Thursday, May 24, 2012

Salve Regina

Grotto at Notre Dame Academy, Lowell
The portress of the Sisters of Notre Dame’s had a bit of a shock when the wagon pulled up and delivered a box taller than she in the entry way of the convent on Adams Street.  It was just at supper time in February of 1895.  As the boarders and Sisters left the refectory the excitement grew with wondering what could be inside the crate.  The label only said “Handle with Care.”  It had to wait until the next morning when a workman with an ax could remove the boards.   The boarding students were the first to see that it was a life-sized statue of Our Lady of Lourdes donated by a former student of the Academy.    The statue remained in the hall of the convent until the following May when an appropriate grotto could be built in the Sisters’ garden.  On that day Reverend Michael O’Brien led a procession of 600 veiled female students along with the Sisters and parishioners in reciting the Litany of the BVM and the rosary.  Father O’Brien granted plenary indulgences to all who made a visit to the shrine and recited the appropriate prayers. 

Again the Journal of the Sisters of Notre Dame provides an insight into parish life over a century ago.  For decades, hundreds of hundreds of families, students, neighborhood families and religious made the pilgrimage to the grotto.  The May Procession had been a tradition for many years before the erection of the grotto.  It was customary for the school children, at first just the girls of the school and later boys and girls once the Sisters’ rule allowed them to teach both sexes, to process through the Sisters’ cloister garden and crown a statue of Mary.  An eighth grade girl was always chosen to crown the statue, it was a major coup to be given the privilege to put on the satin gown and carry the pillow with the flowered crown.  She was preceded by the entire student body along with any new First Communicants that had received that month, the girls in their white dresses and veils, the boys in white suits and ties.  Up until the 1950s, the garden was out of bounds for men except on special occasions, such as the annual Garden Party, Corpus Christi procession, or May Crowning. 

In the back of the school today the outline of the grotto can still be discerned.  It remained standing until the 1960s when I witnessed its razing.  The nuns constantly warned us not to climb on the grotto at recess.  You can predict what happened next.  A fellow student in my class (who will remain nameless, though the nuns I’m sure inscribed his name in some book of the damned) ignored the Sister’s warnings.  Predictably he fell off, and a few stones fell with him.  The structure was deemed unsafe, and the workmen came and tore it down while we looked out the window.  Our nun looked on sadly and reminded us that Mary no longer had a grotto because of our disobedience.  Ahhh,  good old Catholic guilt!  The statue disappeared for about 40 years, and then was returned to the Sisters at the school.  She’s had some cosmetic work done and doesn’t look too bad for her age.  She’s back at St. Pat’s where she was meant to be.

Thanks to Walt’s family we can share a look into those Acre days-
Down Memory Lane #1, ca. 1954

While going through some of my father's photos the other day we came across my second grade class in two processions at St. Patrick's School.  The first, shown below, may be a rehearsal for First Communion.  We are shown walking past the stone wall in the rear of the sisters' chapel enroute to the church.  In the second we are leaving the church.  Dave was unable to identify me as I did not then have a full white beard. 

In the second, we are shown leaving the church.  Visible in the background are the old heavy wooden doors.

These photos show the procession for the “Joyful Mysteries”  in which we as second graders went en masse to church during school. The Sister is Sister Mary Owen, who was our second grade teacher.  In the background of the photo of us leaving the church are the schools and the Sisters' Chapel.  I cannot make out the Mystery written on the pillow of the young lady leading our class, but our group was followed by the Visitation.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Doors Open Lowell

Today was Doors Open Lowell, and it couldn't have been a better day, on a whole lot of levels.  If you haven't been to St. Pat's in awhile you have not seen the giant scaffolding along the Resurrection transept window.  When my helper, daughter Donagh, and I arrived the workmen from Martino Stained Glass Studio in Framingham were setting up for the day.  I don't like heights, but how could I not resist asking if I could climb up.  A little part of me hoped they'd say no.  Hey, do you know how high up it is?  Anyway up I climbed.  The workmen told me how they had to take the entire window out, literally hundreds of pieces.  Each pane had to be cleaned, repaired where needed, re-leaded, and then reinstalled into the frame.  Since I was a kid I'd stare up at that window never imagining I'd be eye to eye with the centurions witnessing the Resurrection of Christ.  The detail is phenomenal.  The shades within each piece are a spectrum of color.  I took dozens of pictures, but my hands were shaking so badly not all came out as I hoped.  The view of the sanctuary from that high up allows for a very different perspective.

The windows were installed in 1906 following the 1904 fire.  The 15 windows tell the story of the Mysteries of the Rosary (Glorious, Joyful, and Sorrowful)  The window at the entrance of the church is St. Patrick Teaching the Chieftains at Tara.  The theme of the mysteries was very popular at the turn of the century.  Each window is hand-painted and leaded.  The design comes from a studio in Belgium (a second entry says the glass was shipped from Munich, Germany).

A second crasftsman on the scaffolding was sanding one of the statues on either side of the window.  In 1906 the Joseph Sibbel Studio, who worked with architect, Patrick Keely, designed the 6 statutes that flank the 3 transept windows.  They represent the 4 evangelists, along with Saints Peter and Paul.  The one statue currently being worked on is being sanded, then repainted in the original colors.  The entire cost for this project came from grants from the DeMoulas Foundation and the Archdiocese.  There are 5 more to go if anyone is interested!

The best part of the day was meeting all the folks who came out to tour or take in a little peace and tranquility that this house of God offers.  Some strolled through the aisles admiring the art.  Some stopped to discuss the architecture and watch the PowerPoint.  A few lit candles.  So many admitted being from Lowell and never had stepped in before.  I love sharing our story with them, and hearing theirs.  Yes, it was a good day.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

News & Notes

Doors Open Lowell- There’s a duck inside St. Patrick Church, and a squirrel too!  How would you like to hear Patrick “sing”?  Do you want to stand where one of the Irish shanties once housed the first generation of our ancestors?  Stop by the church on Saturday, May 19 from 10-12.  We’d like to meet some blog readers and share our story with you.  St. Pat’s is pleased to be part of Doors Open Lowell once again this year.
Irish Need Apply- I keep waiting to hit the Lottery so I could afford to do all that is needed to keep up with requests from folks about researching records and archiving the hundreds and hundreds of pieces of paper, photos, and artifacts that tell the story of the church and the Acre.  Until then, if you have some free time, a laptop, maybe a scanner, and especially the commitment, we sure could use your help in a number of areas.  One area which could connect with Door Open is to catalogue the windows, statues and architecture of the church and its grounds.  About 15 years ago a volunteer took hundreds of photos which since have disappeared when my laptop crashed a few years ago.  It was a wonderful documentation of the architecture and should be done once again.  If you come by and spend awhile with us, take some shots and share them with us.  Or, if you’re interested in cataloging materials drop me a line.  It’s a small but committed group that does this work, and we could do so much more with just a few hours a month of assistance.  There is no pay, but you can earn some Purgatory points.  See my profile for my email.
Big Dig III- Dr Donnelly and his team will be doing their potential final visit to complete the archaeological dig on Fr. McDermott’s shanty.  This could be a big year for a potential find in the area located in the “anomaly” at the shanty site.  It happens during the week of July 14.  Stay tuned for dates and times. 
Civil War Markers- We’re at the stage now where we are beginning paperwork to install markers on Civil War veterans’ graves.  It things proceed smoothly we should have a couple installed for our cemetery tour in the Fall.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Looking in the Attic- The Baltimore Catechism

The Baltimore Catechism, 1885
Ok, here’s a test.  “Who made us?”  If you automatically answered, “God made us,” there’s a 90% chance that you attended a parochial school sometime before 1965.  The Baltimore Catechism was a mandatory text in my years at St. Patrick’s School.  We had to memorize entire tracts of the little blue paperback before our First Holy Communion in second grade and then more Q and As before Confirmation in seventh grade. 
The second grade challenge was a bit overwhelming.  Night after night my parents would ask the same questions expecting a correct response.  How could a seven year old expect to know the difference between a mortal and venial sin?  How many indulgences do you get for an Act of Contrition?    How many types of grace are there?  Then there was the whole thing with angels and cherubim and seraphim?  Are angels boys our girls?  And why doesn’t the Catechism say anything about if pets get to go to heaven?  It was all a mess to me.  My parents questioned if maybe I would be better off being Protestant.  And don’t get me started on the whole Latin thing.  (Even though, if truth be told, I still have entire parts of the Mass memorized in Latin.  I can’t tell you my license plate number, but I can sing Agnus Dei XI in its entirety.)
The Confirmation list went much more smoothly.  Luckily, Sr. Agnes Mary had a daily routine.  She’d open the Catechism and begin asking the questions concerning Confirmation in order going up and down the rows.  Unless someone was absent you’d be ask to answer the same question each day.  What I was most worried about was how hard the Bishop was going to slap me across the face in order to be made a “Soldier of Christ.” 
As I’ve said before, one man’s garbage is another man’s artifact.  One of the prized possessions of the Parish Archives is an 1885 copy of the Baltimore Catechism.  In the 1800s with immigrants all bringing their own brand of Catholicism to the United States, the Bishops wanted a unified code of beliefs.  It took several attempts, but finally in 1885 a Catechism of Christian Doctrine Prepared and Enjoined by Order of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore was published.  What was once headed for the garbage can, is now a piece of our history.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Looking in the Attic- The St. Patrick Parish Calendar

St. Patrick Parish Calendar, April 1900
I’ve written before about our Parish Archives.  One man’s trash is another man’s historic artifact.  Even recently the Archives added some items from a former student of the Boys’ School.  Another donation was made of a book “found” from the 1920s library of Notre Dame Academy.  Each little piece adds to the puzzle.  Often some of the most interesting facts come from these little pieces of ephemera that have been left behind.  Let’s take a look at the Saint Patrick Parish Calendar.

In 1899 the Parish took on the task of printing a monthly calendar.  It contained religious articles on the Catholic faith, the agendas of the many societies and organizations of the schools and parish, and many advertisements from local businesses.  A careful reading of the few remaining issues gives us a little more insight to life in the Acre over a century ago. 

Each of the four issues the Archives possess was given by a different individual.  The first issue marks the anniversary of Fr. Michael O’Brien.  The last issue is a memorial to the now deceased pastor.  The Calendar seems to cease publication after that.

Religious articles tell us a little about Catholicism at the turn of the century.  Articles remind parishioners to bring those rosary beads to church.  The writer reminds them that they should be praying the rosary while the Mass was being said.  Another article reminds readers that Saint Patrick’s was privileged to have a relic of the true cross embedded into the altar stone in the main altar (now located in the lower church).  Another asks readers if they have enough signs of their faith such as crosses and statues in their homes, and that they should be displayed to remind members of the family of prayerful devotions.  Still another reminds men that they should not be standing in the back of the church during Mass waiting to be the first to leave.  The closing of one article asks Mass goers to refrain from discussing the sermon, at least until they are not within hearing distance of the priest.

At this time there were over twenty different societies and organizations that met and carried out their missions at Saint Patrick Church.  There were reading circles for men and women, separate of course.  (Men were reminded to put their cigars away when ladies were present.)  The First Saturday group met monthly as well as the First Friday.  The Sisters of Notre Dame met with married women right after Mass and met with single girls later in the afternoon.  Young girls met with the Sisters later in the week.  The Temperance Society met once a month as well as the young men’s temperance society.   Sunday Masses were at 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10:30 (High Mass with sermon).  Benediction was each Sunday at 2:30.  Priests were on duty 24 hours a day, but parishioners were asked not to send children to summon a priest for a sick call.  When the priest arrived you should meet him with a lighted candle.
Advert Page, St Patrick Parish Calendar, April 1900
Advertisers let us see what was in style and what the neighborhood was into.  There were a number of advertisements having to do with coal and wood.  There appears to be much competition as to who could provide best prices and delivery.   Lowell Gas Light Co. and E. A. Wilson were among them.  You could get your candles, religious treatises and prayer books at McOsker’s on Central Street.  You could go to an afternoon or evening vaudeville performance at the People’s Theater on Dutton Street, always a new show.  Mrs. McCurdy could fit you with a new corset for as little as a dollar.  Mr. Brennan, owner of the Broadway Cash Grocery, had a nice supply of canned goods.  Ever yone knew you should go to Des Jardin’s near the French Church to have your photo taken.  And of course James F. O’Donnell had a full page ad advertising his services as undertaker and selling “funeral supplies.”  Carlton and Hovey, the pharmacists, proudly took out ads selling Father John’s Medicine, proved to cure coughs.  After all, “it cured him.”  And as usual there was Mr. Dempsey selling liquor on Market Street.  And for ice where else would you go but Daniel Gage.

What’s in your attic?