Every year the annual New Year’s Day Parade takes place in Philadelphia. Having grown up in Gray’s Ferry, there has always been a close connection between the South Philadelphia String Band and Saint Gabriel’s Parish.
The band’s club house is actually within the parish boundaries of Saint Gabes, and many of the parishioners have been faithful band members over the years. The relationship with the South Philly String Band has always been an important part of parish life at Saint Gabriel’s. When I was growing up there in the 1960’s-1990’s the string band made use of Saint Gabriel’s auditorium in the months of practice before the parade where they practiced their dance routines and musical numbers.
It was also a tradition that the string band would perform a “pass-bye” performance for the benefit of the Sister’s Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in front of their convent. Many string band members and parishioners at Saint Gabriel’s have fond memories of this event, which I think always had a deeper intention; namely to have the Sisters of the I.H.M. pray for the string band to win first place! I don’t know if this was ever mentioned in public, however I am sure many MACS at Saint Gabes during those years said a few extra, Pater Nosters & Ave Marias for the neighborhood string band to place first in the competition.
It always struck me as interesting that the string band went in review in front of the convent at Saint Gabriel, in the same way the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade files past the Cardinal Archbishop of New York every March 17. What I find even more interesting is that in most years, the Sisters held prominence over the event, perched on their high steps that overlooked Dickinson Street and the local parish priests were usually not invited to the reviewing stand. Perhaps, this was partially because the Sisters, had much more interaction with the band members, after all most of the precocious musicians sat in their classrooms for most of the year. Perhaps there was an additional anticipation of divine assistance if your particular Sister, saw you in the pass-bye, there might be some further consideration when you got back to school the following week. Regardless of intentions, I correctly realize today that the MACS were really in charge of the parish and they just let the priests believe something contrary to the truth.
I don’t know if the tradition continues at Saint Gabriel’s of the “pass-bye” review for the parish’s religious. More than likely, the tradition has gone the way of other parochial traditions that were remnants of the great boom in Catholic education after the Second World War. However, there was always a great sense of parish pride when the Mummers marched past the convent, seeking religious assistance in both winning the prize, and perhaps overlooking the overdue book reports the following day. I often thank God for the great women of the Sister’s Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that provided all of us with our foundational Catholic faith, our fear of God and the equal fear of Sister “Big-John”. They truly encapsulated the idea, that, “the hand that rocked the cradle, ruled the world!”, was indeed a truism in Catholic education and parish life.
So as we again prepare for another New Year’s celebration, remember all of those women that served as religious at Saint Gabes that sent us on the right path of Catholic living and family values. The “pass-bye” performance was a highlight of the Sister’s lives in the days when nuns didn’t drive, have other places to go or merely resided in a parish convent. These women of faith, courage and in alot of cases pure physical strength formed generations of Catholic men and women into what we all are today, faithful Catholics and productive citizens.
Finally,remember all of the great men and women that participated in the parochial experience of Saint Gabriel’s Parish. They were men and women from many ethnic and cultural origins that embodied the melting pot of Philadelphia Catholicism as they worked daily to experience the fulfillment of the immigrant’s dreams of success for themselves and their families including all future generations.

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that muse on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Philadelphia’s Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. He is currently in an advanced theology degree program at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. He writes daily at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com , http://catholicsacredarts.blogspot.com . Hugh writes on his Irish Catholic parochial experiences at  http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com.
He also contributes writings to The Irish Catholic, Dublin, British Broadcasting Company, and provides Catholic book reviews for multiple Catholic periodicals and publishers, including Vatican Publishing House.
Hugh lives in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley with his wife and daughter.
Hugh welcomes your comments via hugh.mcnichol@verizon.net.

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