Sunday, November 27, 2016

Make a Joyful Noise- the organ at St. Patrick's

1906 Woodbury organ at St. Pat's
Music has always been at the core of Catholic worship.  Hey, even the Bible tells us “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”  That joyful noise is often associated with the organ.  In the 1830s Bishop Fenwick of Boston wrote in his diary that 2/3 of Catholic churches had little or no singing, just the sound of the organ.  He even complained that one immigrant church in Lowell (guess who) had what he considered “bad” singing. (One historian actually says it was not the Irish immigrants’ fault since they had been forbidden to openly worship in their homeland, and thus never had much practice in communal singing.)  To help the situation, the Bishop, an amateur singer and musician himself, wrote a book of songs with lyrics to be used in the Diocese of Boston.  (We weren’t big enough to be an Archdiocese yet.)  Our parish archives actually hold an original 1830s copy of Fenwick’s work.

At St. Patrick’s we know that the original wooden church of 1831 had an organ. It was a second hand organ purchased from a Protestant church and was made by local musician Ebenezer Goodrich.  In his year’s accounting of church expenses in 1840, Father James McDermott paid the church organist $40 for his services.  Fr. McDermott bought another organ in 1847 for the cost of $1400.  That one was made by George Stevens.  It had 22 registers (or stops) which refers to the pipes that produce the notes.  Ever hear of “pulling out all the stops?”  There you go.  It means to give it all you’ve got. 
When the present church was opened, a grand building such as it is, it needed a grander organ.  The E. & G. G. Hook organ installed in 1859 cost $3000, quite a sum for the time, and had 33 stops.  There is a possibility this organ was powered by water to pump the bellows.  The organ was in place right up to the fire in 1904 when it was destroyed.  Some pipes were salvaged and put into a Chelmsford church.  The organist at the time, Professor Johnson, actually entered the church during the fire to save some church music. 

When the church was rededicated in 1906, the organ that was installed was considered one of the finest in New England, with no exaggeration.  It is called a divided organ with the pipes being separated on each side to make a clear view of the grand stained glass window of St. Patrick preaching to the Chieftains at Tara.  A February 1904 entry in the Lowell Sun described its installation.  The Jesse Woodbury Company of Boston designed the organ to fit exactly in this space.  The organ is of 4 parts; the choir organ with 11 stops, the pedal with 10 stops, the great with 11, and the swell with 15.  A special addition was a sanctuary organ that was installed that was connected to the grand organ in the choir loft.  Viewing from the floor, the organ’s pipes reach almost to the ceiling.  What most people don’t recognize is that the grand round, gold-painted pipes they see are fake.  The sound actually comes from the pipes behind those.

Taste in music has changed greatly over the decades.  Many of my generation recall organist Charlie McGrail blasting out Holy God We Praise Thy Name.  As soon as the priest intoned “Ite missa est.” (Go the Mass is ended) and the congregation responded, “Deo gratias.”  (Thanks be to God.), Mr. McGrail would blast the life out of the organ with a grand recessional.  You could feel the vibrations of deep tones hitting you as you left church.  Today, the organ is not in condition to be played, but not for long.  Father Crahen continues with his undaunting efforts to restore the church to its original beauty.  Now that the interior painting, mural restoration, window re-leading, and other repairs have been completed or in stages thereof, the organ is the next task.  The pipes are filled with dust and debris.  Each of the dozens of pipes is labeled with its particular note and needs to be removed and cleaned and then artfully replaced.  The massive bellows, which pump air into the pipes, have dried out and need to be replaced. 

Many were filled with emotion at the school’s recent reunion when they saw Fr. Charles McGrail, former organist, now priest, celebrating Mass.  Fr. McGrail spent many years at the keyboard leading the different choirs through the annual cycle of music of the church.  Many wished they could hear the grand organ once again.  Father Crahen has contacted many professional restorers who have given their assessments of what has to be done.  They all tell the same story.  It desperately needs work.  But they also all tell another story.  The Woodberry organ at St. Pat’s is a true treasure.  There are few left of this quality left and needs to be revived and played once again to the glory of God.

Please contact Father Crahen at St. Patrick rectory if you are interested in the project.   To the right of our blogspot you will see a list of YouTube videos.  There are a couple of the organ being played in former daays.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Rites of Fall in the Acre

The best rite of Fall was Halloween itself. I don't remember buying a costume. I think I was a hobo from ages 5 to 11. When I turned 12, I revolted and was a vampire. I thought I was cool with a cape and blood dripping from my mouth. That's when I learned not to use red Magic Marker as fake blood. It was also a let down when a friend pointed at me and said vampires never wore glasses. So I took them off, and then looked like a blind vampire tripping on stairs and walking into doors. That was my last year of trick or treating.

What I remember most is getting my paper, orange, trick or treat bag from Greens in downtown Lowell. I think it cost a nickel. It was nothing more than an orange paper shopping bag, but by night's end it would hold a bounty of cavity producing treats. My Dad was often given the chore of walking with us. It often became a history of the Acre lesson. Being an Acre Boy himself, he'd tell me this is where he helped light the gas lanterns when he was a kid. Or this is where the Keyes sisters lived and he'd run errands for them. We'd walk by Lovejoy's mansion where UMass is now. Everyone knew it was haunted, and I'd walk a little closer to him. He'd pretend to see ghosts in the broken windows. One year right in front of Lovejoy's it started raining, hard, and my little trick or treat bag got soaking wet and broke. I was in a panic. Do I stop and pick up my candy, or do I let the ghosts drag us in to Lovejoy's basement and my mother would never see us again? I did what any 6 year old would do. I cried. My father said another prayer to Jesus Christ Almighty, put as much candy into my little hobo hands as could fit, picked me up, and walked me home.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Sunday in the Acre- 1876


Ad in Lowell Citizen, 1860

Sunday, the day of rest.  How we observe the Sabbath today is quite different than our 19th century ancestors did.  Or is it?  Today a Sunday afternoon might be watching the Pats with a Bud Lite (okay, personal preference here).  In the 19th century liquor laws were quite severe.  Having a libation might put you before the magistrate if you were caught.  In 1876 , a young Irish “lad” by the name of Caroline was found drunk by the seizure police (sort of a Sabbath police who checked on liquor imbibing on Sundays).  He told the officers where he was served in his alcoholic delirium.  Once he sobered up he swore he was only given birch beer.  Even though he was only 16 he was kept in jail until his court date later in the week.

Over at P & J O’Rourke’s on Gorham St. they “found five buffers who looked as though they were having a good time and improving the Sabbath.” They also found a young man concealing a deck of cards (another breech of the law).  At Tom Murray’s establishment he refused the officers entrance.  They were about to leave when someone inside tripped over a dog causing the officers to force their way in.  They took away quantities of gin and whisky.  On a good note at Peter McSorley’s, when the officers checked on him they found him “pleasant and polite as usual” and no violations.

Meanwhile in the Acre: “The seizure officers accompanied by two from the regular force, made a descent Sunday forenoon on a vacant tenement in Mack's yard, off Market street. There were more than 50 men in one small room, the officers say, drinking from a washtub of ale, which was being served in schooners as fast as it could be ladled out. Such a panic as seized the crowd the officers have rarely witnessed. They blocked the doorway, jumped through five windows and a trap door in their eagerness to escape, and in doing so prevented the officers gaining an entrance until the proprietor of the liquor also had escaped.  The officer found a barrel of ale, fixtures, the washtub full and four schooners full which had been left untasted in the crowd's panic to get away.  The place was being run by a man who did not get a license for his saloon, nearby, and he had chosen the unoccupied tenement to ward off suspicion.” (Lowell Citizen)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

St Patrick School Alumni Reunion - A Reflection



When I was a kid attending school at St. Pat’s, each March we’d learn Irish songs we’d sing at the annual reunion show.  One was Oh the Days of the Kerry Dancing.  Part of the lyrics goes like this:
Oh, the days of the Kerry dancing
Oh, the ring of the piper's tune
Oh, for one of those hours of gladness
Gone, alas, like our youth, too soon!
When the boys began to gather
In the glen of a summer's night
And the Kerry piper's tuning
Made us long with wild delight!
Oh, to think of it
Oh, to dream of it
Fills my heart with tears!

As alumni left Mass concelebrated by Fr. Frank Silva (alum) and Fr. Charles McGrail (former church choir director) they were greeted outside the school by step dancers.  Later the young girls were joined by some slightly older dancers from the 1960s reliving their Kerry dancing days.  As I looked on the crowd of over 150 alumni and friends, the words of the song hit home.  Here we were, some of us decades later, returning to the place we called home for 8 years.  The sun was lowering across the North Common as alumni from the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90, and even the millennials made their way up the front steps of the school.  Just as the song says, for some of us our youth has gone too soon.  I stood there watching as graduates from each decade were called into the school. The most senior of us walked up slowly using the handrail, while the last group, representing the future, walked in taking 2 steps at a time.

There is something unique about St. Patrick’s.  A fact that you may not know, St. Pat’s is one of the oldest continuously operating   parochial schools in the country, starting in 1852.  As Sr. Joanne stated, many colleges and high schools have alumni groups, but not elementary schools.  Then why does St. Pat’s?  I’m not sure, but I have a thought.  As each group entered the school I thought of the paper chains we made when we were kids.  We’d cut paper and glue them together making these long continuous lines.  Seeing those in their eighties, sixties, forties, and twenties all mingling and sharing stories united us into a special union, that long line into the past.

When I attended St. Pat’s, tuition was $1 a week.  That was a lot for many families in the Acre.  Many of us lived in the housing or tenements along Broadway.  Even then the Acre had a reputation, but maybe that is where we found our strength.  The Sisters and lay faculty who taught us held us to a high standard and wouldn’t accept anything less. Maybe that’s why so many who were there last night can today count themselves among Lowell’s politicians, lawyers, government service workers, caregivers, educators, financial officers, skilled professionals, and on and on.  (On a side note, I did notice a very high number of teachers in the group.  Coincidence?  And a high number of police and correction personnel.  Another coincidence?)  Folks who had not seen each other since graduation day greeted each other as if time had not passed. 

That link, that chain, had not broken.  Our time at St. Pat’s was built upon what the previous generation had left us.  A major reason for the school being  there today is because of the chain built by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and those alumni and friends who give of themselves today.  The chain continues. 

One of the lines in Kerry Dancing talks about the tears of recalling days gone by.  More than once that evening I saw women and men wiping their eyes as they saw their old friends, either in person or old black and white photos.

A last thought.  As I was helping to set up a few hours before the start, a young man, maybe 20 wearing a white t-shirt and arms covered in tats came to the door.  I told him we weren’t open yet.  He simply said, please.  About 15 minutes later I encountered him again as he was leaving the building.  I asked how his visit went.  He was wiping tears from his eyes.  His said, memories.  I asked, Good ones?  He replied, All good, all good.  I’ll be back someday.  Who said, You can’t go home again. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Dutton Street Mural


From the Folks at Community Teamwork.  I'm sure many of you will recall the mural or the image it brings back.

 Our Youth Build program, together with local artist Don Maker, is currently undergoing the restoration of the Dutton Street Mural across from the Worthen Restaurant in Lowell. In this mural you can see the Irish brick layer and the Nuns leading the children at St. Patrick’s. Work is currently underway. We have repointed all the bricks and created a blank slate to work from. Everyone has been hard at work. Once it is completed, a light installation will be included which will highlight the mural and light up the Worthen Restaurant Parking lot. Like all such projects, the restoration is costing Community Teamwork a large sum of money (over $35k). We are reaching out to people for help. Anything you could do to spread the word about this restoration would be much appreciated. There will be an unveiling of the completed project on September 28th – complete with food from the Worthen! You and your associates are cordially invited – time is 5-6:30ish. Below there is a link to a great article the Sun recently wrote and some information about how people can donate.

Dutton Street once housed Community Teamwork’s Headquarters with the mural above gracing the Worthen Street side of the building.  In 2011, when the agency relocated its headquarters to the Bon Marche Building on Merrimack Street, the agency’s Youth Build of Greater Lowell program moved into the Dutton Street location.

The Dutton Street Mural was designed by Leo Panos of the University of Lowell (as it was called at the time) and created in the late 1970’s as part of a larger project to install ethnic-themed murals around the city.   In celebration of the immigrant heritage of the city, other murals including Franco-American, Portuguese-American, and Polish-American were painted in different locations.
The original painting of the mural was done by summer workers in the Neighborhood Youth Corps. Later, in the 1980’s the mural was repaired and repainted with the design changing somewhat.  Now more than 30 years later, under the artistic direction of Lowell artist Donald Maker, the students of our Youth Build Program will assist in the restoration of this visual record of  Lowell’s rich cultural history.
The Irish-Acre mural facing Worthen Street is one of the last, if not the last, remaining mural from this era. The project is underway and will be completed by mid-fall.  You can be a part of revitalizing this piece of our community’s history! Your gift of any amount will help support the cost of this project.
Follow the restoration on Twitter and Instagram.  #DuttonStMural

Have a memory or picture of the mural?  Share it with us!

Check out this great article and video : http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_30251971/students-join-local-artist-repaint-iconic-mural-lowell that recently appeared in The Sun!

Folks can donate online: http://www.commteam.org/you-can-help/donate/
By texting: COMMTEAM to 41444

By mail: Please send your check (payable to Community Teamwork) to 155 Merrimack Street, Lowell MA 01852, ATTN: Development Dept.

Thank you for reading all of this and considering our effort and passion about restoring this mural. Your help is so appreciated!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

An Acre Memory- A Summer Story



"Little Rascals" Google image.
The dog is man’s best friend.  Well that’s what we’ve been told.  Scruffy.  Rover. Lassie. Rin Tin Tin.  Snoopy.  When you hear names like that you think of sweet little puppies and doggie heroes.  To some when they hear the bark of a dog it’s like hearing a voice say, “Hey I’m over here.   Let’s play fetch.”  A wagging tale means, “Gee, I like you.”  To me a barking dog has the same effect as the open jaws of a great white, or the tell-tale rattle of a rattle snake.  Why you ask?  Well, let me tell you.

Mike’s Field was the place to play when I was little.  It was the only piece of grassland in my neighborhood of close 3 story tenements.  It had tall grass and the only trees that you could climb in.  In order to get to Mike’s you had to walk up Broadway Street.  It wasn’t far, but you had to pass the Goons house.  I don’t know if anyone knew their real name so we just called them the Goon family.  There were  2 boys who were in their 20s and just sat on their porch with their old haggard mother.  If they were on the porch, you ran by their house.  And if they weren’t, you looked in the windows often to see one of them looking back at you.  Like an added incentive to get past the house as quick as you could there was a dog.  Not some sweet little pup.  Not a fancy looking poodle or a friendly retriever.  No the Goons owned the biggest, meanest, most ornery German shepherd you ever met.  Its fur was the color of coal.  Its paws were big enough to make indents in the ground where it stalked.  If you looked in its eyes you became hypnotized like a cobra does with its prey.  The one thing that separated us from the Goon dog was a six foot fence that surrounded their property.  There was no way for the Goon dog to get out.  Or so I thought.

It was July.  The locusts were making that sound they make when it gets hot.  The sun was high in the sky.  We were all playing army.  There was Ricky, Johnny, Harold, Ricky’s brother Ronny and FraFra.  FraFra was crazy and would eat anything.  He once swallowed a quarter and would proudly show it off after it made its way out.  Later that summer he ate a live hornet.  That’s another story.

As soldiers we were planning our attack on the enemy.  We were leading a charge to bomb their headquarters.  Between the yells of the attacking forces there was another sound.  It was deeper than the rest.  The others heard it too.  Time stopped.  Without turning around I knew it was behind me- the Goon Dog.  My friends saw him before I did.  I saw fear in their faces.  RUN  someone commanded.  Fear took hold of my feet I couldn’t go anywhere.  I felt his breath before I felt the pain.  Goon Dog had me on the ground and stood over me.  He outweighed me and I lay there like a opossum.  The growl came from deep with him.  His teeth were bared and drool dangled from his mouth.  

The next thing I remembered was the sound of the locusts and staring into the sun.  I was still there lying on my back.  My friends had deserted me.  I looked around and Goon Dog was gone.  I looked to my left and there was one of the Goon Boys standing by the 6 foot fence.  All I could see was his outline with his hands leaning on the fence but I knew he was looking at me.

Did he unleash the dog on us?  Or had he saved me from the beast.  I’d never know.  But when I hear a barking dog once again I’m a little kid in Mike’s Field with  the hot breath of killer beast breathing down my neck.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Joseph Smith's call to the Irish of Lowell, 1916


Smith's grave at the Lowell Cemetery
“God save Ireland,” he shouted out to the crowd.  “Repeat it!”  And they did.  Every seat on the floor and in the gallery of Jackson Hall was filled to capacity.  The crowds even poured out into the streets.  The one who had stood up and shouted out to the crowd causing them to stand in unison was Lowell’s own Joseph Smith.  Former Congressman O’Connell and Lowell’s Mayor O’Donnell had just concluded a night of speeches and resolutions calling on Lowell’s Irish-American population to come to Ireland’s defense and aid once the execution of the “rebels” of 1916 had begun.

Lowell, like much of the rest of the world, did not immediately side with what would be called the Easter Rising of 1916.  But once the executions began the tide turned.  In Lowell mass Indignation Meetings took place beginning in May of 1916.  Groups such as Lowell’s branch of the Clan na Gael and the newly formed Padraic H. Pearse branch of the Friends of Irish Freedom held regular meetings to call on the British government to cease the executions and to raise funds to support the people of Dublin who lost homes and livelihoods due to the bombing of the city. 

 Joseph Smith was already in his 60s when his passion for his native Ireland brought him into the limelight of the world.  Born in Dublin he came to America as a young man and immediately enlisted into the U. S. Army.  He ended up fighting in the Mexican War, followed by extensive travels in Arizona, New Mexico, and throughout South America.  He spent time working at various jobs including the Merrimack Print Works and J C Ayer. He became interested in city politics beginning with the election of William F Courtney as mayor in 1895.  Writing was the man’s true vocation and at this time he took it up as his occupation.  He wrote articles for many Lowell papers magazines including Life, and was known for his sarcasm and quick wit.   Though a Protestant, he came to the immediate defense of the Church when confronted by anti-Catholic writing.

Many groups across the country began collecting funds when they heard of women and children begging for food and fire wood in Dublin.  In Lowell, Smith even organized a “tag day” where the ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians solicited funds from downtown shoppers. Smith made many passionate speeches on behalf of his native Ireland and spoke words such as. “The men who fought and failed in Dublin have passed beyond the stage of criticism; they are now among the immortals; stars in the firmament of freedom, and their names will be the rallying cries of the lovers of liberty as long as the grass grows and water runs.  The epithets and slanders hurled at the men who loved liberty better than life are as harmless and useless as the barking of dogs that bay at the moon; the dead of Dublin have nothing to gain from the verdicts of time and posterity; it is the living of Ireland and America who must keep watch and ward and to have and to hold what we posses of liberty against the English plotter.”   One can imagine the white-haired man with the large mustache standing before the crowds rousing everyone with his words.  Each speech he gave is filled with the language of a poet.  A writer of verse he also wrote,

“There is blood on the stones of Dublin,
There are dead in her ancient streets;
That stare with blind eyes at the ancient skies;
And are deaf to the war drums’ beats.”

As one of the national directors of the Friends of Irish freedom he and Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Hughes  Kelly of New York were elected to bring $50,000 collected by the organization and churches.  The money was to be given to the Cardinal of Dublin to see that it was used for aid.  When their ship arrived in Liverpool, England the group was detained and then refused admittance.  For days the newspaper kept the story going.  Calls were made to the British embassy and to President Wilson demanding a reason why they were not allowed to continue their journey.  The British government’s response was that Americans were free to enter, but a “member” of this group seemed “hostile” and thus they were barred.

Upon his return to the States, Smith attained near celebrity status, even touring with Nora Connolly, the martyred James Connolly’s daughter.  In no way did this deter him from his goal.  When he returned to Lowell, he continued his speech-making and had the OMI Cadets give out pledge cards asking those in attendance to keep up pressure on the British for a free Ireland.

He soon left Lowell to write for Boston papers and often wrote for Boston’s catholic newspaper, the Pilot where he became friends with John Boyle O’Reilly.  Mayor James Michael Curly of Boston hired him to be his “publicity agent,” where he used his writing skills to great advantage.

He and his wife made their home on Beacon Street in Boston where he remained until his death in 1929.  His funeral in Boston was attended by many from politics and the newspapers.  His wish was to be buried in the Lowell Cemetery alongside his wife and young daughter.   Though he had been gone many years the chapel was filled with old acquaintances as the priest from St. Ann’s conducted the committal prayers. A moving inscription in part reads, “The day of death is done.  They have gone out beyond the stars… where their souls are united.  Where peace and happiness are eternal and the everlasting God abides.”   Upon the reading of his will, large donations were made to Lowell General Hospital and Boston College. 

In one of his speeches he wrote, “As God lives, these men shall live to inspire generations yet unborn, to dwell in the hearts of men, and the songs of singers for the blood of the martyrs is the seed of liberty.”