of the greatest things I remember about growing up in Gray’s Ferry was
how unashamedly Catholic we were in our Saint Gabriel days. Every
school day was in itself an exercise in our Catholic faith starting
with the prerequisite Catholic school uniform that was de rigueur in school.
February 3 always has a particular fondness for me as well. Every year
the entire school was marched over to the church to receive the
“Blessing of Throats,” on the feast of Saint Blaise. The ritual has
been observed by both the Eastern and the Western Church since the
early 4th century; however we didn’t know that growing up Catholic in
the ethnically insulated enclave of Gray’s Ferry.

I sort of remember the crossed candles being lighted at some point
in the pre-Vatican II parochial life of an American Irish Catholic;
however I am not too sure. In those days an ignited candle would pose a
great threat to long haired Catholic grade school girls with large
portions of flammable hairspray saturating their hair, as well as the
layers of coats sweaters and scarves that were present in the frigid
weather of February. Anyhow, the blessing was always something I really
looked forward to each year…being the proverbial poster boy for ear,
nose and throat infections!

The Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were always
quick to recall the legend of Saint Blaise which had a young boy
choking on a fish bone. After Saint Blaise prayed over him and blessed
his throat…he was healed and was able to breathe again. Always being
the victim of nasal congestion due to sinus maladies I welcomed any
opportunity to open the nasal passages and the commemoration of the
Feast of Saint Blaise was a miraculous form of theological penicillin.

Regardless, sometimes we loose sight of the importance of these
sacramentals in our modern Catholic Church. Celebration of the cult of
the saints is somewhat comforting and reassuring for me as a
contemporary Catholic. Over the years I have somehow acquired a first
class (piece of bone) relic of Saint Blaise and I drag his bones out
every year and bless my daughter’s throat with the relic. Again this
year, I will tell her of the story of Saint Blaise, how he was martyred
for his Catholic faith and how he is the patron saint against diseases
of the throat. Part of the great heritage of growing up Catholic in
Gray’s Ferry is the annual Blessing of Throats…a time when you actually
got out of school for a bit, participated in an ancient sacramental of
the Church, venerated the memory of a great Saint and Martyr and
learned something about history, faith and religious celebrations.

Who knew the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
actually understood what they were doing! As I always say…Catholic
schools need a dozen I.H.M. nuns to teach authentic Catholic
theology…disregarding the sometimes pseudo Protestant evangelism that
frequently passed for Catholic education these days.

Saint Blaise…pray for all of us! Especially those with persistent
post nasal drip that Mrs. Gorman our grade school nurse could never

J.McNichol is a Catholic author and
journalist writing on Catholic topics and issues. He attended Saint Charles
Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia,
where he studied both philosophy and theology. He writes frequently at
. Hugh writes about his Irish Catholic
upbringing and educational experiences at
. He has contributed works to Catholic News Agency, Catholic Online, The
Irish Catholic, Dublin, the British Broadcasting
Company, London and the Philadelphia Bulletin, Catholic Exchange,, Blogger News Network & The Catholic Business Journal and Comments are always welcome at

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