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.

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