Being an altar boy was a big deal, starting from the first grade through the eighth. We were given Mass cards in Latin, and it took some time before I understood the English translation. At Sacred Heart School, as altar servers we were identified and pulled out of class on occasion to serve at funerals at the big church next door and at Masses in the chapel. I remember receiving 50 cents for funeral Mass assignments.
Then there were the diocesan Altar Boy awards, with a trip each year to Camp Villa Marie for fun and recognition of the support we provided our respective parishes. Beginning in the late 1950’s, the camp was on the same property as the new St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, located on the Isle of Hope at Grimball Point Road in Savannah.
At that time, the Bishop of Savannah, Thomas J. McDonough, made vocations to the priesthood a very high priority, and opened St John’s seminary for high school aged boys, believing that placing promising young men in a supportive and collegial environment would serve as a “hot house” in growing budding vocations. As one of at least a dozen or so faithful altar boys at St. Joseph’s parish, I expected to be recruited to St. John’s upon completing the 8th grade.
Parish life at St. Joseph’s continued to be wholesome and supportive. I knew most of the families, growing up with their kids, going on hay rides, eating BBQ and hanging out each July during the Church Bazaar, and attending CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) dances on the weekends in Lourdes Hall. My Dad was one of the chaperones, and we spent Sunday evenings spinning the 45’s we brought to the hall while breaking the ice with the whole dancing thing.
The “non-Catholic” kids, it seemed, could take social with Augusta’s Mrs. Price to practice their dancing and social etiquette skills. Of course, my mother forbade social (lack of funds was a big consideration I expect), just as she did not allow us to see Elvis and Beach Party movies, or go to Fleming Teen Town, thinking we were too young for boy/girl commiseration and exposure to Elvis kissing the girls.
Mom also had a “book” she kept in her dresser drawer that she would let my brother and sisters and I read when we each reached 13 years, you know, about the “birds and the bees”. We were already familiar with most of what was in the book, hearing a lot on the school bus, but didn’t dare tell Mom, who volunteered no explanations, and miraculously each of us worked through the awkwardness with this coming of age. I expect that Mom’s restrictions came from a sense that the culture was changing toward what would become the sexual revolution, and her instincts and actions were tough, her intentions on target.
(To be continued – Eighth grade graduation, and Father Coleman comes to Sacred Heart, recruiting for seminarians.)
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