The MSNBC pundit is in the news today, after his surprising final appearance on “Hardball” last night. He was never shy about his Catholic upbringing; he attended LaSalle College High School, where he was taught by Christian Brothers, and College of the Holy Cross. He wrote about some of this in Philadelphia magazine a few years back. It’s an evocative glimpse at what it meant to be Catholic in the ’40s and ’50s.
I’m sure some of this will resonate with Catholics of a Certain Age:
We lived in a totally Catholic world — Irish Catholic. Mass at St. Stephen’s was definite old-church. You dressed up. Everybody did, especially the adults. Grandpop always put on his three-piece gray suit. It was all in Latin, and the priest stood with his back to us just like it showed in those stages of the Mass in the missal. The altar boys rang the bells more often than they do now. And people came on time. I remember once when Grandpop took us and we were maybe five minutes late. When Mass was over, he sent me and my older brother Herb — we called him Bert back then — home, while he stayed for the entire next Mass. He was like that. It was like that back then.
Ours was a religious family, round-the-clock religious. There were crucifixes in Grandmom and Grandpop’s house, and framed devotions to the Sacred Heart on the dining room wall. Grandmom was always talking about a “novena” that was about to be celebrated. When she got upset at something, she had a standard response: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” was both her prayer and her sigh at having kids forever around. One of her daughters, Eleanor, had joined the Sisters of St. Joseph at a young age and was already teaching what we call “special education.” Today, at 92, Eleanor is at St. Joseph Villa in Flourtown. I pray she gets to read this.
…Even when it came to popular culture, there was a well-recognized Catholic subculture, one we celebrated with pride. Bishop Sheen was on Tuesday nights. Grace Kelly was in the movies on the Ocean City boardwalk. When Dad and Mom would go out for the night, Dad would tell us what movies to watch. Choosing between Going My Way and The Quiet Man was a close call, a view shared by his close buddy Gene Shields. They agreed that the Bing Crosby movie was better for us.
Our entire week turned on being Catholic back then. On Monday nights, Dad went to Holy Name; on Tuesday, Mom went to Sodality; Thursday night was the Knights of Columbus weekly get-together; Friday was K of C bowling night, which was followed by a late-into-the-night card game at the Mother Katharine Drexel Hall. Dad played golf on Saturday, usually with his K of C best friend, Gene Shields from down the road. Mom was in the K of C “auxiliary.” On Sunday, Dad would drive to the Lumar Park bakery on the way home from eight o’clock Mass.