Baltimore Ave. His store made the news in 1919, when it was robbed by the “Motor Bandits” who were “terrorizing West Philadelphia” in a newfangled automobile. Under-equipped police eventually had to borrow a car to chase them! Here’s Amlung’s Parish Monthly Bulletin ad:

amlung furs

Last, but not least, number 4830 was the home of Ruane Electrical – started by current parishioner Joe Ruane’s Grandfather. Joe recalls delivering flyers and arranging the windows in the late 1940s, and he spotted a fire in the shared basement that once saved the block.1943 ruane baltimore ave

‘Nuff said for now: Parish stories are many, but time is short!

Find more stories of Baltimore Avenue on our sister website, https://streetofhistoryphiladelphia.wordpress.com/

A Trip to the Movies

belmont theatre
Belmont Theatre, Philadelphia PA in 1920 (Creative Commons)

The 1928 Saint Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin offers a description of a long-ago outing, supposedly written by one “Bad Boy Brady… in the Third Grade at SFDS School:”

Our sister told us this morning in school to write…about something we did during the Easter holidays…I thought of the treat that… Joe Forte gave us on Easter Monday…Joe…lives in our parish (4839 Larchwood) and has charge of a lot of movies in West Philadelphia. He has a big green car and wears a soft hat….So one day (Father Canney) met Joe Forte in Mr. Rody’s barber shop (1213 S. 50th Street) where they get their haircut, and asked him to give the school a treat…”

We all met at the school…and marched over to the Belmont Theatre on Fifty-second and Market Street. There were over eight hundred of us…Me and Joe Rody and Cornelius McLaughlin 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. I thought I would like to be a cop… A couple of cops who knew Father Canney kept the green lights on so that we could all pass across Chestnut and Walnut Streets without any break in the line. A…man named Frank Yates was in charge of the Belmont Theatre and he certainly gave us a great treat…”

Imagine friendly local police, in dark uniforms with shiny buttons, officiously stopping horse carts, delivery trucks, and Model T Fords for the neighbourhood children. The long parade filed past James Beers’ Drugstore at 47th and Baltimore, and Nace Hopple’s Radio Repair shop at 47th and Cedar; then up Cedar and along Fiftieth Street, “the head of their line of march turning into Market Street as the end approached to Pine Street” (that’s ten blocks!). The Belmont Theatre, which opened in 1914, seated 1,000 people. A trendy Philadelphia-born fast-food eatery – the Horn & Hardart Automat — was next door, and doubtless, some little faces covetously eyed its interesting prepared foods behind little clear coin-operated windows.

Movie treats for parish children ended in 1934 when Cardinal Dougherty issued a pastoral letter, prohibiting Catholics from attending the movies due to cinematic violence and bad language. Boycotts worked: within a few years, the industry cleaned up its offerings and the Catholic audience trickled back – but by then, Father Canney was gone.

dougherty movie boycott
Philadelphia Inquirer June 9, 1934