Very often when writing this blog, memories of events and activities that happened at Saint Gabriel School and Church are the most predominate items that mark life in Gray’s Ferry. The reason for this is simple, the local parish community was the focus point of all of our lives and was an important part of our collective histories. Whenever Gray’s Ferry comes to mind, it reminds me that the community was identified by various segments that consisted of parishes. The Irish has Saint Gabriel’s, the Italians had King of Peace, the Germans Saint Aloysius. Each ethnic group in Gray’s Ferry was represented with a church, the Irish Presbyterians had John Chambers Church on 28th Street, Russian Orthodox Catholics had Assumption of the Holy Virgin (commonly called the Onion Church,) Byzantine Catholics had Holy Ghost at 24th and Wolf Streets. I am not certain if there was any Jewish Synagogue in Gray’s Ferry at any point, however there were members of the Jewish faith that lived in our area. The closest Jewish synagogue I can determine is at 310 South 18th Street, well out of the Gray’s Ferry area. Ironically however, there are four synagogues in Dublin, one in Belfast and another in Cork. The earliest Jewish community in Dublin dates to A.D. 1079. Although present in Irish life and community events, to my knowledge, Gray’s Ferry did not have anyone from Ireland that was also Jewish, despite the fact that Judaism was very entrenched in everyday Irish activities.
Merchants in Gray’s Ferry were often of the Jewish faith, Jerry at the soda shop at 28th & Dickinson Streets, Norman at Newkirk & Tasker and most certainly many others.
Gray’s Ferry was indeed the the melting pot for many ethnic groups, of all faiths, colors and creeds. One of the reasons such animosity was often generated in Gray’s Ferry was because each ethnic group was hard at work climbing the ladder of the American Dream, from immigrants to citizens, hoping for a better living for the next generation. That was equally true of everyone, regardless of color. As indicated above, each religious group had places to worship and celebrate their faiths. Even African-American churches in Gray’s Ferry were prolific and continue to have success even today.
Faith is common to all nationalities, Irish, German, Italian, Polish and so on.
While doing some browsing through photographs, the time during the transition from the Tridentine Mass to the Novus Ordo (New Mass)came to mind. Some of the songs we were taught at Saint Gabriel School fondly flooded back into my memory. Visions of Sr. Maureen Rose I.H.M. (a native daughter to Saint Gabriel, ) and Sr. Anne Peter I.H.M., with her guitar teaching a crowded church full of students the latest tunes to hit after Vatican II. They Will Know We Are Christians is one that immediately comes to mind. YouTube has a version (above) that recalls those days of the 1960’s & 1970’s when the ecumenical spirit of Vatican II was blowing all around the Catholic Church. In reality, with all of the churches in Gray’s Ferry, ecumenism was just a few blocks over and one block down as some of the older Irish would say. We didn’t realize it, but Gray’s Ferry had already been living the ecumenical spirit for over 100 years before Vatican II. We just called it by different names, the Protestant Churches, the Catholic Churches not really understanding the nuances each of these particular communities of faith had in common with Christianity. We only knew, that our parish was our parish and you didn’t go into Protestant Churches because they didn’t have a Pope. You didn’t frequent Orthodox or Eastern Rite Churches, because they didn’t use Latin or speak English and most importantly you didn’t go to the churches where the Blacks went…for a multitude of reasons.
While Vatican II gave us songs accompanied by guitars, it also gave us a new understanding of the Christians that surrounded us. Christians we really didn’t even know existed, simply because the norms of the period didn’t consider marriages between faiths as appropriate for Catholics. Each group in Gray’s Ferry clung to their ethnic identities and their particular faiths. So we thought. My own maternal grandmother from Saint Anthony’s Parish, met my maternal grandfather some how, and he was a non-Catholic Irishman in Gray’s Ferry. Despite faiths, they married at Yerkes and later had the marriage ratified in the front parlor of Saint Anthony’s Rectory because Protestants couldn’t be married in a Catholic Church. Well today, we call such an after the fact marriage, a radical sination. Marriages between faiths are recognized in our Catholic religious ceremonies and they have happened to many younger generations of Gray’s Ferry residents that used to consider those marriages between a Protestant and a Catholic, “Mixed Marriages!” If our grandparents and great grandparents only could envision what mixed marriages today are composed of, every one of them would roll over at Holy Cross Cemetery giving a whole new meaning to the word MIXED.
Despite the songs that Vatican II introduced, Gray’s Ferry residents won’t always recognize other Christians by and through their love. We will however identify them by their parish…even if it is in Washington Township, New Jersey. The names change, but the identities of faith and ethnic distinction remain the same, even if Gray’s Ferry has its own unique manner of celebrating ecumenism.
Today, Bernie Sanders calls it socialism. What does he know anyhow?