Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I have recently learned of the death of two men that have been associated with Saint Gabriel Parish over the years, Abbott John Neitzel, O.Praem and earlier in March, Father Edward Kimpel, O.Praem.
Both of these men are well know to Southeast Catholic/Bishop Neumann/Saint John Neumann High School graduates. They both served as members of the faculty at the school,and Abbott Neitzel was principal of the school.
The Norbertine Community of Daylesford has suffered a great loss with the passing of these two priests. During my high school years and seminary education I was fortunate to have had multiple interactions with Abbott Neitzel. He was a true priest, a gentleman and a healer for all of those he encountered as a teacher, priest, abbott and educator. His leadership and gentle vision developed the Norbertine Community of Daylesford into a caring and fraternal community of priests and brothers. My own education and faith are the result of the great Norbertine legacy fostered by Abbott Neitzel.
Fr. Ed. Kimpel, O.Praem was also a legendary member of the Daylesford Community. As a priest he was a math teacher at Southeast Catholic/ BishopNeumann High School. Personally, he was my pastor during my Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary years and a frequent visitor to my parents home. He genuinely enjoyed his life as a priest and was always a great counsel for me as well. Many will remember him as a difficult math teacher, fortunately I knew him as a priestly pastor that always looked out for my concern and well being.
Both of these men have contributed to the Catholic upbringing of many young men from South Philadelphia. I am uniquely proud to have known both of these priests as consumate examples of the Norbertine tradition and men of prayer and Eucharistic devotion.
Abbott Neitzel will always remain the founding Abbott of Daylesford, a title that fits his quiet dignity and gentle pastoral sensibilities.
Fr. Kimpel will be most especially remembered by myself as my pastor at Saint Gabriel, a wise counsel and an enjoyable friend.
Together both of these men were in their personalities complete opposites in their priestly ministries, but they both effected many people in our South Philadelphia, Gray's Ferry and Catholic Church.
I will miss the influence they both had on my life and faith.
Prayers and condolences to the Norbertine family at Daylesford, at Archmere and in Middletown, De.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Palm Sunday always reminds me of the little things that made living in the Gray’s Ferry area of Philadelphia so memorable. Being the ethnic enclave of Irish Catholicism, Palm Sunday always was a full house at Saint Gabriel Church, everyone wanted to take palm home to weave crosses and distribute them among family and friends. It is really quite amazing, no matter where you go, Catholic’s always have blessed palm on display in their homes during the entire year. The freshly cut fragrance of palm always reminds me of being an altar boy at Saint Gabriel’s, and the great ceremony that began on Palm Sunday. All of my fellow Gray’s Ferry Catholics will remember the Sunday High Mass, which included a procession with palms, altar boys with gloves and red sashes, Holy Water sprinkling over the assembly and the smell of burning beeswax candles.
I always remember too the choir that used to sing the parts of the Mass and the great crescendo of the pipe organ…it used to rock the Church. In those days, the High Mass was filled. Solemnity was the keystone of the Palm Sunday celebration and Holy Week was gearing up.
It was always great to arrive at Palm Sunday. It meant that we had survived Lent, there was a much needed school break, and Easter was at hand. Growing up Irish Catholic always had a special bravado associated with it in Saint Gabriel Parish, and Palm Sunday just marked the beginning of the week’s solemnities. There were many priests during those years of the 1960’s and 1970’s that led the parish in the transitional phases of the liturgical changes of Vatican II. I remember with fondness the cigar smoke that surrounded Msgr. Waldron, the jovial laughter of Fr. Bob Kerwick, the nascent priesthood of Fr. Sam Shoemaker and the broken English of Jesuit Father Charles Le Blanc.
Going to church on Palm Sunday and during Holy Week was just a natural part of growing up Catholic. It was like brushing your teeth or putting on your coat. The parish community always offered a place for gathering together in worship, parish socials or even weekly ticket raffles with the multiple Waters family pulling out the tickets.
Parish life was always interesting, from the group of men in the Holy Name Society that gathered in a smoke filled room in the rectory basement to count the collection, to the sale of the Sunday Inquirer at the entrance to the Church, the 50/50 drawing after the last Mass to CYO Basketball games and parish newspaper drives. Growing up in the ethnic Irish section of Gray’s Ferry was a time capsule of parochial days gone by.
As a father of a young girl, I tell my daughter about fivecent….pretzels (not the grammatically corrects 5 cents), penny candy, juice boxes, nuns in religious habits, altar BOYS and kneeling for communion.
In the typical fashion of a 21st century only child, she asks me to repeat what I was saying. Her iPod was too loud, and she was surfing the internet.
I really wish it were possible to take her back to the Irish Catholic days of Gray’s Ferry. Being Catholic would be like a medieval experience for my 21st century daughter. However, she would know what the Friday fast was all about, being a bold brazen article and segregation of the Catholic boys from the Catholic girls. Even more important, she could appreciate the art of walking to Church, playing pimple ball and having someone stamp on your new shoes in Saint Gabriel School yard.
Ah, the memories of growing up Catholic and the memories of Holy Week…make me want to do it all over again.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
It is almost that time of the year again for the wearing of the green. My apologies, I have been so preoccupied about writing the religious blog, I have neglected the l pleasure of writing about growing up Irish Catholic, in a blue-collar metropolitan neighborhood. Over the past few weeks, I have received many emails regarding the upcoming potential 30th reunion of the boys from the Class of 1978 of Bishop Neumann High School. It is a very curious thing; collectively every one of the members of the Class of 1978 was comprised of different people from all over South Philadelphia. Yet however, as a class of students we all combined our parish’s ethnic and social contributions to the Neumann school community.
Maybe everyone has a similar experience as me. I remember sitting with guys from King of Peace, Mount Carmel, Saint Charles Borrowed and Sacred Heart Parishes at lunchtime in the subterranean cafeteria at Neumann. Some of us Saint Gabriel guys had the usual lunch fares, American cheese on white, while others had delicious leftovers from home that reflected their Italian, Polish, German heritages in their lunch bags. Peppers and eggs on a hard roll, sausages, Italian lunchmeats and cheeses were all part of the delectable lunch meals that came daily to Bishop Neumann High School. As a kid from 28th and Reed, I had no idea there were foods outside of the usual roast beef, ham and cabbage and the fried Friday flounder. One of the greatest experiences about Bishop Neumann High School was the chance to bargain and barter for other’s lunch contents. Of course, there were not always many takers for the Gray’s Ferry cheese on white, but it was always worth a try.
Now thirty years later the guys at Neumann are spread out over the United States, and the Goretti girls are going to take part in the reunion as well. My how times really change. If any of us were caught within 500 feet of Goretti in the 1970’s we would be at the Neumann version of The Breakfast Club. Today our schools are combined, consolidated, merged, stapled or blended together or how ever you want to call it, and the plans for the reunion are on.
I am looking forward to the reunion. Not only will it provide me an opportunity to catch up with the guys that played such an important part of my life, I will finally without any fear of retribution or detention be able to socialize with our sisters from Goretti.
Besides, the event will give me the chance to explore new gustatory delights that come from the mysterious and distant areas of South Philly outside of Gray’s Ferry.