Chris Matthews: Growing adult Catholic in Philadelphia

October 10, 2015 - accent chair

I remember when “The Greatest Show on Earth” came to Hunting Park. It unequivocally happened. we Googled it. In 1950, a Barnum Bailey Circus unequivocally did come to Philadelphia. It’s in a books.

Better yet, it’s all in my head. we remember a day Dad and Mom took us opposite from where we lived in that tiny second-floor unit above a Italian grocery during Hunting Park Avenue and Broad Street. They did it twice: in a afternoon to travel along a gangway and see a lions and tigers in their cages, and that night to a core ring to see all those clowns come climbing out of that tiny car.

What’s truly opposite is that Hunting Park is where we and everybody else in a area hung out. We’d go there on a summer dusk to wander among a aged gazebo, a merry-go-round, and a mount where they sole those cartons of orange splash that following we could spin into tangible label megaphones.

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All this was in those years a relatives perpetually called “after a war,” as opposite to “before a war.” Or as Dad’s mom, Grandmom-in-Chestnut Hill, would always contend when vocalization of a apart past, “Oh, that was years and years ago.”

It was a good area behind then. Grandmom and Grandpop Shields, Mom’s parents, lived around a dilemma from us on 15th Street. Everyone walked everywhere, including to a grand St. Stephen’s Church a few blocks down on Broad Street. To let we know how opposite things were, we couldn’t skip a large tray during a dilemma of Hunting Park and Broad where a horses that delivered a divert and collected a rabble drank and splashed away.

Yes, that was “years and years ago.” It seems, looking behind from 2015, as nonetheless that time was a lot closer to a 1800s than it was to today. In fact, it was. Do a math.

Though we doubt a disproportion would have meant many to me during a time, we lived in a totally Catholic universe — Irish Catholic. Mass during St. Stephen’s was transparent old-church. You dressed up. Everybody did, generally a adults. Grandpop always put on his three-piece gray suit. It was all in Latin, and a clergyman stood with his behind to us customarily like it showed in those stages of a Mass in a missal. The tabernacle boys rang a bells some-more mostly than they do now. And people came on time. we remember once when Grandpop took us and we were maybe 5 mins late. When Mass was over, he sent me and my comparison hermit Herb — we called him Bert behind afterwards — home, while he stayed for a whole subsequent Mass. He was like that. It was like that behind then.

Ours was a eremite family, round-the-clock religious. There were crucifixes in Grandmom and Grandpop’s house, and framed devotions to a Sacred Heart on a dining room wall. Grandmom was always articulate about a “novena” that was about to be celebrated. When she got dissapoint during something, she had a customary response: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” was both her request and her whine during carrying kids perpetually around. One of her daughters, Eleanor, had assimilated a Sisters of St. Joseph during a immature age and was already training what we call “special education.” Today, during 92, Eleanor is during St. Joseph Villa in Flourtown. we urge she gets to review this.

Auntie Agnes would also turn a nun, though in a years when we were customarily apropos wakeful of things, she was going to propagandize adult during Mount St. Joseph’s. Her bedroom was in a front of a residence on 15th Street. It was a nicest room, throwing a object and filled with her lady stuff, her margin hockey stick, her ideally kept marble-backed copybooks. The room smelled of talcum powder or something else splendidly girly. we once dreamt of being in that room with a Devil articulate to me. we can’t remember what he was saying, customarily a slow, commanding, ominous voice. It didn’t seem like a dream, not then, not in memory. It seemed real.

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Aunt Agnes was still a teen behind afterwards and therefore a coolest probable chairman to hang out with. She would take us to cinema down on Broad Street and to a malt emporium afterward. Her preference to give adult a grant to Chestnut Hill College so another lady could have it — one who wasn’t apropos a nun — is partial of a family story.

As eremite as she was, Grandmom was stricken when she schooled that a second daughter was streamer to a convent: “Wait compartment your father hears it!” But a humorous thing was Grandpop’s acceptance: “Whatever creates we happy,” he told his youngest. Agnes would for many years chair a Chestnut Hill College English department.

As we said, during a rowhouse on 15th Street and in a universe nearby Hunting Park, it was all about a Church. we remember a morning Cardinal Dougherty had his funeral. It was on radio a whole morning. The year was 1951. we was 5 years old. What’s extraordinary is that a good male had been archbishop of Philadelphia given 1918. It was as if he’d always been a Church’s leader. The diagnosis by internal TV was reasonably reverential. The Mass during Sts. Peter and Paul was like an eventuality during a Vatican. Or it positively seemed that approach during Grandmom’s.

Did we discuss we were Irish? Grandmom’s lass name was Conroy; her mother’s was Quinlan. Call it vanity, though we took good honour when my cousins concluded several years ago that we was “a Quinlan.”

Anyway, there were aspects of a lives that we now really bond with a nation we all came from. One was what we ate and how we did so. My hermit Bert and we would spend many a morning on Grandmom’s porch, examination a horses lift a divert automobile adult 15th Street. Bert was a one who beheld how a horses always knew that rowhouses to stop at. The afternoons were customarily as memorable. We’d lay on a davenport, assisting Grandmom make dinner. We’d get started about three, customarily when a Hunting Park outbound trade began. Before us were a vegetables Grandmom had gotten for “Daddy’s supper.” Everything was from scratch: no cans, and solidified food hadn’t come along yet. We’d bombard a peas, scale a corn, shave a fibre beans. Grandmom would afterwards take it into a kitchen in a behind and boil it all for dual to 3 hours. Okay, I’m exaggerating, though a Irish know what I’m articulate about.

Grandpop! Charles Patrick Shields was a impression loyal from Eugene O’Neill. (For a sold reference, see A Touch of a Poet.) He worked as a administrator during a plant several transport stops away. He’d conduct off to work in his peacoat and cap, carrying his lunch bucket and Thermos. He could have been a male creation his approach to his pursuit in County Cork.

His loyal position, a one he kept in his head, was that of a larger male altogether. There’d been income in a family. A integrate generations earlier, a Shieldses had owned a internal dairy. Even when we were flourishing up, Grandpop would wear his three-piece fit all day on Sunday as a pointer of his improved station.

The Depression had been tough opposite a board. Family fable told how Grandmom pinched pennies and Grandpop walked a 9 miles to and from City Hall any day of a week, looking for work. Only years after did we comprehend he’d been anticipating to collect adult a clientele pursuit from a aged Republican domestic machine, that dominated Philadelphia for 87 years.

Beginning in a early 1950s, all this altered — a city’s and Grandpop’s politics both. He was now a unapproachable Democratic committeeman, leading, he would brag, “the best multiplication in a city.” This was when a neighborhood, and 15th Street itself, began to change, with all those arguable African-American votes nearing underneath his domestic watch.

Switching parties was customarily what a lot of a Irish did behind when a Republicans were failing and a Democrats, buoyed by FDR, were entrance into their own. It was politics itself that Grandpop loved, and that we desired to speak with him about. He always kept adult his personal idea of being a male of a certain distinction. As we grew adult and visited, mostly staying overnight, my hermit Bert and we would join him on his prolonged walks by Nicetown and Tioga. After supper, he’d conduct off with his Phillies cigar lit. On his approach home, he’d stop during a newsstand on a dilemma of Broad and Hunting Park and get a bulldog book of a Inquirer, afterwards lay reading it underneath a mantelpiece in a vital room. Afterward he’d demeanour up, smile, and repeat those grand disproportion of recognition: “Christopher John.” Honestly, can we kick that?

Years later, Mom would ask a crony of cave during a extravagantly ascending Democratic primary debate we was using for Congress, “Do we consider he’s customarily a dreamer, like my father?” Talk about flourishing adult Irish Catholic.

Now to Mom. The oldest are not ostensible to be a rebels in a family. She was. She would tell us how “before a war,” a large divert association in Philadelphia asked operative girls like her to fill out pursuit applications. One of a questions listed was “Religion.” The right answer was anything though “Catholic.” It was something Mom never let go. When a polite rights epoch came along, she’d remind us how tough things were for us. No one was some-more dynamic in life, a fact that would someday give my brothers and me all a advantages of an upper-middle-income upbringing even if a family income was right there in a middle. One story tells a lot. It’s about how as a kid, Mom pennyless her arm while roller-skating. She let it stay damaged for days, never revelation anyone. Grandmom had told her not to go to a skating rink. She had, and was gripping that to herself even if a pain was murdering her.

She after pennyless lax in a bigger way. She married a Protestant.

Dad had grown adult in Chestnut Hill. His mom, a Grandmom-in-Chestnut Hill, was an Orangewoman of a initial order. She had come to America from Northern Ireland early in a century to work for a rich, and married an English chauffeur who did a same. Tall and clever in bearing, she grandly survived Grandpop’s early genocide in a 1950s and ran a washing business out of her house. Her accent and vigourous impression were pristine Mrs. Doubtfire.

Mom had her singular approach of accounting for a eremite disproportion between a dual families — this matter of her enchanting in a “mixed marriage.” First, she got Dad to convert, arguing a wrongness of Calvinism (another family story). While Dad was lifted Episcopalian — Church of England — Grandmom-in-Chestnut Hill was an honourable member of a excellent Presbyterian church right there on Germantown Avenue. Somehow we divined that Mom had done a strong, relentless assign opposite a un-American-ness of predestination, operative on Dad’s low Republican faith in self-reliance.

Dad’s acclimatisation was apparently not enough. Mom still felt a need to comment for Grandmom-in-Chestnut Hill. we remember a time it came to a head. As was a custom, Bert and we were staying during Grandmom’s while Dad and Mom were on a week’s vacation. (They always took us on a second one).

“Mom says a reason you’re Presbyterian,” one of us said, “is that there wasn’t a Catholic church when we changed to Chestnut Hill.” Grandmom’s response was brisk, transparent and final, rejecting a sin she’d customarily listened out of hand: “I’m a Presbyterian,” she said, slow, sure, and easily defiant. “I’ve always been a Presbyterian.”

The opposite thing is how all this worked together, these apart worlds of grandparents, a rowhouse people in North Philadelphia, a Protestant Irish grandmother in Chestnut Hill, worlds overlapping to adore a advantageous 5 sons — Bruce and Charlie and Jim were shortly to come — of Herb and Mary Matthews.

Grandpop called it “God’s country.” It was a hactare of skill Dad and Mom bought on Southampton Road to be their new world. We’d been cooped adult too prolonged in that tiny unit on Hunting Park. Like other immature couples after a war, a relatives were creation their mangle for it, in their box to that excellent community of Somerton, right subsequent to Bucks County.

There weren’t many Catholics adult there. Our neighbors on possibly side on Southampton Road were Protestant. Our other neighbors were a cows out behind and a 5 farmhouses that surrounded us.

Mom took a certain honour in a fact that we were “among a initial 25 families” in what was about to be a new bishopric of St. Christopher’s. But when we arrived, it was still a goal church adult there: St. Edward’s. For school, we had to take a prolonged school-bus float down to Bustleton, to Maternity of a Blessed Virgin Mary.

Maternity was a ideal name for what was coming. Our initial category of baby boomers had a hundred kids in it. It was so large they had to put us in a auditorium.

By third grade, we were headed for a new propagandize adult in Somerton, on Proctor Road. Father Purcell, a initial pastor, was also a initial chairman we ever met named favourite me, Christopher. we assume it’s how a new bishopric got a name. Certainly, Father had a good understanding of power. The school, during his direction, was built wholly on a singular floor, many like a motels that were springing adult opposite a country. Concerned about fire, he — or someone — designed all a classrooms to have their possess doors opening to a outside.

A lot happened that year we was in third category during St. Christopher’s. Part of it was hereditary ritual, starting with a teasing among a grades: “First-grade babies, second-grade brats, third-grade angels … ”

Those years reason memories of prayers, regimentation and discipline. “Thank you, Lord, for a light. Grant us a light of eternity.” “Hands folded. No talking.” And, yes, all a informed aphorisms upheld down from nun to nun: “Empty barrels make a many noise.” Or “You’ll bake for that” when someone unsuccessful to use adult both sides of a paper. One of a some-more engaging punishments was carrying to mount in a behind of a room and reason a raise of textbooks adult high and during arm’s length.

The scariest thing was being told to go out and mount in a dull corridor. There we would wait, wondering when — if — Sister would come out and tell we to come behind in a classroom.

The fear was that she’d call your parents. That was collateral punishment indeed. Every child knew that his relatives were many worse than a Sisters of Mercy. They were always on a side of a Sister, always prepared to supplement to any punishment she decreed.

It was a commencement of a Cold War behind then. We would be reminded of that fact by a unchanging air-raid drills. When a alarm sounded, we would get underneath a tiny desks and pray. Fifteen mins is all we would get before a Soviet missiles struck. It was customarily adequate time to inspect your conscience, given a ubiquitous arrogance was that a chief war, a Third World War, threatened a finish of a world. That meant a General Judgment would be during hand. Looking back, we can see that a whole practice was an event to indoctrinate us third-graders in personal safety, stream events and religion, all in a entertain of an hour. we can giggle now. Then, it was all lethal serious.

The Cold War was a special thoroughness for us. Those “Captive Nations” in Eastern and Central Europe, generally Poland, were heavily Catholic. Every Mass behind afterwards finished with a special request for “the acclimatisation of Russia.” The Church itself was righteously seen as a “world’s biggest aegis opposite Communism.”

In Mar 1954, we got a word in category that Josef Stalin, a Soviet dictator, had died. Sister asked us all to pray. we wondered even behind afterwards for what: that he’d been converted on his deathbed, a approach we were told a Jewish mafiosi Dutch Schultz had? That he be sent loyal to Hell? What? What were we praying for? Perhaps a invocation was thanksgiving, pristine and simple. In that case, a request was answered. Certainly, no one worse than Stalin has come along. Vladimir is no day during a beach, though he’s no Stalin.

Even adult there in Somerton, we were still vital really many in a Irish Catholic world. On Monday nights, before we got a possess TV, we would join all a other kids in a area — Catholic kids — over during a O’Learys’, examination Superman during 7 o’clock. The building would be filled with us.

Even when it came to renouned culture, there was a well-recognized Catholic subculture, one we distinguished with pride. Bishop Sheen was on Tuesday nights. Grace Kelly was in a cinema on a Ocean City boardwalk. When Dad and Mom would go out for a night, Dad would tell us what cinema to watch. Choosing between Going My Way and The Quiet Man was a tighten call, a perspective common by his tighten crony Gene Shields. They concluded that a Bing Crosby film was improved for us.

Our whole week incited on being Catholic behind then. On Monday nights, Dad went to Holy Name; on Tuesday, Mom went to Sodality; Thursday night was a Knights of Columbus weekly get-together; Friday was K of C bowling night, that was followed by a late-into-the-night label diversion during a Mother Katharine Drexel Hall. Dad played golf on Saturday, customarily with his K of C best friend, Gene Shields from down a road. Mom was in a K of C “auxiliary.” On Sunday, Dad would expostulate to a Lumar Park bakery on a approach home from 8 o’clock Mass.

Our possess amicable existence revolved around a kids we went to St. Christopher’s with. Certainly, it had a rituals — and a rankings. The conduct of a Milk Boys was array one. Jimmy Schuhl got to get out of propagandize good before lunchtime to go collect a complicated steel crates of unchanging milk, chocolate divert and orange drink.

Then there were a tabernacle boys. This was, for all of us, a initial time behaving in public. You had to have a Latin down cold. You went to bed some nights meaningful that good before dawn, you’d be awakened for an knowledge distant over what we now call a “comfort zone.”

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Convent Mass was during 6 a.m. It was mysterious, murky, some-more than a bit frightening. One notation we was in a ’54 Chevy listening to Johnnie Ray sing “Just Walking in a Rain” and smelling a Vitalis I’d customarily poured into my hair. The next, we was knocking on a priory door, perilously tighten to that impulse I’d feared. It was non-stop by a sister we knew from school, customarily this time in a totally opposite mode of early-rising communicant. She would travel me to a chapel, where we would put on my surplice and conduct out to light a tabernacle candles. This was another impulse to dismay — a unavoidable peek out into a pews during a nuns from propagandize with their heads now bent in prayer. My biggest fear is that we would locate one of their looks.

For whatever reason of family prominence, we was named to a wake team. There were 4 of us. Whenever someone in a bishopric died, we’d be let out of propagandize to offer a Mass. It was an adult knowledge any approach we demeanour during it. We were not nonetheless teenagers, though were ritually surrounded by genocide and grief and a wish of secure life.

By seventh grade, a category had grown in a class. Many of us, boys and girls both, had been together given initial category during Maternity. Now a amicable organisation was forming. My acknowledgment came with an invitation to Regina Thomas’s birthday party. It was a Saturday afternoon of pristine joy. It featured dancing to Elvis Presley, spin a bottle and post office. we arrived home that afternoon with a ambience of lipstick in my mouth. It was simply great!

Bandstand was large behind then, generally given it was one of Philadelphia’s good bragging rights. It would be on in people’s houses when we went to collect on my Bulletin paper route. While we didn’t get to Bandstand, a garland of us did get to Grady and Hurst, a Saturday dance show. we remember how tiny a studio seemed, and how we had to travel over a wrestling ring from Fabiani’s Mat Time to get to a dance floor. It was my initial coming on TV.

It was removing tighten to eighth-grade graduation. Now came a array of memories I’ll positively never forget — nor wish to.

One was Sister Esther’s feast day. It was a school-wide reverence to a principal of St. Christopher’s. Each of a classes was to perform a song-and-dance array from a opposite country. Ours was Ireland. we was interconnected with a renouned Regina Thomas. we remember a lyrics: “All a boys and girls did accumulate to move greetings from a aged sod, thanking God for many favors and to magnify a belligerent we’ve trod.”

Regina’s comparison sister and her father, a doctor, had been killed in a automobile collision that year on a approach home from a Shore. My wake organisation was during a Mass. It was a impulse I’ll never forget — not meaningful what to contend to a lady who was a heavenly of a class. There was no improved word for her than that.

It was all rushing to an end. we remember a eighth-grade nun revelation a girls to leave a room, afterwards pulling adult her sleeves to give us a critical talk. “I’m not going to kick around a bush,” she began, before doing customarily that. But we do remember her bizarre censure to us: “You’ll keep control prolonged after she’s mislaid it. You have to be a one to stop.” My God, this lady had her imaginings. It was like one of those over-the-top film previews: “Passion like you’ve never seen it!!!” She was meditative Peyton Place. We were still personification spin a bottle.

That eighth-grade year, Kathie Trainer, another amicable star of a class, and we won 50 cents any in a St. Christopher’s dance contest. I’d contend we finished on top, all of us.

If it all sounds like a thousand years ago, it was positively a opposite world. You know how Grandmom-in-Chestnut Hill favourite to boot such memories as “years and years ago.” Well, after this prolonged demeanour back, we can customarily contend we wish it weren’t.

Originally published as “Growing Up Catholic” in a Sep 2015 emanate of Philadelphia magazine.

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