Sunday, November 05, 2017

Convent, gone

All that remains. November 5, 2017. I never realized until I saw this rubble that the mortar used on these bricks was purple. Yellow bricks with purple mortar. All these years, and I never noticed that.

The former convent at the old St. Mary's school in Nanticoke has been torn down.

St. Mary's church (background), new rectory (left), convent (right), November 6, 2005 - twelve years less one day ago.

Perhaps some explanation is necessary. In the olden days, a Roman Catholic Parish consisted of several physical parts. Central, of course, was the church itself. This was the gathering place of the members of the parish for weekly attendance at Mass, and for special masses throughout the year. Next to the church was the rectory, the home of the parish priest - or, often, priests. This also served as an office for the priest, a place for him to meet with members of the parish for parish business or private conversations. Near to the church was the parish school. At one time, Catholic schools were the primary alternative to the public school system in many areas. These schools were small, but each parish usually had its own, and even in a small city like Nanticoke this meant multiple Catholic schools for the multiple parishes. Next to the school was a convent. The convent provided dormitory-like housing for the parish nuns, who also served as the primary teachers at the Catholic schools.

The whole system has been in decay since before I was born. My parish, Our Lady of Czestochowa (commonly called St. Mary's), had already combined its school system with that of crosstown parish St. Stanislaus. Kindergarten was at St. Mary's, as were first grade and all subsequent odd-numbered grades; even-numbered grades had classes at St. Stan's. This arrangement ended before I made it to sixth grade, at which point all classes were being held in St. Mary's. There just weren't enough students to sustain two schools.

"New" rectory, convent, and school, March 2005

There also weren't enough nuns to teach all the grades. Kindergarten was taught by a lay teacher, as were second and third grade. At least one other class was taught by a lay teacher - sixth grade, I believe. The nuns were getting older, and more of them went to the retirement home in Reading each year.

I graduated from eighth grade in 1981. Not long after, St. Mary's and St. Stan's combined their schools with the nearby Holy Trinity parish. (Another parish, St. Joseph's, had closed its school a few years earlier, sending its handful of students to St. Mary's.) All of the classes were held in Holy Trinity's school. St. Mary's school closed.

With the closing of each school, the associated convent became superfluous. While nuns provided other services in the parish, their primary role was educational. Without students and a school, the nuns were no longer needed. They moved out of the convents, which, like the schools, were either repurposed or left vacant.

And so the convent at St. Mary's has been vacant for over thirty years. Until this week, when it was torn down.


The Nuns' Bridge, which allowed them to walk directly from the convent to the school. Below is the entrance where my mom and her fellow students would enter the convent to take shelter during air raids. The nearness of the buildings captured any wind and turned it into a raging vortex. Photo taken November 6, 2005.

My mom went to the same grade school as me. This is a strange thought, that she and I walked the same hallways, climbed the same stairs, sat in the same classrooms.

She has her own memories of the convent. For me it was a dark and forbidding place. I was only inside it a few times, and only to serve Mass, during the periodic but infrequent masses held inside the convent exclusively for the nuns. I remember nuns on kneelers, clutching rosaries.

I also remember the smell of baking coming from the basement of the convent sometimes. This was the basement that my mom remembered, the place that would serve as a shelter during air raid drills. She grew up during World War II. Air raids were a real concern.

I drove her past the rubble of the convent after Mass yesterday. Her breath caught as she remembered those long-ago days of seeking refuge in a place that is now no longer there.

Church and convent. The area where my mom and her classmates would take shelter during WWII air raid drills is in the foreground, now covered with creeping weeds.

The rubble that was once a convent.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Halloween 2017

I didn't intend to pass out candy last night, but I did.

I had bought rather a lot of candy to be passed out at work, as coworkers were allowed to bring their children in in costume. Despite generously doling out candy by the fistful and leaving a huge pile to be passed out by a coworker who would be there several hours past the end of my shift, I still brought home a fairly enormous amount of candy.

My shift ended at 2:30. As I drove home I noticed the woman in the car behind me was wearing some sort of Nefertiti headdress. I passed by a few kids and their parents at a Halloween event at the Red Cross. After taking my mom to All Saints' Day mass (which ended with the organist breaking into Bach's Toccata and Fuge in D Minor, the first time I ever heard it played live), we saw numerous groups of kids and parents getting out to an early start of Trick-or-Treating, and as we pulled in front of her house, the neighbor boy patiently waited on his front lawn for friends to arrive while dapperly dressed as Orson Krennic from Rogue One. I decided then that if all these people were putting effort into Halloween, I would pass out candy at my mom's house.

One of the front steps there needs repair - that's on my to-do list for my current staycation, brought on by having nearly two weeks of use-it-or-lose-it vacation time - so I didn't want to make the kiddies walk up the steps. Instead I fitted myself with winter gear - sweater, scarf, coat, gloves, over-the-ears hat - set a chair out at the bottom of the steps, turned on the porch light, and sat down under the fading twilight to await the Trick-or-Treaters.

There weren't many houses in the neighborhood passing out candy, but there were a few, so my night didn't just consist of seated stargazing. Kids came in groups, anywhere from two to seven. A few were alone, escorted by their parents. Most were younger, but young or old, everyone got candy. Quite a few people brought along their dogs in costume, but all I had for them were pets on the head, which they appreciated.

Most costumes were fairly generic, or at least had no discernible connection to any celebrity. I had a Batman, and a pretty elaborate Cleopatra, and only one Donald Trump - I only realized this after I noticed the orange makeup smeared over his face. No Fake Melanias, which would have been a pretty easy costume: a wig, big sunglasses, and a raincoat. (Note for future readers: Donald Trump recently did a speech where he pointed out, unnecessarily, that his wife Melania was standing right next to him. Melania, who was in fact standing next to him in a raincoat and oversized sunglasses, nodded slightly and turned her head almost mechanically. It was an odd thing, and immediately spawned tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theories that this was not in fact Melania but a hastily-put-together double. I really think of this as a companion piece to an event a month earlier when Trump apparently forgot that Melania was standing next to him at an event, and expressed regret that she couldn't be there.)

I had started handing out candy around 6:30, and decided to wrap things up at 8:00. My cousin brought her daughter (dressed as Rainbow Dash, not Rainbow Brite) over toward the end of the night. Shortly after that a young couple came past on the sidewalk, pulling a wagon with two little girls who were probably not much more than two years old. The parents asked the girls if they wanted to go to one last house, but they both said they were too tired. I jumped up and went to them, loading up the girls' bags with handfuls of candy. They were all very appreciative.

In the end I wound up with leftover candy. But I was glad I got to pass out what I did.