Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fearless Females: National Women's History Month Day 10 - Religion in our family

March 10 — What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?

I tend to write more about my father's Irish/Catholic side of the family, only because I know more about them.  My mother's side of the family was Protestant and I knew very few of them.

St. Patrick's Church, Roxbury, MA

Religion played a large part in our lives growing up.  We attended St. Patrick's Church in Roxbury, MA - St. Pat's for short.  I attended St. Pat's grammar and high schools for 12 years and at one point, even wanted to be a nun!  My great-aunt was a Sister of Charity until her death a little over a year ago.  I can't remember what her original 'sister' name was, but later in life it was Sr. Frances Boyle.  Here I am with her at my First Communion:

When I was younger, religious events were great celebrations - not so much anymore.  Weddings, baptisms, Confirmation, funerals, First Confessions, First Communions - all were celebrated with High Mass.  The adults wore their very best and after each event, there would be a big family get-together.

My father with his father (Grampy) on his First Communion
Here I am with Nana and Grampy Bowen at my First Communion

We wore our best clothes to church every Sunday and would never dare to show up in jeans or sweats.  Little girls wore their chapel veils and boys always took off their hats before entering the church.  The May Procession, celebrating Our Blessed Mother, was a beautiful occasion.  Mary's statue would lead the procession throughout the neighborhoods, followed by hundreds of the faithful carrying flowers and singing: "Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today.  Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May."  I can't believe I still remember those words!  But I guess that's how much of an impact it made on me and what a beautiful memory it is.

We strictly followed the rules: no meat on Fridays in Lent and always found something to give up for Lent; completely silent from 12 noon to 3 PM on Good Friday; church every Sunday and if you didn't go, you better have been dead - or close to it; no eating for an hour after Communion - writing that reminded me of the scene in Angela's Ashes after Frankie McCourt made his First Communion.  If you haven't seen that movie and want more of an idea of what it was like to grow up Irish/Catholic - it's a must see.  Of course I didn't grow up on the streets of Limerick, but the basic tenets of the movie still apply. Going to Confession every Saturday afternoon was a must.  Of course, I had to make stuff up every week because I was such an angel.  Just ask my mother, I'm sure she'll confirm that! ;-)    

The church pictured above has housed the celebrations of generations of my family - but no more.  No family members are left in Roxbury as of the early 1990s.  Religion doesn't seem to play that big of a role in our family anymore. I have nieces and nephews who have never been baptized.  Weddings are done by ministers or a Justice of the Peace now.

During the 1880s, St. Pat's issued postcards for just a few years.  I found a laminated one online and bought it.  Even back then, members of my family were attending this church.
I miss those days!

Thanks for reading!  


  1. Brings me back to my family roots at St. Pats.
    Kathi Tarpey

  2. I and my brothers, Vic and Reggie, also went to a St. Pat's -- in Stoneham. There the tough, scolding nuns, pounded grammar into my young head. Today, my fear of them rises up every time I write a sentence. You're on a roll, kid. Keep going. George

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