Saturday, January 3, 2009

The legacy of Bishop Neumann survives in Gray's Ferry!


I came across this copy of the newspaper for the then Bishop Neumann High School from January 1977. It is really fitting to remember with great fondness the excitement and accomplishment we felt as students of Bishop Neumann High School when Pope Paul VI declared his intention to canonize Philadelphia's John Neumann as a saint in 1978.
Traditionally I write about different aspects of Gray's Ferry that are poignant examples of the historical legacy that enclave of Philadelphia contributed to our view of the South Philadelphia world. Well, quite honestly, the Catholic educational experience of Saint Gabriel, Saint Anthony, King of Peace, St.Aloysius and the countless other schools that are directly the result of Saint John Neumann are an important contribution to our Gray's Ferry and Philadelphia Catholic experiences.
I had forgotten about this article in the Rocket until rummaging around alot of old papers that have accumulated in my life. The article reminded me of the great educational experiences we have all had as a result of Catholic education, of neighborhood upbringing and our Catholic parochial faith. Perhaps the experiences of Catholic education have yet to reveal themselves in everyones lives, but it is still a good thing to remember our spiritual and educational heritages in Catholic Grade school and high school.
Saint John Neumann was not a resident of Gray's Ferry. However, the Catholics that inhabited the area during his episcopate would realize the benefits of his scaramental ministry with the establishment of the Catholic parochial school system,and the superlative education afforded to all of us as a result of his insights.
Let's use January 5th as a day to remember the spiritual and intellectual insights that Saint John Neumann directly and indirectly bestowed on all of us in Gray's Ferry and indeed the entire United States. His paternal application of Catholic education gave us all the strong roots that emerged into Bishop Neumann High School, Saint Maria Goretti High School and thousands of other Catholic sites of academic learning and spirituality.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Day, South Philly Style


I just had a brief chance to watch yesterday's New Year's Day parade. It is not like when I used to live in Philadelphia and the whole neighborhood waited for the South Philadelphia String Band to perform in front of Saint Gabriel Parish's Convent.
Really, you knew you were in the midst of die hard, tradition bound, blue collar Irish Catholic ritual when you saw the string band serenading the IHM Sisters before the annual walk up Broad Street.
Of course those were also the days before the anticipated Mass for the Holy Day, so usually the Mummers and their families could also be seen at the 6:00 am Mass on New Year's Day. The entire neighborhood turned out just to enjoy the music and the excitement before the parade. If you were unable to make the parade...well you could just show up at 29th and Dickinson Streets for a early preview of the music and costumes.
The tradition of the Mummers is rooted in the colonial era custom of parading witches and wenches in costume at the beginning of the new year. The tradition was firmly established in England in the 17th century. Logically it became part of the "colonial-rule" tradition when we were part of the Motherland. Even though we had a Revolutionary War and we fought to disengage ourselves from English traditions and customs...they still seem to pop-up in the colonies, now called the United States.
How fitting to recall the tradition in Philadelphia, which in addition to its status as a leading urban center in British colony days, it was also the first seat of government for the nascent United States. Remembering tradition is an important part of our American heritage, and the Mummers Parade is nothing less than a remarkable journey of tradition, ritual, paganism and symbolism.
New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Nassau has Carnival but Philadelphia will always be the first parade to welcome the new year with the Mummers.