Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Celebrating 30 Years of Irish Culture - March, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Parade, Lowell, 1903
The St Patrick’s Day parade of 1903 would be one that would go down in history.  Thousands lined the parade route.  Every man, woman, and child, wore a green ribbon or sprig of shamrocks.  In this city of textiles, days before the parade, it was near impossible to buy any type of green trim.  Storefronts and homes festooned windows and doorways with green crepe.  There were so many marchers it was difficult to count; someone said it approached 2000.  Every marching band practiced their rendition of McNamara’s Band.  The Mathew Temperance Society, the AOH, the St Patrick’s Cadet band, Holy Name Society, St Vincent de Paul Society, CYML, you name it, they all marched.  Before the parade even began, the strains of “Hail Glorious Apostle” could be heard in every Catholic church in the city.  (By the way, even the French churches marched.)  Saint Patrick’s was filled to the point of standing room only.  Following the parade families and friends gathered to share a meal and toast the heroes and saints of the auld sod.
That was over 100 years ago.  The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration recorded in Lowell was in 1833.  The tradition carries on to this day.  For the past 30 years the Irish Cultural Committee of Saint Patrick Parish has carried on the proud tradition of celebrating the Saint’s day.  They have presented hundreds of cultural and social events while preserving our common past.  Any profit goes directly to support St. Patrick’s Church and its mission to serve. 
President John F. Kennedy once said, “We celebrate the past, to awaken the future.” The members of the Irish Cultural Committee recognize that as we celebrate our past, we are ensuring that the deeds of those who have gone before us will not be forgotten. It is our responsibility to tell of their struggles, to share their love of life, and the faith they held on to, so that we can recognize and celebrate the diversity the Creator has given to us all.
We extend a warm and heartfelt invitation to come share in any of the events that we present this year.  Let us gather together as our ancestors did to honor our past, otherwise what will be our future?
The Irish Cultural Committee’s Facebook page has all the information you need.  Or just drop a line and we’ll email a calendar of events.    Please share this post with folks who may be interested.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Nunnery Under the Church – 1837

St Patrick Church, 1831
Rumors grow wings.  They take on lives of their own.  The hatred that grew into the Ursuline Convent fire in 1834 was not the end of anti-Catholic feelings as people had hoped. Bishop Fenwick walked a fine line between protecting his flock and maintaining a relationship with the Boston Brahmins.  The Boston papers of the 1830s claimed that 600 priests were being sent over from Europe to spread Catholicism.  That may have seemed unlikely to some people, but the stories of Maria Monk and Samuel Smith, well they had to be true.  Didn’t they?  Everyone knew of the atrocities that Maria recounted of her life in a Quebec convent.  Her book was a best seller of the day.  Samuel Smith, a rogue priest, wrote a number of books revealing the truths of popery and how the Vatican was planning its takeover of the Americas; the most famous was entitled The Downfall of Babylon.  The American Revolution had only been over for 50 years and the fears of being taken over by a foreign power were still very much alive.  Bookstores took out ads publicizing the myriad of novels and pamphlets that described scenes of the Inquisition and plots to overthrow the government by Catholics.   Others questioned why the government would allow Europe’s poor and uneducated to be part of the political process.  Elections took on some questionable campaigning where candidates would accuse their opponents of aligning themselves with the Popish Irish.  A hint of such could cost a candidate the election.

Lowell Advertiser, 1837
The Lowell newspapers were ripe with such controversies.  The Lowell Patriot said, “The Pope sends foreign paupers here to out vote us, foreign chains to bind us, and foreign gold to rear the hideous walls of Convents and Monasteries in the midst of us.  The Inquisition is not far off.”  One of the most heated was an accusation that the Lowell Catholics had built a secret nunnery under the Catholic Church (St. Patrick’s).  The truth of the story was that the basement of St. Patrick’s had been outfitted as a classroom for Irish children funded by the Lowell school committee.  The rumors flew all the way to New York and Philadelphia.  Some thought that Lowell was becoming “too “Popish.”  Papers accused each other of “fanning the flames of discord.”  The voice of reason could be heard for those who listened.  “We are ready to vindicate for them as fellow citizens,” quoted one paper.   Another thought such remarks “an insult to our Constitution and laws.”  But the hatred grew.

Addendum: Super Sleuth, Walter, had this to add to our story-

More on that “nunnery” of 1836

The New York postmaster, and other anti-Catholic bigots, could not have been more wrong!

The Lowell School Committee had appointed a committee of one, the Rev. Lemuel Porter*, to investigate the possibility of establishing a classroom under the Catholic Church.
His Report to the Committee on 25 July, 1836 read:
The Committee chosen to engage a room under the Catholic Church as a school room – to take a lease of the same for five years – and to furnish the same for a primary school at an expense not exceeding with the rent $300, begs leave to report that he has agreed with Rev. Mr. McCool the Catholic Priest and agent for the House, to give him the sum of $150 and a suitable stove on condition that he cause a room under he Catholic Church to be fitted up for a primary school and furnished with seats to the satisfaction of the School Committee and provided he guarantee the use of said room to the City of Lowell for five years free of rent.
s/Lemuel Porter
Voted: that this board ratify the contract made by Rev. Mr. Porter for a room under the Catholic Church as reported by him July 25, 1836 and that he be instructed to carry its provisions into effect.
Source: Lowell School Minutes, 1836

* Lemuel Porter was the minister of the Second Baptist Church, Corner of Lowell and Suffolk Streets.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Saint Peter's Rising

St. Peter's Church
Lowell City Directory, 1858
The Irish of Chapel Hill were about to have their dream come true.  For years they had to make the trek from the area around Central Street over to the Acre each and every Sunday for Mass, holydays of obligation, parish missions, funerals, weddings, etc..  This other Irish neighborhood had grown and evolved with its own shops, tradesmen, and overcrowded tenements, much as the Paddy Camps had.  The Bishop had finally heard their appeals; the new church would be built.
The day following the Bishop’s call to male parishioners of St Patrick’s for another Catholic church to be built was a busy one.  The Bishop hired a carriage, since the weather had cooled considerably, to look at a plot of land at the corner of Gorham and Appleton Streets that had been recommended to him, land that belonged to the Hamilton Corporation.  He was determined the 10,000 sq. ft. would be a perfect fit for his needs.
The Bishop spent a second night in Lowell.  He was invited by Samuel Lawrence for a carriage ride around the City.  He was amazed at the growth Lowell was going through and toured the outskirts that were lined with walls of fieldstone and waves of growing corn.  Upon his immediate return he sent Fr. Conway, St Patrick’s curate, to procure the land he viewed the previous day.  His anticipation was evident by ordering Fr. Conway to make three trips that day to meet the agent for the Corporation who could complete the sale; on each he found the agent was not present.
Two days after the Bishop returned to Boston, Fr. Conway sent a message.  The land was theirs.  The negotiated price was 40 cents a square foot; final cost was $2,000.  A building committee, made up of Owen Donohoe, John McNulty, Hugh Monahan, Hugh Cummiskey and Charles M. Short, began the work of gathering funds and support.  It appears the Fr. McDermott, pastor of St. Patrick’s was not happy with the events.  He did not believe a second church was necessary even though overcrowding was obvious.  Perhaps he was afraid of his collections falling off, or maybe it was his ego.  McDermott enjoyed the influence he had at St. Pat’s and the addition of another church might take away from that.  He voiced his opinion to the Bishop, and a group of concerned parishioners from St Pat’s even visited the Bishop to threaten consequences if the building proceeded.  The Bishop had had to deal with many problems with the growing Diocese of Boston.  McDermott was only one of them.  The Germans community of Boston was also making threats about their parish leadership.
Mr. Hall was hired as the architect, who drew plans for a brick church 90 feet long and 60 feet wide with a basement and belfry.  Ground was broken in September of 1841.  The final cost of the church would be $22,000.  The Bishop made several visits watching the progress and noted in his diary that the walls were finally up.  The Irish of Chapel Hill had their first service on Christmas day of 1842.  Having no organ the parishioners formed their own orchestra.  Newspapers noted how brightly illuminated the sanctuary was with all the “green festoons.”  The church would not be completed for another year.  The Irish Benevolent Society threw its support, financial and otherwise, over to St. Peter’s and Fr. Conway.  The former curate of St. Pat’s had long ago “severed” his relationship with Fr. McDermott.  This was evidenced by several visits of Fr. Conway to the Bishop “reporting bad news.”  The formal dedication of St. Peter’s would not take place until September of 1843.  At that time pews were being auctioned with prices as high as $192 and some even higher.  It was clear St. Peter’s would soon rival St. Pat’s. 
Shortly, the offertory collections became far greater than that of St. Pat’s as well as the number of weddings and baptisms performed.    When the Bishop visited Lowell, he often stayed at St. Peter’s.  Father McDermott’s star began to fall quickly.

NOTE: Ryan Owen over at ForgottenNewEngland has the next part of Saint Peter's story, the building of the Patrick Keely structure in 1892.    Have  a look.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Growing Pains: the "other" Catholic Church

Detail fr. Acre scene
If the good Lord meant for the Sabbath to be a day of rest, the Irish of the Chapel Hill area may not have agreed.  Being Irish and being Catholic meant only one thing on any given Sunday morning, walking almost two miles and back to attend Mass over at St. Patrick’s Church.    And if you were a really good Catholic you went back in the afternoon for Benediction and Vespers.   When the St. Patrick’s opened in 1831 conditions were already crowded.  Extensions were built onto the church a few years later, but with the growing numbers of Irish entering the city even that was not enough.
In July of 1841 Bishop Fenwick came to St Patrick’s to confirm 60 young men and women.  The church was overcrowded, and before the end of the ceremony he asked the parishioners to consider building a new church.  At the close of the afternoon service he stayed to discuss the proposition with interested parties.  The excessive heat of the day did not deter the crowd.  Forty-two men rose immediately and each promised $100, which would be applied to purchasing their pew once the new church was built.  That night $5,400 was pledged.    Yet, not everything was kosher.
Bishop Fenwick
There’s something odd about the Bishop’s story.  He says the crowds gave him the idea for a new church, but the next day finds him in a carriage scouting out a piece of land he had his eyes on.  He appointed the curate of St. Pat’s, Father Conway, to purchase the plot as soon as possible.  One wonders if something else was going on here.  Did the Bishop know about the land beforehand?  Why was the curate put in charge of the purchase, and not the pastor of St. Patrick’s, Fr. McDermott?  There were rumors, lots of them.  Not everyone liked the good pastor.  There were certain financially, solvent men who wanted a split.  Many of the men who stood that day to support the Bishop had homes in the Acre.  Why would they pay for a new church?  The Bishop’s notes tell of a number of visits of Fr. Conway to the Bishop’s residence.  Why?  Then there was the visit by a number of the St. Pat’s congregation to air their “grievances” about the new church being built, and that they would “retard as much as possible the progress.”  The Bishop “remonstrated” against the unnecessary noise” and dismissed them.
The church would be built.  (More to follow next week.)