Reflections of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish

Recently my cousin, who grew up beside me on the top floor of a triple-decker at 159 Forest Hills Street, told me about your website.   I read the articles by Roy Magnuson and Jim Cradock and they were great!

I myself grew up on the bottom floor of a triple-decker at 155 Forest Hills Street.  My mother and father, as children, both grew up in the tenement at 187 Green Street.  Eventually my Italian grandparents, one of the first Italian families to move to Jamaica Plain, and their five children bought a house at 10 ½ Greenley Place.  It had a stable for my grandfather’s horse, Dick, to service my grandfather’s store, Raffy’s Variety Store at the corner of Union Avenue and Green Street.  He had the store for 54 years.  A thick stack of IOUs indicated his generosity.  My grandfather worked six days a week for the Boston Elevated Company as a track walker.

My mother’s family, Tim and Margaret Sullivan, moved to Montebello Road.  My mother and father married in 1934, after my father was double-promoted twice at the Bowditch School, before attending Jamaica Plain High School (which at the time was called West Roxbury High School).  Dad then went to MIT, frequently walking there from Jamaica Plain, to graduate at age 15 in 1927 as an electrical engineer.  He later supervised the installation of the City’s first automated traffic signal system.

I still keep in close contact with Father Aiden Walsh of Haverford Street, Johnny Curran of 159 Forest Hills Street, Paul Martick of 98 Forest Hills Street, and Billy Fallon of Glen Road/Rocky Nook Terrace —as well as my Sullivan cousins of the aforementioned Forest Hills Street, one of whom married a Repucci from Rockvale Circle.

Attached is a piece I wrote several years ago for the 100-year celebration of Our Lady of Lourdes School.

Keep up the great work.

Joe (Skip) Galeota  

2 Hackensack Circle

Boston, MA  02467

January 18, 2014

jgaleota [at]

Some Reflections of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish 50 Years Ago

Founded in 1908, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish was exactly half way to its 100th Anniversary in 1958, when I was privileged to graduate from its school.

Like Caesar’s Gaul, all of Jamaica Plain at that time was divided in tres partes: Blessed Sacrament, St. Thomas (Aquinas) and Lourdes. (Because it straddled Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, St. Andrew’s was not formally part of The Big Three; because it included only a few Jamaica Plain streets – Dalrymple and Boylston come quickly to mind – and it did not have a school, St. Mary of the Angels also was not considered part of The Big Three.)

Courtesy Mark Bulger

Courtesy Mark Bulger

Though no longer attending Lourdes in the 1950s, Mayor Curley was referenced reverentially by elders as “James Michael.” The urban myth was that the borders of Lourdes had been gerrymandered to include his mansion on the distant Jamaicaway.

The 1950s were truly remarkable days for Our Lady of Lourdes. Monsignors Kelly and then Desmond oversaw three or more curates – nowadays called “parochial vicars” – at the same time. Sunday masses were on the half hour every hour, starting at 6:30 and extending to 11:30, the children’s Mass being at 8:30, when they had to sit up front. The parish school was teeming with the children of Irish immigrants, for the most part, while at least eighteen Sisters of St. Joseph staffed the school, two assigned to each grade from first to eighth.

The smell of barley and oats from the Haffenreffer Brewery (“H-A-double-F-E-N-R-E-double-F-E-R,” which produced, as locals who drank a tad too much called it the next day, “Green Death”) wafted over much of the parish, depending on which way the wind was blowing. Speeding diesel locomotives pulling The Merchants Limited, The Yankee Clipper, The Colonial, and The Night Owl to and from New York and Washington bisected the parish virtually every hour.

In the days before photocopying machines, the veiled nuns risked purple hands from Rexograph machines as they sought to provide stimulating work for thirty or more students in each class. The nuns taught all subjects, with the task of disciplining uncooperative students falling to the principal of the school. The cook took care of the nuns’ culinary needs as students departed school at noon each day for lunch and had to be back at one o’clock.

At the risk of offending any of the hundreds of saintly and dedicated nuns who served our parish, I have to mention a few: Sister Clarissa was an aged, holy nun who taught 50 or so third graders year after year. What made her distinctive was not her wrinkled face between the starched linen; nor was it her wonderful classroom management of cherubic 9-year olds. Rather, it was the fact that she told a joke each day that her students anticipated so eagerly – this, mind you, in an era when “laughter and religion” were not mentioned in the same sense. Sister Mariterese, a young nun teaching 8th grade, was keenly interested in sports. Not having access to The Boston Post and The Boston Traveller, she was interested in any tidbits about the Red Sox and her teenage charges’ athletic accomplishments. And then there was Sister Jamesina, not even trained as a music teacher, who, mirabile dictu, taught her 5th graders, sitting in six rows, to sing “Beautiful Dreamer” in stunning, three-part harmony.

Not unlike so many others who were given a wonderful education gratis, I take pride in recalling all the CSJ’s who taught me: Sisters Melrherese in the 1st, Honorius in the 2nd, Margaret Mary in the 4th, Petrus in the 6th, and Annunciata in the 7th, under the principalships of Aniceta and Joanita.

There was no gymnasium at the school, so the walk back and forth to home was the mid-day exercise, nowadays called physical education. Students who could not reach home in time to come back for the afternoon session ate lunch at the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood House on Amory Street, run by Charlie Flaherty. For the most part, stay-at-home mothers were the rule, and it was a good time to get soup and a sandwich. On Wednesday afternoons, Father Manton radio-broadcast his novena at noontime from Mission Church, listening to which was de rigeur in my home.

The parish school had two lines filing out twice a day: the Brookside Avenue line and the Washington Street one. The students from the former passed under the mainline of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad through a tunnel; the other students crossed under the noisy overhead of the MTA’s Forest Hills-Everett line. Even though we attended the same school, there was a feeling of wariness if one were to go on the “wrong” side of the New Haven Railroad tracks. (Note: there was no socio-economic difference as triple-deckers existed on both sides.)

On one occasion, unbeknownst to the nuns, the boys from both sides of the tracks decided to play a tackle football game against each other outside White Stadium (where the students of Boston Tech, Roxbury Memorial, Jamaica Plain High, and Roslindale High competed in double-headers inside). No adults were there on an autumn Saturday morning to supervise our game, because all sports in those days were pick-up games. I can’t remember who won, but an 8th grader broke his leg in this “unauthorized” game, and to quote Forrest Gump, “that was the end of that.”

The church held many activities. My parents spoke of card parties before I came along, but these fund-raisers did not exist in the fifties, which saw a vibrant Sodality, Holy Name, Drum-and Bugle-Corps, altar boys, CYO baseball and basketball (using the Carolina Playground and the Mary Curley School gym, respectively). The St. Vincent de Paul Society functioned with home visits below the radar, lest anyone’s privacy be violated. Separate missions for men and women were conducted at night. A large parish carnival was held in the summer outside in the good weather in the parking lot of the “old” church.

Three places were off-limits. Nobody was allowed on the grassy plot on both sides of the church. Nor were kids allowed on the convent lawn. Entering the fenced-off area where the nuns hung their clothes to dry on the line was equally verboten.

To serve as an altar boy at a funeral was a reputable way to get out of school for an hour. But any joy was offset by the somber way the priests at Solemn High Mass would recite, “May the angels lead thee into Paradise; may the martyrs welcome thee…” before grieving loved ones.

Lighting the candles for High Mass was an altar boy’s worst nightmare. As bad as lighting the incense for Sunday afternoon Benediction, igniting the unreasonably high candles with a long taper tested even a priest’s patience when the time for beginning Mass/benediction was imminent.

Attending morning Mass during Advent and Lent was expected of pupils. One curate, Father McDevitt, did not own a car, and he could be seen in his priestly attire, understandably devoid of his usual friendliness, walking the streets of the parish bringing Holy Communion to shut-ins.

Most of the parish did their shopping at one of the First National stores, a small one at Green and Washington streets, a large one in Egleston Square, and another large one on Centre Street near the Monument. The Mohican Market at Green and Centre offered an alternative to the Finast products.

There were no movie theaters in the parish; parishioners had the choice of the Egleston, the Jamaica in Hyde Square, and the Franklin and Oriental both on Blue Hill Avenue. Two fire stations served the parish, one in Egleston Square and the other on Centre Street (now JP licks). The police station was Station 13, where a no-nonsense motorcycle police officer named McGowan enforced law and order for OLOL kids crossing streets.

A number of bar-rooms and liquor stores (euphemistically called “package stores”) dotted the parish, but virtually no restaurants. Howard Johnson’s at the Forest Hills Rotary, just beyond the parish boundary, was the destination of 8th grade classes on graduation night, with its 28 flavors of ice cream. Doyle’s had not achieved any citywide fame yet. Kilgariff’s, near Mayo’s Hardware Store on Green Street, provided musical entertainment at night. On the Fourth of July free Hoodsies and gimp were given out at the Margaret Fuller School, while Jamaica Pond was the site of fireworks after dusk, long before the Hatch Shell became the popular venue for Arthur Fiedler.

Marriages, baptisms, Holy Communion, Confirmation, and funerals were performed numerous times for our family in the church that honors the appearance of the Blessed Mother to Bernadette Soubiroux in a French village. If only every child and family had the discipline, training, and love – from the Sisters of St. Joseph, the priests, family, and classmates – that those of us who grew up in the fifties in Lourdes experienced, to quote Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world it would be!”