Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Shepherd of the Flock was Born from the Carmina Gadelica

Fr. guyradcliff.com
In the mid-nineteenth century, Alexander Carmichael went about the far regions of Scotland collecting ancient blessings, prayers, and poems of some of the last Celtic speakers in the area.  He published Carmina Gadelica in 1900.  Some are so old their source  is unknown and may go back to pagan times.  To read more from the collection visit: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cg1/



That night the star shone
Was born the Shepherd of the Flock,
Of the Virgin of the hundred charms;
     The Mary Mother.

The Trinity eternal by her side,
In the manger cold and lowly.
Come and give tithes of thy means
     To the Healing Man.

The foam-white breastling beloved,
Without one home in the world,
The tender holy Babe forth driven,

Ye three angels of power,
Come ye, come ye down;
To the Christ of the people
     Give ye salutation.

Kiss ye His hands,
Dry ye His feet
With the hair of your heads;
And O! Thou world-pervading God,
And Ye, Jesu, Michael, Mary,
     Do not Ye forsake us.

Friday, December 16, 2016

An Acre Memory - Christmas

My sister, Donna, and me. 1950 something
The weeks before Christmas the record player droned out the tunes of the season.  We had a pile of 45’s that we played over and over.  You could stack about 5 records on top of each other and each would drop down onto the player.  The needle arm would move over and play the tune.  I mostly recall the Harry Simone Chorale’s rendition of the new hit, “The Little Drummer Boy.”  My mother loved that tune and when it came on the radio she would reach over and turn up the volume.  There was always Bing Crosby’s I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, Perry Comeau’s Do You See what I See?, and other songs and hymn whose singers mostly dating from the 1940s.

My parents explained that Christmas was much different when they were young growing up in the Lowell of the 1920s.  My father said he remembered very little except the deep snows of the seasons and actually seeing horse drawn sleighs still in use on Broadway Street.  Ice skating on the Merrimack River was something every Acre kid looked forward to.  When he was young there was an annual package delivered from Scotland.  It was something his parents always looked forward to.  Inside were tins of shortbread and oatcakes.  He also remembered letters from cousins in Glasgow who asked for money to be sent home and requests for sponsorship so they could come to America.  He also recalled the throngs at Midnight Mass and how people would keep warm for the long walk to church by having a few drinks on their way.  My mother’s memories were more clear.  Gifts were usually very limited.  A scarf or hat.  A small bisque doll.  They used their own stocking to hang for Santa to fill.  In it were wrapped candies, nuts, along with oranges and coins.  A thing like an orange was very precious in this time.  She kept that tradition up with my sister and me.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out reading in a history book that since the earliest days Canadian children were given fruits and coins to wish them health and wealth in the New Year.  Their tree was never decorated until Christmas Eve and often was set up by her parents after all 13 children had gone to bed.  Midnight Mass for my mother was at St. Jean Baptiste Church on Merrimack Street.  A behemoth of an edifice it had a triple choir loft that reached to the very rafters of the church.   She recalled the thrill of being so high up in the church and singing the hymn Minuit Chretiens (O Holy Night).  Minuit Chrétiens c'est l'heure solennelle; Où l'homme Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous. Pour effacer la tache originelle; Et de son père arrêter le courroux.  Right into her final years at some point in the season she would break into song, you could see her eyes fill as she returned to the joys of her youth. 

One year we awoke to a scene directly out of a Hallmark card.  Overnight we were blanketed in more than a foot of snow.  Nothing was moving on the streets.  At dinner time I had to make my way down Walker Street to my grandparent’s house to deliver their meal.  In the freezing cold my mother warned me to hurry not so I wouldn’t get frostbite, but so that the meal could remain hot by the time I got there.  The mince pie!  Don’t drop the pie.  My grandmother met me at the door and sure enough the pie was the first thing she checked on.  Memere always had a sweet tooth.  My mother would often catch her sneaking a brown paper bag home from the store which must have contained black and whites or maybe even a napoleon or a bismark.  My mother would get on the phone and let my grandmother know she was caught red handed.

What was a perfect day was ruined when my mother announced that in the subfreezing Arctic cold snow laden blizzard we had to go to Mass.  She knew there was a 5:30 Mass and it was a holyday of obligation which meant the fires of hell were promised to us who committed a mortal sin.  The church was over a mile away.  We bundled up for the long track.  The four of us hit the streets.  They were still covered in white.  The lights of the candles in people’s windows reflected in the snow piles in front of people’s houses.  I swear that not even one car passed us on the road during our journey.  Looking in windows you could see families celebrating and sharing the joy of the day.  We walked down the middle of the street in the dark since most people hadn’t gotten a chance to shovel yet.  Even Cukoo O’Connell’s bar on the corner of School and Broadway was closed up.  Probably the only day of the year it was.  I imagined the street light turning from green to red were that way to celebrate the season.  Don’t stop.  Keep going.  It’s Christmas.  Just as the last of my energy and heat escaped my body we reached the church.  My Dad grabbed the metal handle of the massive green wooden door.  Locked!  Locked?  Locked!!!  The four figures turned around.  No one said a word.  Maybe it was the sacredness of the moment or the fear of catching my mother’s wrath.  We walked home.  I felt the cold night through my black rubber boots with the dozen impossible buckles.  My thoughts now are of the drum set waiting for me in the good room and the candy cane that hangs on the tree that’s ready to be eaten.  I look up.  There is my father looking up Broadway Street.  He’s on my left.  Next to me is my sister with her white rabbit fur muff to keep her hands warmed, probably thinking of attacking those same candy canes.  On the far right was my mother with her fur lined black boots.  Hat on her head as every good church going lady had at that time.  She was probably saying her prayers for missing Mass knowing that dragging her family out on this special night was the right thing to do.  The crunch of the new fallen snow the only sound to be heard.

It is like a photo in my mind.  The four of us making our way home.  We’re on Broadway Street right at the gate house over the canal.  In the distance I see the candles in the windows of our apartment.  Frost is making its mark on the glass panes, and if I squint the orange glow almost makes the electric candles look like stars.  The street lights cast our shadows before us.  I can see it now.  I am right there.  Our little family was together and we were going home.  In my head I hear,
Silent Night, Holy Night,  All is calm, All is bright.

A little Christmas challenge- where is your Christmas photo from your childhood?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Make a Joyful Noise- the organ at St. Patrick's

1906 Woodbury organ at St. Pat's
Music has always been at the core of Catholic worship.  Hey, even the Bible tells us “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”  That joyful noise is often associated with the organ.  In the 1830s Bishop Fenwick of Boston wrote in his diary that 2/3 of Catholic churches had little or no singing, just the sound of the organ.  He even complained that one immigrant church in Lowell (guess who) had what he considered “bad” singing. (One historian actually says it was not the Irish immigrants’ fault since they had been forbidden to openly worship in their homeland, and thus never had much practice in communal singing.)  To help the situation, the Bishop, an amateur singer and musician himself, wrote a book of songs with lyrics to be used in the Diocese of Boston.  (We weren’t big enough to be an Archdiocese yet.)  Our parish archives actually hold an original 1830s copy of Fenwick’s work.

At St. Patrick’s we know that the original wooden church of 1831 had an organ. It was a second hand organ purchased from a Protestant church and was made by local musician Ebenezer Goodrich.  In his year’s accounting of church expenses in 1840, Father James McDermott paid the church organist $40 for his services.  Fr. McDermott bought another organ in 1847 for the cost of $1400.  That one was made by George Stevens.  It had 22 registers (or stops) which refers to the pipes that produce the notes.  Ever hear of “pulling out all the stops?”  There you go.  It means to give it all you’ve got. 
When the present church was opened, a grand building such as it is, it needed a grander organ.  The E. & G. G. Hook organ installed in 1859 cost $3000, quite a sum for the time, and had 33 stops.  There is a possibility this organ was powered by water to pump the bellows.  The organ was in place right up to the fire in 1904 when it was destroyed.  Some pipes were salvaged and put into a Chelmsford church.  The organist at the time, Professor Johnson, actually entered the church during the fire to save some church music. 

When the church was rededicated in 1906, the organ that was installed was considered one of the finest in New England, with no exaggeration.  It is called a divided organ with the pipes being separated on each side to make a clear view of the grand stained glass window of St. Patrick preaching to the Chieftains at Tara.  A February 1904 entry in the Lowell Sun described its installation.  The Jesse Woodbury Company of Boston designed the organ to fit exactly in this space.  The organ is of 4 parts; the choir organ with 11 stops, the pedal with 10 stops, the great with 11, and the swell with 15.  A special addition was a sanctuary organ that was installed that was connected to the grand organ in the choir loft.  Viewing from the floor, the organ’s pipes reach almost to the ceiling.  What most people don’t recognize is that the grand round, gold-painted pipes they see are fake.  The sound actually comes from the pipes behind those.

Taste in music has changed greatly over the decades.  Many of my generation recall organist Charlie McGrail blasting out Holy God We Praise Thy Name.  As soon as the priest intoned “Ite missa est.” (Go the Mass is ended) and the congregation responded, “Deo gratias.”  (Thanks be to God.), Mr. McGrail would blast the life out of the organ with a grand recessional.  You could feel the vibrations of deep tones hitting you as you left church.  Today, the organ is not in condition to be played, but not for long.  Father Crahen continues with his undaunting efforts to restore the church to its original beauty.  Now that the interior painting, mural restoration, window re-leading, and other repairs have been completed or in stages thereof, the organ is the next task.  The pipes are filled with dust and debris.  Each of the dozens of pipes is labeled with its particular note and needs to be removed and cleaned and then artfully replaced.  The massive bellows, which pump air into the pipes, have dried out and need to be replaced. 

Many were filled with emotion at the school’s recent reunion when they saw Fr. Charles McGrail, former organist, now priest, celebrating Mass.  Fr. McGrail spent many years at the keyboard leading the different choirs through the annual cycle of music of the church.  Many wished they could hear the grand organ once again.  Father Crahen has contacted many professional restorers who have given their assessments of what has to be done.  They all tell the same story.  It desperately needs work.  But they also all tell another story.  The Woodberry organ at St. Pat’s is a true treasure.  There are few left of this quality left and needs to be revived and played once again to the glory of God.

Please contact Father Crahen at St. Patrick rectory if you are interested in the project.   To the right of our blogspot you will see a list of YouTube videos.  There are a couple of the organ being played in former daays.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Rites of Fall in the Acre

The best rite of Fall was Halloween itself. I don't remember buying a costume. I think I was a hobo from ages 5 to 11. When I turned 12, I revolted and was a vampire. I thought I was cool with a cape and blood dripping from my mouth. That's when I learned not to use red Magic Marker as fake blood. It was also a let down when a friend pointed at me and said vampires never wore glasses. So I took them off, and then looked like a blind vampire tripping on stairs and walking into doors. That was my last year of trick or treating.

What I remember most is getting my paper, orange, trick or treat bag from Greens in downtown Lowell. I think it cost a nickel. It was nothing more than an orange paper shopping bag, but by night's end it would hold a bounty of cavity producing treats. My Dad was often given the chore of walking with us. It often became a history of the Acre lesson. Being an Acre Boy himself, he'd tell me this is where he helped light the gas lanterns when he was a kid. Or this is where the Keyes sisters lived and he'd run errands for them. We'd walk by Lovejoy's mansion where UMass is now. Everyone knew it was haunted, and I'd walk a little closer to him. He'd pretend to see ghosts in the broken windows. One year right in front of Lovejoy's it started raining, hard, and my little trick or treat bag got soaking wet and broke. I was in a panic. Do I stop and pick up my candy, or do I let the ghosts drag us in to Lovejoy's basement and my mother would never see us again? I did what any 6 year old would do. I cried. My father said another prayer to Jesus Christ Almighty, put as much candy into my little hobo hands as could fit, picked me up, and walked me home.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Sunday in the Acre- 1876

Ad in Lowell Citizen, 1860

Sunday, the day of rest.  How we observe the Sabbath today is quite different than our 19th century ancestors did.  Or is it?  Today a Sunday afternoon might be watching the Pats with a Bud Lite (okay, personal preference here).  In the 19th century liquor laws were quite severe.  Having a libation might put you before the magistrate if you were caught.  In 1876 , a young Irish “lad” by the name of Caroline was found drunk by the seizure police (sort of a Sabbath police who checked on liquor imbibing on Sundays).  He told the officers where he was served in his alcoholic delirium.  Once he sobered up he swore he was only given birch beer.  Even though he was only 16 he was kept in jail until his court date later in the week.

Over at P & J O’Rourke’s on Gorham St. they “found five buffers who looked as though they were having a good time and improving the Sabbath.” They also found a young man concealing a deck of cards (another breech of the law).  At Tom Murray’s establishment he refused the officers entrance.  They were about to leave when someone inside tripped over a dog causing the officers to force their way in.  They took away quantities of gin and whisky.  On a good note at Peter McSorley’s, when the officers checked on him they found him “pleasant and polite as usual” and no violations.

Meanwhile in the Acre: “The seizure officers accompanied by two from the regular force, made a descent Sunday forenoon on a vacant tenement in Mack's yard, off Market street. There were more than 50 men in one small room, the officers say, drinking from a washtub of ale, which was being served in schooners as fast as it could be ladled out. Such a panic as seized the crowd the officers have rarely witnessed. They blocked the doorway, jumped through five windows and a trap door in their eagerness to escape, and in doing so prevented the officers gaining an entrance until the proprietor of the liquor also had escaped.  The officer found a barrel of ale, fixtures, the washtub full and four schooners full which had been left untasted in the crowd's panic to get away.  The place was being run by a man who did not get a license for his saloon, nearby, and he had chosen the unoccupied tenement to ward off suspicion.” (Lowell Citizen)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

St Patrick School Alumni Reunion - A Reflection

When I was a kid attending school at St. Pat’s, each March we’d learn Irish songs we’d sing at the annual reunion show.  One was Oh the Days of the Kerry Dancing.  Part of the lyrics goes like this:
Oh, the days of the Kerry dancing
Oh, the ring of the piper's tune
Oh, for one of those hours of gladness
Gone, alas, like our youth, too soon!
When the boys began to gather
In the glen of a summer's night
And the Kerry piper's tuning
Made us long with wild delight!
Oh, to think of it
Oh, to dream of it
Fills my heart with tears!

As alumni left Mass concelebrated by Fr. Frank Silva (alum) and Fr. Charles McGrail (former church choir director) they were greeted outside the school by step dancers.  Later the young girls were joined by some slightly older dancers from the 1960s reliving their Kerry dancing days.  As I looked on the crowd of over 150 alumni and friends, the words of the song hit home.  Here we were, some of us decades later, returning to the place we called home for 8 years.  The sun was lowering across the North Common as alumni from the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90, and even the millennials made their way up the front steps of the school.  Just as the song says, for some of us our youth has gone too soon.  I stood there watching as graduates from each decade were called into the school. The most senior of us walked up slowly using the handrail, while the last group, representing the future, walked in taking 2 steps at a time.

There is something unique about St. Patrick’s.  A fact that you may not know, St. Pat’s is one of the oldest continuously operating   parochial schools in the country, starting in 1852.  As Sr. Joanne stated, many colleges and high schools have alumni groups, but not elementary schools.  Then why does St. Pat’s?  I’m not sure, but I have a thought.  As each group entered the school I thought of the paper chains we made when we were kids.  We’d cut paper and glue them together making these long continuous lines.  Seeing those in their eighties, sixties, forties, and twenties all mingling and sharing stories united us into a special union, that long line into the past.

When I attended St. Pat’s, tuition was $1 a week.  That was a lot for many families in the Acre.  Many of us lived in the housing or tenements along Broadway.  Even then the Acre had a reputation, but maybe that is where we found our strength.  The Sisters and lay faculty who taught us held us to a high standard and wouldn’t accept anything less. Maybe that’s why so many who were there last night can today count themselves among Lowell’s politicians, lawyers, government service workers, caregivers, educators, financial officers, skilled professionals, and on and on.  (On a side note, I did notice a very high number of teachers in the group.  Coincidence?  And a high number of police and correction personnel.  Another coincidence?)  Folks who had not seen each other since graduation day greeted each other as if time had not passed. 

That link, that chain, had not broken.  Our time at St. Pat’s was built upon what the previous generation had left us.  A major reason for the school being  there today is because of the chain built by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and those alumni and friends who give of themselves today.  The chain continues. 

One of the lines in Kerry Dancing talks about the tears of recalling days gone by.  More than once that evening I saw women and men wiping their eyes as they saw their old friends, either in person or old black and white photos.

A last thought.  As I was helping to set up a few hours before the start, a young man, maybe 20 wearing a white t-shirt and arms covered in tats came to the door.  I told him we weren’t open yet.  He simply said, please.  About 15 minutes later I encountered him again as he was leaving the building.  I asked how his visit went.  He was wiping tears from his eyes.  His said, memories.  I asked, Good ones?  He replied, All good, all good.  I’ll be back someday.  Who said, You can’t go home again. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Dutton Street Mural

From the Folks at Community Teamwork.  I'm sure many of you will recall the mural or the image it brings back.

 Our Youth Build program, together with local artist Don Maker, is currently undergoing the restoration of the Dutton Street Mural across from the Worthen Restaurant in Lowell. In this mural you can see the Irish brick layer and the Nuns leading the children at St. Patrick’s. Work is currently underway. We have repointed all the bricks and created a blank slate to work from. Everyone has been hard at work. Once it is completed, a light installation will be included which will highlight the mural and light up the Worthen Restaurant Parking lot. Like all such projects, the restoration is costing Community Teamwork a large sum of money (over $35k). We are reaching out to people for help. Anything you could do to spread the word about this restoration would be much appreciated. There will be an unveiling of the completed project on September 28th – complete with food from the Worthen! You and your associates are cordially invited – time is 5-6:30ish. Below there is a link to a great article the Sun recently wrote and some information about how people can donate.

Dutton Street once housed Community Teamwork’s Headquarters with the mural above gracing the Worthen Street side of the building.  In 2011, when the agency relocated its headquarters to the Bon Marche Building on Merrimack Street, the agency’s Youth Build of Greater Lowell program moved into the Dutton Street location.

The Dutton Street Mural was designed by Leo Panos of the University of Lowell (as it was called at the time) and created in the late 1970’s as part of a larger project to install ethnic-themed murals around the city.   In celebration of the immigrant heritage of the city, other murals including Franco-American, Portuguese-American, and Polish-American were painted in different locations.
The original painting of the mural was done by summer workers in the Neighborhood Youth Corps. Later, in the 1980’s the mural was repaired and repainted with the design changing somewhat.  Now more than 30 years later, under the artistic direction of Lowell artist Donald Maker, the students of our Youth Build Program will assist in the restoration of this visual record of  Lowell’s rich cultural history.
The Irish-Acre mural facing Worthen Street is one of the last, if not the last, remaining mural from this era. The project is underway and will be completed by mid-fall.  You can be a part of revitalizing this piece of our community’s history! Your gift of any amount will help support the cost of this project.
Follow the restoration on Twitter and Instagram.  #DuttonStMural

Have a memory or picture of the mural?  Share it with us!

Check out this great article and video : http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_30251971/students-join-local-artist-repaint-iconic-mural-lowell that recently appeared in The Sun!

Folks can donate online: http://www.commteam.org/you-can-help/donate/
By texting: COMMTEAM to 41444

By mail: Please send your check (payable to Community Teamwork) to 155 Merrimack Street, Lowell MA 01852, ATTN: Development Dept.

Thank you for reading all of this and considering our effort and passion about restoring this mural. Your help is so appreciated!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

An Acre Memory- A Summer Story

"Little Rascals" Google image.
The dog is man’s best friend.  Well that’s what we’ve been told.  Scruffy.  Rover. Lassie. Rin Tin Tin.  Snoopy.  When you hear names like that you think of sweet little puppies and doggie heroes.  To some when they hear the bark of a dog it’s like hearing a voice say, “Hey I’m over here.   Let’s play fetch.”  A wagging tale means, “Gee, I like you.”  To me a barking dog has the same effect as the open jaws of a great white, or the tell-tale rattle of a rattle snake.  Why you ask?  Well, let me tell you.

Mike’s Field was the place to play when I was little.  It was the only piece of grassland in my neighborhood of close 3 story tenements.  It had tall grass and the only trees that you could climb in.  In order to get to Mike’s you had to walk up Broadway Street.  It wasn’t far, but you had to pass the Goons house.  I don’t know if anyone knew their real name so we just called them the Goon family.  There were  2 boys who were in their 20s and just sat on their porch with their old haggard mother.  If they were on the porch, you ran by their house.  And if they weren’t, you looked in the windows often to see one of them looking back at you.  Like an added incentive to get past the house as quick as you could there was a dog.  Not some sweet little pup.  Not a fancy looking poodle or a friendly retriever.  No the Goons owned the biggest, meanest, most ornery German shepherd you ever met.  Its fur was the color of coal.  Its paws were big enough to make indents in the ground where it stalked.  If you looked in its eyes you became hypnotized like a cobra does with its prey.  The one thing that separated us from the Goon dog was a six foot fence that surrounded their property.  There was no way for the Goon dog to get out.  Or so I thought.

It was July.  The locusts were making that sound they make when it gets hot.  The sun was high in the sky.  We were all playing army.  There was Ricky, Johnny, Harold, Ricky’s brother Ronny and FraFra.  FraFra was crazy and would eat anything.  He once swallowed a quarter and would proudly show it off after it made its way out.  Later that summer he ate a live hornet.  That’s another story.

As soldiers we were planning our attack on the enemy.  We were leading a charge to bomb their headquarters.  Between the yells of the attacking forces there was another sound.  It was deeper than the rest.  The others heard it too.  Time stopped.  Without turning around I knew it was behind me- the Goon Dog.  My friends saw him before I did.  I saw fear in their faces.  RUN  someone commanded.  Fear took hold of my feet I couldn’t go anywhere.  I felt his breath before I felt the pain.  Goon Dog had me on the ground and stood over me.  He outweighed me and I lay there like a opossum.  The growl came from deep with him.  His teeth were bared and drool dangled from his mouth.  

The next thing I remembered was the sound of the locusts and staring into the sun.  I was still there lying on my back.  My friends had deserted me.  I looked around and Goon Dog was gone.  I looked to my left and there was one of the Goon Boys standing by the 6 foot fence.  All I could see was his outline with his hands leaning on the fence but I knew he was looking at me.

Did he unleash the dog on us?  Or had he saved me from the beast.  I’d never know.  But when I hear a barking dog once again I’m a little kid in Mike’s Field with  the hot breath of killer beast breathing down my neck.