Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shopping in the Acre - 1850s

Even by the early 1830s, the Irish who settled in the Acre had established businesses and shops to supply their daily needs.  Anything you needed was right there, just a few blocks away.  The Lowell City Directories hosts dozens of shops and craftsmen within the different neighborhoods, including the Acre.  Some of the businesses may seem foreign to us today and have disappeared from our vernacular.  Many of the Irish businesses were located along Merrimack Street near Suffolk and along Lowell Street, now Market Street.  The following businesses were listed in various Directories from the 1850s.  Imagine carrying your Saturday shopping lists as you walked the Acre in the 1850s.

Patrick Cummiskey was very likely a relative of Hugh.  The shop is listed in the same vicinity of Hugh's, though Hugh had stopped selling liquor. 
Coopers were quite necessary and would have been found in most towns and cities.  Pretty much everything you had was stored in a barrel.  Remember most homes did not have closets and cabinets in this period so barrels were used for storage.
West Indies Dry Goods stores were the 7 Eleven of the day.  They had a little bit of everything and could be found on many street corners.  The Directories have long lists of stores throughout the city. 
Not everyone owned a horse but if you did, it needed shoes.  Once again, the Directories have long lists of horseshoers located throughout the city.  Like today, people could rent a horse for a short trip.  Burke must have been like a Hertz Rent A Car or Town Fair Tire.

Up until one point in the 19th century, shoes were not bought with a left or a right, merely a square toe.  Boots were not only fashionable as Mr. Sullivan states in his ad, but a necessity since horses were the norm and left their droppings everywhere.  Soon Humphrey O'Sullivan will come along and create an invention that turn the industry on its "heel."
Reading newspapers of the period, it becomes apparent that the Irish are repeatedly being branded as the purveyors of spirits.  Again and again, one reads how the Irish operate most of the rum shops of the city.  There are mentions in the same period as these ads of Irish cellars, illegal rum shops located in basements of homes and tenements.  The police logs quite blatantly lists arrests of "Irish drunks."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Snow – 1913

St Patrick Church, 1930s
The storm hit as folks made their way about the City whether it was to church or visit family and friends.  The bitter winds caused man, woman, and child, to bundle up doubly against its cold bite.  Men in their great coats and women in the capes held each other closely so as not to fall.  Worse than the snow or wind was the glaze of ice that lay beneath.  Horses had a hard time keeping their footing and more than one fell trying to pull carriages through the streets.
But that did not stop the faithful who made their way to the churches.  St Patrick’s was no exception.  Nearly every Mass was filled to capacity.  The 13 bells in the steeple rang in the feast of the Nativity.  Monsignor O’Brien was the lead celebrant at the 9:30 with 5 other priests acting as deacons and sub-deacons.  Many in the crowd kept the tradition of making their way back to the church of the fathers and grandfathers despite the inclement weather.  Within the church every incandescent light was lit and every candle on the altar glowed in its brass candelabra giving all inside a sense of warmth.  The entire altar was bedecked with laurel and holly making the white marble barely visible.  Garland was strung from the height of the ceiling to the columns in the sanctuary.  A mammoth task it must have been.  On each column hung an evergreen wreath with a scarlet ribbon.  The procession into the church comprised over 80 choir members in cassock and surplice under the direction of Bother Linus.  The school children also sang carols accompanied by the Sisters of Notre Dame.  The walls of the church vibrated with Mr. Johnson’s rendition of Adeste Fideles on the organ.  The congregation sung out loud and strong.  Later that afternoon the church was completely filled once again for solemn vespers with many standing in the aisles.  The faith of the people was evident.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas in the Acre - 1890s

Lowell 100 Yrs
The Sisters of Notre Dame, who still staff St Patrick School, faithfully kept a journal of daily activities from 1852 until 1958.  The Annals, as the volumes were referred to, were daily accounts of Masses attended, rosaries recited, and happenings within the school.  By custom the writers remained unnamed, though there are hints of authorship periodically.  One thread that runs throughout the decades was the visits made by the “mission angel.”  This was the Sisters’ way of saying who was being transferred, very often with little or no notice.  This fictional entry is a combination of facts gathered from the Annals of the Sisters recorded in the 19th century. 
The Portress has been busy today.  Many come to the door begging food for their children.  Our pantry is not heavily loaded, but we spare what we can.  As Mother Superior says one never knows when it is the Christ Child who is knocking at the door.  Many of the boarding students have gone home to celebrate Christmas with their families.  Those who remain behind are invited to dine with us in the Sisters’ refectory.  You can tell the students are not used to our custom of dining in silence.  I look at up them and see them looking rather uncomfortable while one of the Sisters reads the lives of the Saints as we eat our meal of soup and bread.  The fast before Christmas has begun meaning no meat until the holy day.  It was only a few years ago that I was a student like them, sitting in the same seats looking at the Sisters wondering if I had the call.
I sit here in the Sisters’ dormitory; our beds separated by a simple white sheet.  Already I hear the snores coming from Sister Fidelia’s bed.  On the other side are the rasping coughs coming from young Sister Lourdes.  Dr. Green says he cannot do much more for her.  I am fortunate to have a window that looks out into the convent gardens.  A number of years ago Mother Desiree, may she rest in peace, had a tall brick wall surround the entire school and convent property.  At the same time we were forbidden to join the parishioners in sitting with the congregation.  An opening was made between the convent and the church.  We were to sit behind this wall to attend Mass and all other liturgical functions.  Our Mother General feels this separation will help us focus on our devotions.  One of the priests comes to the opening to distribute Communion.  Looking at the bare trees and mounting snow can make one doubt her call.  Though we are not allowed to have personal conversations I have heard stories of Sisters who have returned to their families.  They have walked right out the door.  But my guardian placed me with the Sisters when I was a young girl, and the Sisters have become my family. 
After morning Mass the church doors were closed, and we were allowed to decorate the church for the Christmas feast.  Garland was strung from the ceiling to the altar.  Wreaths were hung on every column.  There are 22.  I counted them.  Some of the older women from the parish were allowed to help us.  It was nice to speak with someone new.  The best part of today was that I was given the chore of setting up the manger in our chapel.  It is a most beautiful place.  It was recently completed, designed by the famous Patrick Keely.  The colors are pink and blue and very uplifting.  Not as grand as the parish church, but it is where we spend many hours of the day reciting the Divine Office, rosaries, and being in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.
But my heart is heavy this Christmas Eve.  I sit here waiting to hear the bells of the steeple ring in Christmas.  It is the custom of many, some as far away as across the river and into the city center, to wait until they hear the bells ring before they make their way to midnight Mass.  I sit here holding the little note that the Mission Angel has left on my pillow.  I leave to go to our academy in Roxbury right after Christmas.  I must say good bye to this place that has been my home as long as I can remember.  I recall the words of our foundress, Julie Billard.  “Ah qu’il est bon, le bon Dieu.” (How good the good God is.) 
The bells break the silence of this cold December darkness.  They ring out calling me.  Silent Night, Holy Night.

Sister Needs a Roof

Last week the wife and I went to visit our alma mater, St. Patrick School.  We both attended St. Pat’s through the 60s in what was then called the “new” school.  The Sisters drove into Lowell daily in a station wagon with 8 nuns crowded in, complete with habit and black briefcases.  St. Pat’s was also my first teaching assignment once I got my certification.  I loved the place as a child, as a new teacher, and now as an alumnus.  Sr. Joanne Sullivan is the current principal.  She is one of the Sisters of Notre Dame who currently staff the school as they have for the last 160 years.  Mother Desiree began with 5 Sisters in 1852.  Sr. Joanne works with 7 Sisters and a very devoted lay staff.  The work that Mother Desiree began those many decades ago continues with Sr. Joanne, to teach the new people who make the Acre their home. 

When we entered the building Sr. Joanne was answering the phone.  That day she was playing secretary and principal.  She still took time to chat with us in between giving hugs to kids and answering parents’ questions.  Talk about multi-tasking.  Those of you who have worked with nuns know where the conversation went next.  Sister asked when I’d be available to help out with a new project she has going to celebrate the school’s 160th anniversary.  You see, this is how schools like St. Pat’s have survived and working with Sisters for many years has engrained something within me.  From whom much was given, much is expected.  Sister knows this very well.  The SNDs have many wonderful schools and they are well known for their high school academies and institutions of higher learning.  Sr. Joanne could have a very nice position anywhere else and make her life much easier.  But no, she and her Sisters have chosen Lowell and the Acre. A number of years ago, the parish found that it could no longer support the school.  The SNDs took on that great task and much of that burden was taken on by Sr. Joanne.  She raises the money.  She writes the grants.  She pays the rent (yes, they pay rent for the building).  She pays the salaries.  She knows the story of each and every family in that school.
In the middle of our chat Sister said, “I need a roof.”  The new school is not so new anymore.  The roof leaks, literally.  So on top of all she does she needs to raise money for a roof.  We try to give back when we can.  I know many alumni and people who share the mission of the school do what they can.  I am humbly and earnestly asking that if any readers, in this season of giving, feel called to help out.  Please do so.  She needs your help.  They need your help.  If you can please do what you can now.  Their need is immediate.  I feel like Bing Crosby in The Bells of Saint Mary’s.  If you can’t give, offer a prayer.  You can contact Sister Joanne at St. Patrick School 311 Adams St.  Lowell, MA 01854.  Or take a look at their website

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Bad Sign December, 1857

Lowell Courier, December 1857
December of 1857 proved to be a rather turbulent time in the city of Lowell, specifically in the Irish neighborhood.  Newspapers across the Northeast were reporting the lawlessness that had been incurring since the recent civic elections.  There were pleas for the Irish to cease their carousing and return to order.  If not, the strong arm of the law should be called out to quell the outbreaks. 
Lowell City Directory, 1856
The Officers of the Peace were reporting ongoing rowdiness, especially along Lowell Street (Market Street).  One officer came face to face with a pistol being held by an Irish rum seller.  Luckily it misfired and the officer’s life was spared.  The troubles seemed to be brewing around the “Irish cellars.”  Rum sellers opened up the basements of their tenements into make-shift, illegal bar rooms.  The Acre was filled with them.  As soon as one was closed, another opened.  The courts were overloaded with cases of illegal sale of spirits.  They lined up before the judge, along with Mrs. Quinn who was running a house of ill fame, but the rum runners were the major problem.  It seemed that there was much jubilation over recent elections that would get out of control and spill into the streets. 
What was the cause?  A look at the previous months might give us a hint.  The Know-Nothing Party had been in power in Lowell, in Massachusetts, and across the country for a number of years. They preached a policy of “Americanism.”  The fear was that foreigners, in this case Irish Catholics, were going to take over the country.  The thought of the Irish becoming part of the political process brought fear to many native born Americans.  With so many Irish in Lowell the fear grew like a cancer.  There were even rumors that the Irish would cast votes illegally in order to get their Democratic candidates into office who would bring an end to the Know-Nothing Party.  The mills had suffered financial set-backs.  Jobs had become scarce with some Irish wishing to return to the native homeland.  Things began turning around.  More and more Irish were becoming active voters and following the Democratic Party.  With the election of Dr. Elisha Huntington, who had been courting the Irish vote, as mayor of Lowell, the Irish saw this as the beginning of the end to their troubles.  To others it meant that rum sellers and foreigners were taking over the city.  To the Irish, even a small victory of a mayor who recognized their presence, was cause for celebration. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lowell's "Holy War" of 1837-1838

For the past few years much new material regarding Lowell'd early Irish past has been uncovered.  Through the work of UMass Lowell, Queen's University and contributors to LowellIrish the story of the deeds and trials of our Irish pioneers are being recorded for the next generation.  This entry is one of the most important as to its future repercussions as its results could be seen for decades.  Many thanks to Walter for gathering this material and authoring the work.
The history of St. Patrick's parish, and the Irish community in Lowell, ca. 1830-ca. 1868, was not always calm and peaceful.  Disagreement and argument were rampant.  There were conflicts among the Irish laity: “Corkonians versus Far Downers”.  Something favoured by one group was automatically opposed by the other.  There were  also 'differences of opinion' between priests and laity, between priests and Bishop Fenwick, and between priests.  One result was that there was a fairly frequent turnover of priests.  Indeed, it seems that one or two could not wait to ”get out of Dodge”. Histories of the church sometimes hint at disagreement, but that's as far as it goes.  As a result of research in newspapers, court records, and the Journals of Bishop Fenwick, we are beginning to gain new insights into those sometimes turbulent years.  Indeed, it might not be too extreme to call the period 1830-ca. 1868, the “Holy Wars”.  This is the tale of one episode.

Some months ago, while examining Record Books of the Middlesex Court of Common Pleas,  I noticed the notation: “McCool vs. McDermott”.  I was immediately intrigued and turned to the cited page.  WOW !!!  The case indeed was [Reverend] Edward J. McCool versus [Reverend] James T. McDermott.  What could this possibly involve?  

The Reverend Edward J. McCool was assigned to St. Patrick's Church by Bishop Fenwick in 1836.   Sixteen carpet weavers (Lowell Manufacturing Company) took up a collection and presented him a carpet and rug for his residence.  Fr. McCool, however, had 'problems' including an apparent over-fondness for alcohol, to the point that the Mayor advised Fenwick that he would do well to remove McCool from Lowell and assign him elsewhere. McCool was recalled in the summer of 1837 and Rev. James T. McDermott was assigned as the new pastor of St. Patrick's Church.

  Our story begins with the gift of a carpet and rug in 1836.
 “To the Revd. Mr. McCool      We the carpet weavers of Lowell Make you a present of this Carpet & rug for your Exclusive Right (?) While you Stop in Lowell.”            Note accompanying the carpet and rug gifts to McCool from the carpet weavers, presented as evidence by McCool.

In November 1837, McCool demanded that McDermott give him the carpet, which McDermott  refused to do. McCool then sought the assistance of Joseph Parker, Constable, whose deposition reads:

“I Joseph Parker of Lowell in the County of Middlesex, of lawful age depose and say, that on or about the twenty-eighth day of November 1837, I was requested to go to the house of the Reverend Edward J. McCool, the Catholic minister of Lowell, the house was then or soon afterward, occupied by the Rev. Mr. McDermott.  I went in company with an Irishman who name was Gallson or Gholson [most likely Thomas Galston] he shewed me the carpet which belonged to Mr. McCool, as he said.  I was ordered to take away the carpet by Edward Short or Gholson [Galston], and to deliver the same to Mr. McCool.

Mr. McDermott came in shortly after & I told him I came to get Mr. McCool's carpet.  He forbid my taking it and said it belonged to the house.  I came away without it.  Soon after I went to the same house with Mr. McCool and saw Mr. McDermott there.  McCool told him he had come to get his carpet.  This was in the house.  He refused to let McCool have it & then after demanding of it we came away.  I was then requested to go to Mr. Fuller's by Mr. McCool.  Mr. Fuller [Elisha Fuller, Justice of the Peace] gave me a writ and I served it the same day on Mr. McDermott.”

Inter. By A. Locke, Esq., Counsel for Deft.

Did Mr. McDermott occupy that house at that time?
            Ans.  That I don't know.
2nd Int.  Was the carpet on the floor?
            Ans.  It was.
3 Int.   Did McDermott appear to be at home in the house?
            Ans. I think he did.
4th Int.            Did McCool live in that house at that time?
            Ans. I dont know.
5th Int.            Did he appear to live there?
            Ans. He did not.
6th Int.            Did you find him elsewhere and leave him elsewhere?
            Ans. I did.
7th Int.            Where is McCool now?
            Ans. I don't know except by hearsay.
8th Int.  Was he at that time the officiating Catholic priest in Lowell?
            Ans. I can't say.
9th Int.            Did you ever see Mr. McCool drunk in the streets about that time?
            (Objected to by Ptff as improper and irrelevant to the case.)
            Ans. I never did.
10th Int.  Who was present at the time the demand was made before specified?
            Ans. There were two or three Irish men Caskin, Gholm, Short  whose names I do not know.
11th Int.  Did Mr. McDermott demand of Mr. McCool to shew his right to have or take the carpet?
            Ans. I cant recollect.  They had sharp words but I dont remember the [word not clear].

Middlesex Ss. Dec 21, 1838

Subscribed and sworn to & agreed to be admitted in evidence in case of McCool vs McDermott.

In rebuttal, Rev. McDermott presented the deposition of Alexander Wright, Superintendent of the Lowell Manufacturing Company (the Carpet Mill).

“I, Alex Wright of Lowell in the county of Middlesex on oath I depose and say as follows.  I was a subscriber to the carpet procured by certain carpet weavers in the carpet factory in 1836.  It was procured for the purpose of fitting up the house occupied by the Catholic priest Edward McCool in Lowell.  I subscribed on that ground I should not have subscribed for the purpose of giving to an individual.  There had been difficulty with the incumbent priest just before that time about a rug, and it was talked of when I subscribed.  I never was notified of any meeting of the subscribers in the cloth room of the carpet factory to determine about the destination of the carpet and rug.  If I had been, should have noted against giving it to any individual.  What I gave, I gave with a view to having the house furnished and not to the individual that occupied it, for I knew that he might be removed at any moment by the order of their Bishop.

I am superintendent of the Lowell Manufr. Co. Mills”

1.      Int by  Ptff.   What do you mean by saying you were a subscriber?  Did you subscribe your name to any paper on this occasion?
Answer- There was a paper with names penciled on it shown me.  I told them they might put me down two or three dollars I forget which.

2.        Who requested you to give any thing towards a carpet?
Answer- Stephen Lanigan and Patrick Sherridan.

                                                                        Alex Wright (signature)

3rd.  Do you know of any person, who gave anything toward the carpet except yourself who was not a carpet weaver?  If so who was it?

Middlesex Ss Dec 20, 1838

                                                                                    Sworn to before me
                                                                                    Elisha Fuller { Justice of the Peace

McCool's argument was based on the note signed by the carpet weavers which accompanied the carpet as well as the deposition of Constable Parker.  McDermott's defence rested solely on the deposition of Wright who clearly intended the carpet for the residence, not the individual.

The Jury found “that the Deft. is guilty in manner & form as the Ptff has alleged and assess damages at Seven dollars and eighty cents.”  McDermott lost.  In his financial report of St. Patrick's Church for 1838-1839, there is charge of $87.50 for “expenses on Carpet Law-Suit.”

This case was first filed in the March Term, 1838 of the Middlesex Court of Common Pleas and after continuances decided in the December Term of 1838.

Rev. McCool was involved in another incident early in 1838 in which others were criminally charged in the Police Court and the Criminal session of the Court of Common Pleas, but that is a tale for another day.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cardinal O'Connell Parkway

Postcard of O'Connell Parkway
It was as if the fates were against the idea from the beginning.  William O’Connell, a favored son of Lowell, was given the red hat of Cardinal in 1911.  It took years before the city that witnessed his birth could decide how to appropriately mark O’Connell’s being made a prince of the Church.  There were financial reasons, then the Great War took precedence, and the Spanish influenza epidemic that ravished the US in 1918.  After much negotiation, the Committee decided that naming a parkway along with a fountain and bust of the prelate would be the most fitting. 
The big day was set- Sunday, November 17, 1918.  Humphrey O’Sullivan, the rubber heel king, and others from the Committee traveled to New York City to pick up the bronze bust which would surmount the granite shaft and fountain.  A grand parade would top off the day.  Weeks ahead of the event, organizations posted their “marching orders” in preparation.  Every parish, Holy Name Society, Knights of Columbus Council, temperance society, drum & bugle corps, cadet band, fraternal group, parochial school and whatever other group you could think of was invited to the parade.  And those were just the Catholic groups!  Since the Cardinal was quite proud of his Irish heritage and his American patriotism, many of those ethnic and civil groups were invited as well.  The Grand Marshall of the parade invited over 100 men to march with him, all wearing frock coats with gloves and cardinal red sashes. Badges with the Cardinal’s likeness and a red, white, and blue ribbon were distributed to the crowds.  There was discussion about allowing the women of the Catholic League to march.  Some were not opened to the idea, but in the spirit of the event, they were allowed. 
The Cardinal has gone down into history as someone who got his way.  He personified the rise of Irish-American Catholicism.  He never forgot how Boston treated his Irish ancestors.  He was quoted as saying, “The Puritan has passed, the Catholic remains.”  But even the good Cardinal could not control the New England weather.  Even days before the event, the weather was miserable.  A large tent was erected by the canvas-covered bust and fountain.  It rained so hard that there was serious consideration of cancelling the entire parade.  The parade marshal made the decision that the weather was not appropriate for women to march in.  But the crowds could not be disappointed and the parade stepped off.  The Cardinal’s niece from Boston pulled the cord that unveiled the bust.  Speeches were made and then more speeches were made.  His Eminence spoke of home, industry, faith, and peace.  The ceremony closed with the thousands joining in the singing of America.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fratri (Brothers)

The only known portrait of
Fr. Timothy O'Brien
The validity of the story is questionable, but it’s worth the telling.  When Father John O’Brien was assigned to Lowell, he found the fields quite barren.  He arrived at the height of the Irish famine immigration and the community was split quite literally between social and economic groups.  A lesser man would have fled.  When Father John left Ireland, he knew he had an older sibling already working in the US, but the difference in age and distance probably left gaps between the two brothers.  It is told that on a steamer trip to Boston, Father John spent part of the trip with another cleric.  It wasn’t until Father John was at home at St Patrick’s in Lowell and there was a knock upon the door he realized who his traveling companion was- his own older brother, Father Timothy. 
When he arrived in Lowell in 1852, Father Timothy O’Brien probably knew his days were drawing to a close.  He was aged and tired.  He never even was entered in the Diocesan records as a priest serving for Boston.  His brother needed help.  Father John was known for his outgoing personality and strong will.  Father Timothy was the antithesis.  He was often ill, but still carried out his duties and then some.  Father Timothy took it upon himself to travel along the Merrimack River and say Mass for those who could not travel into Lowell on Sundays.  He would take the carriage all the way to Nashua to say Mass in the homes of Catholics and then return to Lowell.  It was Fathers John, Timothy, and Michael who quietly, in the early morning of July 4, 1853, laid the cornerstone for the present St Patrick Church.
The O’Briens knew that education was needed to improve the state of the Irish.  Father Timothy engaged the Sisters of Notre Dame to open a school for the girls of the Acre in 1852.  He promised them a school house and convent.  When they arrived, they had neither.  Being a man of his word, eventually, he gave the money from his own personal account to build the schoolhouse.  Unfortunately, he died before it was completed.
He did more than provide material goods for the Sisters.  He was also their spiritual director.  It was Father Timothy who personally protected the Sisters during the anti-Catholic visits of certain committees who attempted to force their way into the convent and school in 1854 and 1855.  He put himself between the Sisters and the men who were forcing their way into the convent.  The Sisters’ diaries say it was after this event he began his final illness.  In October of 1855 he went to the Sisters chapel for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and exhorted them to remain close to the Blessed Virgin.  A few days later, he was hearing confessions and kept excusing himself.  Finally, he could not return and took to his bed.  Two of the Sisters went to see him to ask his final blessing.
O'Brien monument in 1890
His body lay in state in the church that was only a year old.  Priests from near and far donned their black vestments and took their turns at the altars saying Masses for the deceased while the body lay in repose.  Both the Sisters diaries and local papers spoke of his goodness and how those who attended the funeral openly wept.
His body was carried down the front steps and entombed in the front yard of the church.  Within a year the parish erected a granite monument to his memory.  It would also be the resting place of his bother and nephew, Father John and Father Michael O’Brien.
Note- The present O’Brien monument in front of the church was placed there in the 1950s.  The pastor at that time decided it was not acceptable and had it dismantled.  Parishioners begged him not to do so, but he did not comply.  People begged to bring a piece home; the pastor had it ground into rubble and hauled away.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Passing of Good Father John

In a close-knit community like the Acre, it’s not surprising that the news spread so quickly.  Father John O’Brien was dead.  It was Saturday night October 31, 1874, the day before All Saints Day.  In preparation, the aged Pastor was hearing confessions in the Church since 2 o’clock.  Four hours later, he told the people waiting in line that he would return shortly.  At age 74, he was known for his energy.  He removed the purple stole, kissed it, and left it behind in the confessional.  He made his way to the rectory where he sat down to eat with the other priests.  He reached to his head, said he was ill, and collapsed.  In just 2 minutes he had passed, but not before he was given the last rites of the Church.

People began gathering in front of the rectory not wanting to believe the news.  The shockwaves reached across the City.  The man who led the parish for 26 years was gone.  John O’Brien was able to look beyond the petty grievances that divided the Irish community of Lowell.  He took St Patrick’s from being a small wooden, broken, church to a solid, granite edifice that stood out to the rest of the city.  The image of building a church was more than structural, but spiritual as well.  He was building a community.  The man was not without faults.  He was known for speaking his mind and what could be a gruff exterior.  Still, he was much beloved.
The body was dressed in a black chasuble and place in the front parlor of the rectory.  By Sunday, the crowds filled the streets all wanting a view of the remains.  Members of the O’Connell Literary Society stood guard throughout the wake.  Meanwhile the Sisters of Notre Dame were draping the altar in black crepe.  From each column of the Church hung banners were scripture passages such as, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  The monument in front of the Church, under which were the remains of his brother, Fr. Timothy, was also draped in black.
All clergy members of Lowell’s churches were sent invitations to the funeral.  The procession to the Church began at 9 o’clock and took an hour to get to Suffolk Street.  The St. Patrick’s Coronet band led through the streets and the city and were joined by all the parish societies.  At Merrimack Street they were joined by the city officials.  At 10 o’clock the Office of the Dead was chanted.  Dies iræ! Dies illa.  Solvet sæclum in favilla:  Teste David cum Sibylla!   (The day of wrath, that day.  Will dissolve the world in ashes.  As foretold by David and the sibyl!)
The sanctuary overflowed with Bishops and clergy.  The church was filled to capacity. It spilled out to the church yard and crowded the streets for blocks on end.  The services took over two hours.  Six pall bearers were chosen from the parish list.  The remains were carried down the steps and laid next to those of his brother, together once again.
Knowing that his end was nearing, the man who had planned so many projects throughout his Pastorship, Good Father John, as he was known to his people, foresaw the need to choose his successor.  On the altar that day, along with the other clergy members, was the next Pastor of St. Patrick’s, Fr. Michael O’Brien, his nephew. 
As I write this I realize it has been almost 137 years to the minute that Good Father John died.  Coincidence?  Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fr. John's Medicine - Good for the Whole Family

Tradition has it that Father John O'Brien was taken ill in 1855.  He made his way to the pharmacy of Carleton and Hovey on Merrimack Street to get something for relief.  He was given a tonic that was composed of cod liver oil and had a licorice taste.   Unlike many other medicines of its time, the prescription contained no alcohol.  It worked so well for the priest that he began recommending folks to visit the apothecary and ask for "Father John's Medicine" - a legend was born.
Soon the shop was packaging the medicine for sale.  Father John was given a small stipend for using his name and picture. It was agreed that anyone Father John sent to the shop personally would not have to pay for the medicine.  The pastor was always looking after his flock.
Within 50 years the medicine was known far and wide.  Early literature claimed it worked on "consumption, grip, croup, whooping cough, and other diseases of the throat."  Pamphlets given   to customers stated, "All disease is due to a run-down condition of the body, unhealthy tissue, blood poisoned with impurities, and general weakness."  Guarantees were made by the manufacturer of its restorative powers.  The potion was pedaled in numerous countries.  Pharmacies built huge displays in their windows advertising the product.
The factory building, which still stands on Market Street, was a model of production.    Every process from manufacturing, to bottling, to packaging, to advertising was done in that one spot.  Freight cars pulled in back of the building to ship cartons to parts unknown. A second factory was built in Montreal, Canada.
For many years the company was overseen by the Donehue family.   The generosity of the management to its employees was well known, even so far as keeping workers long past the need to, just so an employee could have a job. In the he 1970s the company was sold.  The building was made  into an elderly housing complex, and the product no longer  made its home in Lowell.  This was not the end of the medicine company.
It is still produced today by the Oakhurst Company in New York, and can be found on drugstore shelves in the local area.   The recipe remains the same except for one ingredient the government said must be included.  The brown-orange bottle with the trusting face of Father John O'Brien has been a sign of assurance to people for over 150 years.  
Our Parish Archives has a nice collection of Fr. John's items donated by Lucien Villandry when the factory closed.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Father John

Little did Father John O'Brien realize when he arrived in Lowell in 1848, the impact that he and those that would follow him would have on the mill city of Lowell, Massachusetts.  Father John was a man of vision.  It was the time of massive Irish immigration with each newcomer seeking employment and a new life.  The good pastor understood the balance that was needed for these people who were caught between two worlds, the need to retain their own identity as Irish men and women, and that of identifying themselves as Americans.  It was during his pastorship that the Irish became an active and prominent factor in Lowell's population.

Father John O'Brien was born in Ballina, County, Tipperary, along the River Shannon. He was trained for the priesthood at Maynooth and came to America after his ordination.  He served in Virginia and Newburyport, MA before coming to Lowell.

His assignment to Lowell was a rather strategic move on the part of Archbishop Fitzpatrick. Lowell had already proven itself a dilemma for the Archbishop.  There had been outbursts of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish demonstrations in the past.  The Irish also fought among themselves within the city which had not helped matters.  A few years previous the Irish population splintered into a second group that founded St. Peter's Church.  To make matters worse the group, which remained at St. Patrick's, split again over the leadership of the current pastor, Father McDermott.  It seemed Father McDermott had let some personal issues get in the way of his leadership.  Trying to take matters into his own hands he caused the breakup of a school agreement that had been made with the City Council.

When Father John O'Brien arrived he found Father McDermott the pastor of St. Mary's, just
two blocks away, and a broken physically and spiritually, St. Patrick's.  His predecessor, Father
Hilary Tucker, had even gone so far as to request a leave of absence from the Bishop spending less than a year at St Patrick’s.  He claimed illness, but recovered miraculously once removed.  Rather than counting on the negatives, Father John focused on the positive factors he had going for him.  Now that many of the dissenters were either at St. Peter's or St. Mary's, the Irish who were coming to St. Patrick's were looking for leadership.  They found that in Father John O'Brien and his older brother who was to join him in 1851, Father Timothy O'Brien. It was through their combined talents that the growing Irish numbers would find identity in Lowell.

Since they were not part of earlier struggles between the Irish factions they could move easily between the circles.  The O'Briens immediately, made their presence known attending functions at St. Peter's and St. Mary's thus ensuring the dominance of St. Patrick's as maintaining the title of "Mother Church" of the Lowell area. Knowing that education was essential to better the living and working conditions, they began by bringing in the Sisters of Notre Dame to open a school for girls in 1852.  They continued this spirit by directing the Sisters to look into health care for the Irish and later opening St. John’s Hospital.

Barely a St. Patrick's Day went by when toasts were not made to the Fathers O'Brien and all the work with which they were credited.  Their job of instilling religious zeal to a group who faced the task of providing for their own immediate needs was not easy.  Their own example served as the best teacher.  Together the O'Briens formed St. Patrick's in the image they had envisioned.   Following the death of Father Timothy, Father John's work had to continue, and he would have a number of years remaining at St. Patrick's before his death in 1879. 

 In front of the church under the granite slab engraved with a Celtic cross lie the remains of three of the Fathers O'Brien.  The parish still lives in their shadow of service and loyalty.  Though the numbers of the community are smaller than they once were, and the buildings do not stretch as far as they once did, St. Patrick's is as much a community devoted to loyalty and service to God and man as it ever was.  In the words of the nineteenth century parish writer, "Ad Majorern Dei Gloriae - To the Greater Glory of God."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cummiskey's Brewery

Charlestown, MA 1820
Needless to say Mary Shaw must have regretted the day the new owner of the brewery, a fellow by the name of Hugh Cummiskey, took over the place from Peter Finegan.  Mr. Finegan had offered his brewery for rent or sale. It had a prime location right across the street from the Navy Yard in Charlestown.  The year was 1822 and a very busy time for Cummiskey.  In April he had struck up a deal with Kirk Boot to supply workers for the widening and deepening canals in Lowell.  About this same time he bought the brewery and began offering, “porter, ale, and table beer of superior quality suitable for either draught or bottling.”  He also offered his customers to leave their orders at the Exchange Coffee House and they, “will be immediately attended to.”   He was a busy guy making his way between Charlestown and Lowell keeping tabs on all his projects. 
Brewery Ad, Boston paper, 1824
Let’s get back to Mary.  She owned a couple of acres directly across the street from the brewery.  She allowed a certain John Corey to dig clay on her property to be used for manufacturing bricks.  That is until Hugh Cummiskey dug a trench that would allow waste water from his beer making business to gather in a pit on the Shaw property.  The offensive discharge, which according to Mrs. Shaw was about 90 barrels a week, would become stagnant and permeate the neighborhood.  It became so bad that the board of health ordered her to fill in the area.  It cost her $83 to have the work done. Mary became the plaintiff in a case against Hugh that went all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.  The jury ordered Hugh to pay $100 to Mrs. Shaw to pay her back for filling in the drainage pit and money lost. 
By 1825 Hugh signed a contract to help level the hills of Boston and do some digging along Causeway Street.  The group of 20 laborers that walked with him to Lowell in 1822 now was part of the growing Paddy Camps of that city, and Hugh was considered a labor and social leader of the group.  He put the brewery up for sale in 1831 and turned his attentions to the place he would call home until his final days.  There, he takes on another task of opening a West Indies Dry Goods Store on Merrimack Street (today a street sign (Cummiskey Alley) still bears his name where the store was) where he sells spirits; that is until he takes the pledge and becomes a temperance man. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fall Tour 2012

What more can you ask for?  Fall in New England.  Great weather.  And best of all folks to share it with.  There were more Lowell historians there than you can shake a stick at.   Walter and Karen Hickey have been essential in much of new research uncovered about Lowell's first Irish.  Mo Comtois has done an amazing amount of work recording Lowell's Civil War past.  Eileen Loucraft has her own blog about Lowell and World War I.  Kim Zinino from the historic board will be leading a tour of Edson next week.  Mike Lally from the Lowell Cemetery joined us as well this year.  It began with the dedication of markers from the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Mercy Drive.  This is a project begun by Donna Reidy to remember those who are interred without benefit of a grave marker. There's potential for a Spring tour of the office side of the cemetery if folks are interested.  Let us know.
Walter and Karen preparing the stones for the tour

Friday, September 28, 2012

CEMETERY TOUR- Sat, October 6

Join us for our Annual Historical Walking Tour
Saturday, October 6th at

St. Patrick Cemetery
1251 Gorham Street, Lowell, MA.

Find out how the first generation of Irish pioneers
lived and died.  The tour is free of charge.

Coffee and refreshments will be provided at 9:30 AM
next to the office area at the main gate entrance.

10:00 A.M.     Hibernian Dedication Ceremony
10:30 A.M.      Historical Walking Tour

Tour goes on rain or shine.
Wear comfortable walking shoes.
Cemetery clean up is Saturday, Sept 29 at 9 am.  Cancelled in case of rain.

"In the Name of Saint Bridget"

Like his ancestors before him, Msgr. William O’Brien was a man with a vision.  A cousin of St Patrick Parish’s previous pastors, Fathers John, Timothy, and Michael O’Brien, he had big ideas.  A native of Nenah, County Tipperary, Msgr. O’Brien, like his ancestors, made frequent trips home.  On one of these trips, he came back with an idea to build a mortuary chapel in Saint Patrick Cemetery.  Not just any chapel, but the best New England had ever seen.  Again, this was not some ordinary chapel, he designed it himself based on a chapel he saw back home in Tipperary.  Dotting the Irish countryside are dozens of these small stone oratories that were the places of prayer for some of the ancient Celtic saints.  He probably based his designs on examples he saw in his own hometown.
He wanted to incorporate the primitive design of an oratory with all the modern technologies of the 1920s.  A primary concern would be the inclusion of a holding area for coffins that needed storage during the winter months when the frozen ground made internments difficult, if not impossible.  Placing the chapel on the slight rise of earth made it ideal for his next idea.  The coffin would be borne into the chapel, and at the end of the committal prayers an elevator would lower it into the receiving chamber below.  From there, cemetery workers could transport the coffin to the appropriate lot. 
The exterior was made of granite with a slate roof.  Large oak doors allowed entrance to the chapel’s interior and could remain open if there was not enough room for priest and mourners inside.  Upon entering, the eye was immediately drawn to the marble altar with a statue of Our Lady of Victory.  The walls too were of white, Carrara marble imported from Italy.  Six stained glass windows, some donated by local undertakers, lined the walls allowing tinted light to dapple the interior.  Msgr. O’Brien saw to it that the Stations of the Cross lined the walls of the interior so the faithful could later visit and pray for the deceased.
The dedication ceremony was set for Memorial Day 1922.  The Cardinal himself, Lowell native William O’Connell and good friend of Msgr. O’Brien, would lead the services.  When the day arrived he visited the grave of his parents and then processed to the chapel.  Thousands attended.  He blessed the chapel and dedicated it to Saint Bridget.  The Cardinal admired the chapel so much he had an almost identical one made for himself and placed in the Chancery grounds.  (The Cardinal’s remains were recently removed with plans for the chapel to be demolished.)
Msgr. O’Brien was sure to include one more detail to his plan.  Unlike his ancestors who all chose to be buried in the front yard of St Patrick’s church, William O’Brien chose to be interred in the chapel which he built.  Little do today’s mourners know that when they enter the chapel, William O’Brien’s remains are located just under the doorway in a niche in the foundation.  Interestingly, O’Brien dies just a year after the completion of the chapel.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Filth & Wretchedness

Barber Print of Lowell, 1839
From its earliest days Lowell intrigued visitors to tour its canals and mills.  There are a number of accounts by visitors, foreign and domestic, who came to see the industrial city being built on the Merrimack River.  They were intrigued to see the “Lowell Experiment” in action.  Many accounts dramatically describe the mill girls working their looms, and the shops and opportunities that drew the girls away from the New England farms to the brick factories.  Most accounts are complimentary and remark how different Lowell is compared to the conditions in places such as Manchester, England.  Lowell was being promoted as a type of utopia where labor and management coexisted in a regulated society.
Not every visitor looked beyond the building boom that was occurring in the 1820s.  While many were brought on tours of the pristine boarding houses and shown the girls standing at their looms; few ventured beyond the town center.  Up to this date, the earliest account of the Acre was an 1831 entry in a copy of the Niles Register.  It probably has been reprinted more than any other  report, and gives an account of the physical description of “New Dublin” by a visitor. 
In the suburbs of Lowell, within a few rods of the canals, is a settlement, called by some, New Dublin, which occupies rather more than an acre of ground.  It contains a population of not far from 500 Irish, who dwell in about 100 cabins, from 7 to 10 feet in height, built of slabs and rough boards; a fire-place made of stone, in one end, topped out with two or three flour barrels or lime casks.  In a central situation, is the school house, built in the same style of the dwelling-houses, turfed up to the eaves with a window in one end, and small holes in two sides for the admission of air and light.  In this room are collected together perhaps 150 children.
I was fortunate to come across an even earlier account, one I believe that has not been published before this date.  Needless to say that I was thrilled to have uncovered it.  It predates the Niles account by 2 years.  This is an important find since there are so few first-hand accounts of the early Irish population.  Once I came across it, I was excited to read what an earlier visitor thought of the Irish at the beginning of their entrance to the town of Lowell.  It was written by someone visiting for the day and touring the mills, but then he made his way into the Acre.  He wrote of the “filth” and “wretchedness” he witnessed in the “Irish village.”  He described the women “with faces indicating the free use of ardent spirits and shrill voices never spoken but to reprimand.”  He concludes that the Irish “are seldom employed,” having “a better reputation for hard drinkers and good fighters.” 
Again, I had never seen this source referenced before.  Initially I thought how awesome that I had come across a new account of the Paddy Camps.  Then I read the full piece.  I was disheartened.  But it speaks volumes about the conditions in which they lived and how the Irish were perceived. 
REMINDER- CEMETERY CLEAN UP DAY, Saturday, September 29 at 9 a.m..  If you have a broom or hand -brush, please bring it along.