Friday, June 29, 2012

The Boys School at St Patrick Parish, Pt 2

Lowell Sun, 1900
Success can have its drawbacks.  The first year ended with over 400 students in attendance, and more enrolling for the next fall.  At the close of school an exhibition was held at Huntington Hall to demonstrate the work of the Brothers and students.  There were those who publically doubted the success of such a school for boys.  Even the city fathers unexpectedly visited the boys’ school to look at the premises and to test the students.  They left “very impressed.”  The Brothers had to move out of their third floor dormitory in order to make space for more students.  They moved into a house on the corner of Varney and Fletcher Streets.  Older Acre residents recalled seeing the Brothers marching in line through the North Common with their black habits, rosaries hanging at their sides, and cloaks flowing in the winter winds with their hands holding their broad brimmed hats on their way to classes and then home again.
At 12:15, shortly after midnight, on March 9, 1899, Officer James F. Hurley was walking his beat on Suffolk Street.  There was a lot of smoke which wasn’t unusual with all the homes and businesses using word as fuel.  Upon further investigation the smoke was seen coming out of the windows of the Boys School.  He ran to Fire Alarm Box 125 at the corner of Lewis and Market Streets.  By the time the firemen arrived flames were shooting out of the windows of the second floor.  The wide stairways made a perfect avenue for the flames to spread.  On top of that low water pressure made fighting the fire difficult.  The firemen tried using the canal to pump water from, but it was all in vain.  It was a stubborn blaze, causing extensive damage to the building and the fire crews were not recalled until 3:56 A.M, almost four hours after the first alarm.  The cause of the blaze was attributed to a “rats nest in the partition”.
 Within days rumors spread that the school would close.  They were true.  Fr. O'Brien immediately announced the closing of the school.  What was to be done with the students? City officials were notified and at a meeting of Brother Pius, principal of the school, and Superintendent of Schools A.K. Whitcomb, it was agreed that the students would attend the public schools.
The Xaverian Brothers did return about a year later, but with changes.  When the school reopened in September of 1900 there were not enough Brothers to keep the same amount of classes going.  The Sisters of Notre Dame had gotten permission to teach the younger boys in the first four grades in their classroom, separate from the girls of course.  Because of this new arrangement a new entrance was to be made at the rear of the school so as to be accessible from Fenwick Street.  The Boys School became well known throughout the city for their Cadet Band.  The Catholic Young men’s Lyceum (CYML) took up space on the top floor.  The CYML had meetings and offices along with a lending library.  The Brothers moved once again to take up residence on Wilder Street, near Pawtucket, making the trek over a mile each way.  
In 1939, Fr. John F. Meheran, pastor of St. Patrick's announced that with the sale of the school, the parish would spend about $30,000 to provide new quarters for the boys.  In 1939, the boys were moved to some of the classrooms in the former Notre Dame Academy, which had moved to Tyngsboro, closing the aging Boys School and making way for the housing development. Cardinal O’Connell opened up the two Keith schools, one each for males and females.  The number of Brothers could no longer man the Boys School and Keith Academy.  When the school closed many were saddened, but others looked at what had been accomplished.  The Boys School had fostered dozens of dozens of vocations to the Xaverian Order and to the priesthood.  The number of firemen, policemen and politicians also gave credence to the tutelage of the Brothers and their mission of service.
Undated Class Photo, Archives of St Patrick Parish
When the school first opened in 1882, the first principal noted that the Brothers teaching style was to be built “by gentleness, rather than the birch rod.”  Those who attended might have a different story.   Brother Benedict had a trick of dropping a coin near a guilty boy.  When he bent to pick it up would “sweep down the rattan.”  The students of Brother Marcus knew when the teacher closed his book with his finger in it, he was about to tell a parable that could go on and on..  An early written account of the Brothers to their Superior states that the Lowell boys “were the worst of the worst.”  An aged graduate said the Brothers did what they had to do, and he was glad of it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Irish-American Heritage Archaeological Program

This summer will be the third year of the archaeological dig being done at St Patrick's and Tyrone.  This would be a great opportunity to show community support for the work that has been done, and what will be done in the future.  This year 4 archaeologists from Queens University in Belfast will be in Lowell for the week.  What a great chance to hear from them the most recent findings, and to show interest in their work.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Babe and St Patrick's

Lowell historian, Eileen Loucraft, has been part of many of our searches, especially dealing with Civil War veterans.  She has her own blog at Lowell Doughboys (  Many thanks to Eileen for sharing this story. 

There must be a lot more of you out there with your Boys School Stories.  Let's hear from you.

Lowell Sun, Jan 31, 1924
Babe Ruth came to Lowell for the St. Patrick’s School 16th Annual Alumni Banquet on January 30th 1924. Why did he come? Because Brother Herman and Brother Gilbert asked him to!

Brother Herman and Brother Gilbert were also teachers at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boy’s in Baltimore, MD. Babe Ruth turned out to be their most famous student. A product of an Xaverian education just like the boys of St. Patrick’s.

From the Lowell Sun, January 31,1924

“Big Reception to “Babe” Ruth

To the accompaniment of vociferous applause, "Babe" Ruth was next introduced. From all appearances, this home run artist is a champion social hub as well a diamond celebrity. In characteristic vein, he said he had been present at 17 functions during the past week and was pretty well tired out.

He spoke of his associations with Bros. Clarence, Herman, Peter and Aquinas at St. Mary's Industrial school in Baltimore, which he attended 22 years ago and where he leaned the fundamentals of the national pastime of Bro. Herman, now stationed at St. Patrick's here. "I regret to say," said the Babe, "that I have succeeded in becoming a better player than Bro. Herman." I remember distinctly when Bro. Herman and I banged balls round the lot at St. Mary's. By the way, I never understood why they called that an industrial school, but anyway, 16 or 17 years ago, we played together. He showed me a lot of stuff, not only in baseball, but in football, too. O, yes, we used to play the rugby game. On a rocky field, too. I recall being knocked “cold” in a scrimmage once.”

Ruth then recounted several experiences at St. Mary’s. He went there 22 years ago next month, he said. Though it was hard at first, but he learned its value in later years. “I had my own ideas when I was a kid,” he added. “I never smoked a cigarette until I was 19 years old. I went direct from school to baseball, joining the Baltimore club with Ben Egan and Ernie Shore. Our first jump was to North Carolina and I was at a loss to know how we would sleep on the train. I had never heard of a sleeping car.”

The Babe in concluding, gave some good advice, asking the men to encourage baseball among the younger talent and to give them an example of clean living. He was accorded a wonderful demonstration as he left the hall to keep another engagement with the Knights of Columbus. Outside the building his progress to his waiting automobile was barricaded with groups of kids anxious to get just one look at the man they had read so much about. As his machine sped away, youthful throats shouted an envious "Good-bye, Babe," and he was gone.”

 Brother Herman also claimed that the Babe took his name for his confirmation name. Brother Herman taught 7th grade at St. Patrick’s. He died in 1956.

 Brother Gilbert discovered Ruth at St. Mary’s School. He is credited with getting him signed with the Orioles. He was also a teacher at Keith Academy in Lowell. He died in 1947 and his funeral was at St. Peter’s on Gorham Street. His memoirs were published in 1999 and are available on amazon.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Boys School at St. Patrick's Lowell

You wonder sometimes if the fates are driving this blog. Walter and I spoke briefly of the Boys School and then this weekend we both found that we had each written hisitories. We merged the two documents and came up with the following. We really would appreciate hearing from you. Share your thoughts and memories. 

St. Patrick Boys School, Suffolk Street
On October 19, 1939, St. Patrick' Boys School on Suffolk street was sold by the Archdiocese of Boston to the Lowell Housing Authority.  The land was wanted in order to enlarge the scope of the North Common Village housing project, thus ended a nearly 60 year parochial institution.
Michael O’Brien had a plan.  The pastor of Saint Patrick Parish always had a plan.  He was from a family of planners.  Like his uncles before him, Fathers John and Timothy O’Brien, they were men of vision and took their role of shepherds of the flock seriously.   Father Michael, as his congregation called him, saw the fruits of his predecessors’ labors.  Father Timothy had recruited the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to open a school for girls in 1852.  Now there was not only a school and an academy, but a convent, chapel, and gardens as well.  That let the boys of the Acre to attend the public school (for those who did), or to roam the streets, or for others to somehow get themselves into the mills.  But that little worm began crawling inside Fr. Michael’s head and it wouldn’t stop until the time was right.
Brother Alexius sat at his desk in Baltimore, he couldn’t take much more.  The letters were coming one after another.  Not only was Fr. Michael O’Brien writing to the Xaverian Brother, but he was also receiving letters from others on Fr. Michael’s behalf.  They were all urging the Brother to open a school for boys in Lowell.  Brother Alexius finally gave in.   He agreed to send 4 Brothers to open a school to begin in September of 1882.
Class Photo, Date unknown, Property Archives of St Patrick Parish
The old St Mary’s church on Suffolk Street had been empty for years.  It had formerly been built as a Methodist church, but was purchased by Fr. James McDermott in 1847 and consecrated on March 17.  Following the death of its pastor, Fr. James McDermott in 1862, it remained vacant just ready to be part of Fr. Michael’s plan.  Yes, it would make a fine school house.  What used to be the basement of the church now had a proper reception hall, dining hall, kitchen (both of these “being models of neatness”), and water-closets.  The second floor had the students’ classrooms, two students sat at each desk sharing one ink bottle.  The third floor had the Brothers’ dormitory, study, and chapel.  The curriculum would be based on commercial studies; including bookkeeping (single and double entry) algebra and geometry.  The entire course of studies would take perhaps seven years.  The intent was to have grammar and high school students, excluding the primary grades.
Opening day began with the Mass of the Holy Ghost.  The principal, Brother Joseph, and his three companions stood ready as the boys lined up outside the school, all 348 of them!  He immediately telegraphed to Baltimore to send help.  This was a most auspicious beginning and all went as expected for a number of years.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Scab on the Common

Postcard 1900s: The South Common
By 1845 the sprawling red brick mill complexes that were making Lowell an international industrial city were overtaking much of what used to be wide open spaces.  The city fathers recognized the need for green space and thus the idea began to build the North and South Commons.  When one drives down Thorndike Street today and looks over to the rolling green lawns and winding paths, the park’s rocky past is hard to imagine.
Our story begins with Patrick Manice, a native of County Fermanagh born about the year 1799.  He arrived in Lowell about 1829 and took on jobs as a laborer and a fisherman.  At one point he bought a plot of land from the Corporation.  Little did he know what he was getting himself into.  He built a house on the property which would eventually become part of the South Common, where he lived with his wife, Ellen, and his son, Patrick.  In the early 20th century stones from the house’s foundation were still visible.  He must have been doing quite well in his labors as he listed $8,000 in real estate holdings in 1850.  We also get a glimpse into his personality by a couple of other details that arose.  At one point he is fined for striking a woman, no other facts survive about the how or why.  We also know he owned other property around the city since there was a roof fire on property he owned in the Acre.
One story exists that when the “Angel Gabriel,” the evangelist John Orr, who spread his doctrine of hate against foreigners and Catholics, visited Lowell in 1854. Patrick Manice played a role in his visit.  Orr would arrive with a tin trumpet and get crowds riled up with his inflammatory remarks.  It is said when Orr gathered his crowd on the South Common he stood on a fish barrel so the crowds could hear him.  As Orr was preaching the fish barrel was pushed over and the Angel Gabriel fell.  Rumor had it that Manice happened to help the barrel on its way. Another report claims that 1 year later Know-Nothings burnt down his barn.  Knowing this much about our subject makes the next incident even more believable. 
Manice family stone, Yard 3,
St Patrick Cemetery
Manice purchased a small plot of land from the Locks and Canals in 1839 for $660.  He erected his home and moved in with his family.  When news began to spread about the city wanting to buy land to make the commons, some lot owners started speculating about how much profit they could make from the city.  Manice was one of them.  The city bought up all the land around him.  Still he would not sell.  It got to the point where the city built a stockade around Manice’s property and the only way the family was fed was by the generosity of friends passing food through the slats of the fence.  The Courier referred to him as “the scab on the common.”  The disputed property was called “Manice’s Spite.”  Some say this “occupation” went on for 10 years!  Finally, in 1856 the city and Manice settled on the terms of $3,500 for his land.
The family moved nearby to Middlesex Street.  Patrick died in 1859 and is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery where his large marble obelisk is inscribed with-
“Verses on Graves are Vainly Spent.  Their Best Deeds Are Their Monuments.”
Credit must be given to Walter Hickey and the late Ed Harley for early research on Patrick Manice.

Friday, June 8, 2012


O'Dwyer's Irish Catholic
Genesis of Lowell

Some guys golf.  Some guys watch football.  When I want to relax I research.  If I’ve got a few hours free, I might head to the library and scroll through some microfilm and old newspapers.  Because this is 2012, technology has opened up so many new venues. I now can do a great deal of research from my living room chair.   I think of myself as a CSI investigator.  I take out my flashlight and spyglass and begin the search for clues.  Though some may think this to be a strange pastime, I assure you there are many of us out there.  Friends who know of my secret life often share their findings.  Thus, over the decades I’ve amassed quite a collection of articles dealing with Lowell’s early Irish past.  This has gone on so long that sometimes when I find a new little gem I rush home to add it to the collection only to find I already have a copy of it.  (I shouldn’t admit this, but some of my photocopies are so old they are the old reverse negatives where the paper is black and the print is white.)
I feel fortunate to be in this time where new research about those early pioneers is reshaping the story of Lowell’s past.  I recall being a Park Ranger and giving tours of the Acre.  When I give that same tour today, the story has been reformed and reshaped to current facts.  The best part is that the story continues today. 
Much of what we think we know about the early Irish comes from period writings such as the Old Residents Historical Association, which is the forerunner of the Lowell Historical Society.  Most often these are prominent 19th century businessmen recalling aspects of their youth.  While much can be gleaned from the reminiscences, we get only the Yankee perspective.  There are very limited accounts of Lowell Irish writing their memories, but most often these are 2nd and 3rd generations.  Of course there was George O’Dwyer’s work, The Irish catholic Genesis of Lowell, written about 1920.  Thanks to O’Dwyer he went around collecting oral histories from some older Irish residents and their progeny.  In the 1980s was Brian Mitchell’s work, The Paddy Camps, which renewed interest of Lowell-Irish history.
Most recently we’ve had the expertise of the archaeological team from Queens University Belfast.   By collecting artifacts right from the early Irish camps, those early Irish are able to retell their own story.  Added to this Walter Hickey has devoted countless hours into researching the original records from archival sources.  Again, using these primary source documents takes away the “we think” and “maybe” statements that had to be used when discussing Lowell’s Irish past.  The work that is being done at the cemetery by recording data off the slate stones is yet another source.
With the third archaeological dig taking place at St Patrick’s this summer (July) and the subsequent investigation back in Tyrone at the Cummiskey homestead, one wonder what the next chapter in Lowell’s Irish past will tell.  It is time to collect these finds into some permanent status for those who will follow after us.
The following is the earliest mention of the Irish in Lowell to date.  It was recorded in the Chelmsford Phoenix, one of the areas earliest newspapers. 
Chelmsford Phoenix, December 16, 1825
RIOTOUS- On Saturday night a cry of murder was heard in a house in the part of Broad-street, occupied by Irish emigrants, when two watchmen proceeded to the spot to ascertain the cause.  As one of them entered the House, he was struck upon the head with an axe and badly wounded. An Irishman, we learn has been committed for examination, suspected of giving the blow.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Looking Over the Convent Wall

The Annals of the Sisters of Notre Dame- Lowell  , MA
December 1, 1879           

About this time was purchased a lot of land from a certain John Hennessy for $4,000, and the buildings having been moved in the Spring of 1880, and the ground cleared, a brick wall was built on Adams street extending 123 ft in length.

This is the first mention of the brick wall that surrounded the school, academy, convent, chapel and grounds of the Sisters.  One of the next entries in the Annals tells that the Sisters had to sell off their cows and poultry and to close the gardens which grew some of their food.  The Rule of the SNDs was changing.  The Sisters who once freely mixed with parishioners and often visited homes as nurses were now to be semi-cloistered.  The wall was extended along the Suffolk Street side as well and the vegetable gardens were transformed into formal gardens.  The greatest section of the wall was brick with a granite capstone.  Looking at the eastern wall of St Patrick Church a large outline of a doorway exists today.  Though many recall it as a way to get from the school to the church, originally it was where the Sisters would sit to observe the Mass.  The Order mandated that the Sisters were no longer to assist at Mass sitting with the congregation and to remain within the cloister.  The Sister who wrote the annals during this period put in that this was a sad time for both the Sisters and parishioners.  The inclusion of such personal feelings was highly unusual and shows the close ties the two groups must have enjoyed.   The convent wall was a source of intrigue for many neighborhood children who would devise means on finding their way in and mention is made of neighbors hearing the nuns chanting the Divine Office or the Tantum Ergo on Sunday afternoons.  Even William Cardinal O’Connell mentions that he would make his way over to the Acre and scale the wall with his friends to see the Sisters walking in the flower gardens and grotto.

When the old school was demolished and the new school built in 1958 most of the wall was taken down with it.  The Sisters moved to the Academy grounds at Tyngsboro and made the daily trek by car.  The wall no longer served its purpose.  A small section remained in front of the current school along with several granite capstones strewn along the fence near the housing.  By the 1980s the wall was becoming a hazard.  Bricks were falling out.  The mortar was deteriorating making the wall a potential hazard.  I was there the day they took it down, pleading that maybe a small section could be retained.  As the workmen left I stole a single brick, the only relic to tell the story.  If walls could speak……..