Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20, 1956. St. William's Church. Euclid, Ohio--First Communion

Fifty-eight years ago today, I made my First Holy Communion at St. William's Church in Euclid, Ohio. The church was on East 260th Street, about 1/3 of a mile south of Lake Erie. These were the years when the World War II vets had their families, and thus the baby boom. So there were lots of us making our First Communion. Here's a wild guess on the numbers: 200-250. I was among the shortest of the kids in my class and I was paired up with Randy Wohlgemuth, 4th in line. Our pastor was Fr. John Fleming, a man gruff on the outside, with a heart of gold and great goodness about him (when my Dad was periodically unemployed, Fr. Fleming paid our utility bills!). The boys wore white shirts and ties (I probably had a clip-on bow-tie). The girls were dressed like brides, with white dresses, white gloves, and a lace veil over their heads. The image would have made the angels weep. I was 7 years old, a month short of my 8th birthday. Everybody was about that age, 7 or 8. This was the halcyon era for children in Euclid, and really all over America. We were very carefully prepared for First Communion by the Ursuline nuns and lay teachers of St. William's. One of the nuns who prepared me was Sr. Ruth Marie Behrend. I have recently come into contact with her nephew, Tim Behrend, who lives in Indonesia and has seen my blog. I believe Sr. Ruth Marie lives at the Ursuline Mother House in Pepper Pike, Ohio. My second grade teacher was Mrs. Bartrum (Bartroom?). I am grateful for these nuns and teachers.

I can't remember too many details of that mass. It must have been a solemn high mass, with glorious singing (most of it in Latin). That was in the pre-Vatican II era, so the congregation didn't participate much. Interaction between the celebrant and the altar boys would have been in Latin. The Gloria and Credo would have been sung in Latin, as would the Preface, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei.

I was terrified when I approached the altar rail at communion time. The thought of the living Jesus coming into my mouth in the form of unleavened bread was almost as much as I could take. I thought I would faint or die or maybe rise up into the air (no kidding!). I'm sure other kids were also confused, and in some cases scared. My cousin Tommy Fitzpatrick (who died in Vietnam 13 years later) didn't (or couldn't) swallow the host that day.

After the Communion we had a family party (all our friends were actually relatives, so we were related to everyone at the party). My grandparents and aunts and uncles came to our little house on East 266 Street, and as they arrived, they gave me a card. Inside was a dollar, sometimes two. At the end of the party, I counted up all my loot. I had $18, more money than I had ever seen. At the party the kids drank "Little Toms" and played baseball in the yard. The adults drank beer (a little wine was also available--Tommy and I sampled it), smoked their cigarettes, laughed and told stories.

That was my big day, 58 years ago today. The happiest day of my life.

May 1958--Denny's First Communion. Euclid, Ohio.
The photo above was taken two years later, at my brother Denny's First Communion. The same folks would have been at my First Communion on May 20, 1956. Some of the people shown above: Jerry Fitzpatrick, Kay Coughlin, Grandma Cora Coughlin, Bill Coughlin, Bernice Coughlin Potter, Bill Brock, Grampa Connie Coughlin, Howard Classen, Jack Coughlin, Catherine Fitzpatrick, Maggie Brock, Julia Fitzpatrick Brock. Denny Coughlin is in front of Grampa Coughlin. Jill Potter Charske is in front of Grandma Cora. Annie Potter Anderson is obscured, just to the right of Denny Coughlin. I think Sheila Fitzpatrick is the woman in front, kneeling down. Jeannie Coughlin Struna might be in front of Kay Coughlin and just to the right of Jerry Fitzpatrick

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