IN HONOR OF POPE FRANCIS’ VISIT TO AMERICA
AN EXCERPT FROM: America The Black Point of View: An Investigation and Study of The White People of America and Western Europe & The Autobiography of an American Ghetto Boy – The 1950’s and 1960’s – From the Projects to NAACP Image Award Winner, Volume One (Amber Books) by Tony Rose
Tony Rose Amber Communications Group, Inc., 1334 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 5-D67, Phoenix, AZ 85048 602-743-7211 firstname.lastname@example.org
While living in the Whittier Street Housing Projects when I was eight years old, I was one of eleven African American children selected to go to St. Francis De Sales Parochial School in Roxbury, Mass. The deal was that I would become a Catholic and remain a Catholic for the rest of my life.
ACT 3 – ST. FRANCIS DE SALES PAROCHIAL SCHOOL– 1959-1964 – Page 339
1 ) I was 8-years-old, and in the third grade at Asa Grey Elementary School. I had already started working and had a number of jobs in the project, and certain territories around the project that I covered. To my right facing Tremont Street, from the projects, and across the street was the laundry room where I took our clothes to wash and dry, there was liquor store where I got people’s alcohol for them. Then, to the right of the projects there was a similar scene where I went to Slade’s to sell my newspapers and shine Bill Russell’s and other Celtics’ shoes. And then it was over to the Lenox Street projects where my cousins lived and other people I knew from school, so I would visit my cousins with my mother from time to time, and then just up the street from there at Northampton Street was where all the clubs were – Shanty’s Lounge and a number of other clubs where I sold my newspapers and shined shoes. So that was pretty much my territory outside of the projects, and across the street on Ruggles Street in back of the Ruggles Street Baptist Church where all the ghost people went, was the Asa Grey School. Then, there was Madison Park on one side where we played at from time to time. In the summer the park had the biggest grasshoppers and all the stray dogs lived there and in the winter the snowplows would plow all the snow into Madison Park and make big mountains of snow with valleys and hiding places to have snowball fights, and then up on Cabot Street was the Cabot Street Gym, and at Cabot Street and Vernon Street was Al’s grocery store. Now Al’s grocery store was important because that’s where I had established credit for me, my mother and sister so we could eat, but I had never been beyond there; I had never gone beyond Al’s store because it wasn’t necessary; but I did know that a lot of ghosts lived up in that area. So I wasn’t sure what was there, but one day, it was in the winter time and I had my sled, and just beyond Al’s store was this home – this sort of—something I hadn’t seen before. It was one story and it was brick and it was across the street from a field which looked down into the Health Unit Park. Across the street from where we lived on Cabot and Whittier Street was the Health Unit where we went to get our teeth pulled; and there was a make shift baseball court on cement in that small park on one side and a basketball court on the other and in back of it was a place to wade in the water in the summer. These were all the things I could see, when I went a few steps past Al’s grocery store. They were all part of the field below. On this particular day, I had no reason except that I was used to doing it, and it was my job to knock on people’s doors and ask them if they wanted me to go to the store for them. It was a way to make money and I had been doing it for about 3 years. The house was just beyond Al’s grocery store and I, with my sled, took a chance. It was probably around November 1958, and I went up to the gate, it was surrounded by a fence. I opened the gate and went up the walkway to the steps and saw there was a doorbell there and I rang it. And a woman came to the door and opened it up and God entered my life, right away. It was an immediate situation. It was immediate – nothing else mattered, I remember the rush to this day.
2) I understood exactly what this woman was. Although I had never seen anything like her before; but it was a ghost woman and she had on black, and her head and hair was covered with something black and white. And she asked me “what did I need?” She didn’t ask me what I wanted, she asked me what I needed. I had never seen her before and she had never seen me before, but she asked me what I needed. I asked her if she wanted me to go to the store for her; then she looked at me and smiled and came back and said no, not right now, but for me to come back later. So I went away and didn’t know what to make of it, and on another trip to Al’s I came back and I knocked on the door and rang the doorbell and asked the same ghost if she wanted me to go to the store for her. The ghost said no but she had something for me that she had been saving and wanted to know if I wanted it. It was near Thanksgiving and what I learned was that these people gave away turkeys. So she handed me a basket with the turkey and some other things in it and I took the basket home and gave it to my mother. And I would come back to that house, and sometimes I would go to the store for them and sometimes they would give me more food stuff. One day when I was there – by now I was inside the house. I would come to the door and they would open it up and I would go inside the house and stand there and they would talk to me. There would be a number of women ghosts and they would just talk to me. And so, I would go to Al’s for them sometime and get what they needed and bring it back, and they would give me food and sometimes a dollar. I would take the food and the dollar home. On one trip, and this was the most important trip to that house, because it changed my life. The women ghosts parted and in front of me stood a colored man and he had on what I now knew was some type of a uniform and it was black and had a white collar so I kind of knew what this was by the pictures I had seen in the hallway. This was a colored man and he asked me some questions. He asked me my age, what I did, where did I go to school, things like that, what grade I was in. And then he asked me a question which I found strange and that was “would I like to go to school there”? And I didn’t know what that meant because I didn’t know there was a school there. But somehow I knew I should say yes, so I said yes. He smiled at me and said he’d have to talk to my mother. Well my mother was crazy, so I didn’t know why and if he needed to talk with her at all; but he certainly could talk to me. Wherever he wanted me to go, I was ready to go right now, because that was just how it was for me. I was willing to go anywhere from where I was. And, so I said well, I don’t know, I’ll have to ask her and so I left. So I went back to the projects which were right down the street, more or less, and I didn’t say anything because my mother was crazy and I didn’t know what she might do.
3) So life went on, and about Christmas I went back up there and they gave me another turkey and invited me in; and the colored man came and asked me if I talked to my mother. I said yes and he said, well what did she say? I said, well I’m not sure I didn’t understand her, but I think she said yes. And he said, I’m going to need to talk to her, and at that point I didn’t know what to do because my mother was crazy and I certainly didn’t want him to meet her. But he was a little forceful. He said, I need to speak to your mother, where do you live? He said, You live down the street, don’t you? And he motioned down to the projects where I lived, and I said yes. So he said, I need to know what your address is and I need to talk to your mother. And I said, okay. Then he said, can you come back tomorrow? And I said, okay. So I didn’t go back; actually, I didn’t go back the next day or the next day, or the next day, either. Christmas came and went and it was now going to be 1959. And I didn’t know what to say to the people up the street and one day I went to Al’s to transact my business with Al. And after I transacted the business with him, I said can you hold my bags? He said okay, and I went around the corner to the building again and knocked on the door and the ghost woman answered the door and she said come in and she called for the colored man. The colored man came and he said, Are you ready for me to see your mother? I want to go see her now. I said okay, come on and so he came with me. We stopped at Al’s and he took one of my bags and we walked down to the project to my address 159 Cabot Street, apartment 157. And of course the elevator was broken and we had to walk up the five flights of stairs and I knocked on the door and my mother opened it; and there I was with the colored man. And the colored man introduced himself as Father Paul Francis. I didn’t really know his name, but that was his name. That’s what he said to my mother and he said he’d like to talk to her about me going to school and so he came inside our little project apartment. And there was no place for him to sit because we didn’t have a dining table or chairs so he just stood there. When you walked in the door you walked right into the kitchen and the stove, with the chicken grease popped all on the wall, was right in front of you and to your left was just a small cabinet and so that’s where he stood there. There was no place else for him to stand or sit. So he just stood there and he asked my mother if I could go to the school up the street; and she—I couldn’t believe it—she was actually nice to him. She smiled at him and she said, well you need to tell me more, what is this about? and he explained to her that it was a Catholic school, a Parochial school, and that they would like for me to go there. And she looked at me and she said do you want to go there? I said yes and she said okay, (and that’s when it first hit me that maybe she was just crazy on me when nobody else was around, that she just hated me, not everybody else.) the colored man said, okay, he’s coming then. I need some information, when does he graduate. He knew the grade I was in; and I guess I had given him some other information about Asa Grey.
4) The thing was, I was in the third grade at Asa Grey and I would be graduating the next May or June, and I was scheduled to go to the Sherwin School and from the Sherwin School you went to reform school and then jail. Everyone knew that. The Sherwin School was basically a reformatory for the surrounding projects and the ghetto kids who lived in the area tenements. Everyone who went to the Sherwin went to jail. They went to reform school and then jail. It was a matter of fact…it was where everybody went. There was nothing at the Sherwin School. There wasn’t anything there to learn, you just went there. Everybody was either bad when they came in or turn bad afterwards. Eventually, the school was burned down by Johnny McAvain around 1964 or 1965. So, at this time it was 1959. I was 8-years-old and I still don’t know what’s going on but I knew that something important was happening and the colored man said so. And so I go up there again. They gave me food, they gave me money for going to the store for them, they talked, they were nice people. I liked the ghost women and I liked the colored man. They were real nice and so they find out that I’m graduating in June and that in September I’ll be going to the Sherwin School. They have all my information, they have everything they need and life goes on in the projects and I continued my work in the projects, my buildings and my deal with Al goes on. And all the things that are necessary for me to do, I do. It was summer now and it’s June. When we graduated from ASA Grey in June, we were marched over to the Sherwin School to register for the fall. The Sherwin School was just up the street from ASA gray across from Madison Park; so we were marched into Madison Park and over to Sherwin and up the stairs because we had to register there. It was a registration process and I’m in line to be registered for the Sherwin School for the following year, which began the 4th grade all the way to the 8th or 9th grade. So while I’m standing in line, my mind goes to the people at the house and how they said that they would be coming for me, to get me, and take me with them; because I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be there at the Sherwin School with these kids. I knew that I didn’t want to be there. I felt that I didn’t belong there. It was just something in me that I knew that day. And I’m standing in line with the other children and I’m 8-years-old and I’m waiting, and then all of a sudden it was like I was seeing an aberration. One of the ghost women comes up the stairs, her black robes are flowing. I can still see her today. And she walked up the stairs and she looks at me and says my name and takes my hand and walks me down the stairs, out of the building, across Madison Park, up Cabot Street, past Al’s to what I now know is called the rectory. And the colored man, who I now know is Father Paul Francis, takes my hand and walks me out and around the bend to what is St. Francis de Sales Parochial School, where I will spend the next five years. And he takes me inside and they register me for September; and I now would be going to St. Francis de Sales Catholic School. So that’s the beginning of me, of my life with God, and learning about God, the Catechism, the Catholic Church and myself.
5) St. Francis de Sales, which I began in September of 1959 when I was 8, I would be 9 that October, I began in the fourth grade. It was like a new world to me. It was full of ghosts in black and white, and full of ghost kids who were Irish and Italian; and from what I saw, a sprinkling of other colored kids like me. I think there were probably 5, 6 or 7 from the project where I lived. I didn’t know them well in the projects, but I later learned who they were and I would know them well for the next five years -4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade. And the best thing about that school was, since we were poor, there were only a few changes of clothing that I would need. I had to wear a blue blazer, white shirt, a clip on tie, and blue or gray pants. So there were very few clothes needed for that situation; the most important things were underwear and shoes, and because there were always holes in the one pair of shoes that I would get a year, I would always be wearing cardboard in them, I would be literally walking on cardboard going to school, but that would be okay, because wearing no underwear or my sisters underwear would be a lot worse. The main bad thing about going there was that the ghost sisters didn’t serve breakfast or lunch and since my mother didn’t serve or pack breakfast or lunch for me, I was always sitting in my classrooms hungry as a motherfucker, but that’s where good ol Al came in, Al always kept a package of bread open and would slap together a baloney and cheese sandwich for a poor, hungry, colored child. In that five years’ time, a lot of things happened. The most important thing about that situation was how I got there and what I learned. There were quite a few battles that had to be fought with the ghost kids, but I learned that was a necessary situation. I learned a different value. I learned how to do things well; the ghost sisters were great teachers, they were great people. One thing I learned from a ghost man named John was how to be an altar boy. He would pay us a dollar to come to alter boy practice and learn the Catechism and learn Latin. The main thing was to learn Latin. At nine years old I became an altar boy for St. Francis de Sales Church in Roxbury on Vernon Street, and would serve Father Paul Francis at the 7:00am Mass. It would be a proud moment always for me, and I remember my mother and sister coming sometimes.
6) The sisters took care of our Catechism and taught us to go to church, and about God and Jesus Christ and all that meant. It was a great time and it was a bad time because as anyone who’s been through that experience knows that you go from one place, and then you have to go back to another place; the ghetto, the projects and my mother, who because of all that had happened to her life, was intent on destroying mine. I would go to school with black and purple welts all over my body where she had beaten me with a belt for whatever reason that she could fabricate, I can still see the bruises on my upper arms and body raised up along with the bed bug bites I would constantly have. Bed Bug bites are similar to belt buckle welts, except that at the top of the swollen purple bed bug bite is a small hole that oozes pus and blood out of it. I honestly believe that if we had a gym period and my bruises had of been discovered, that she would have been arrested for child abuse and that would have been the end of her in my life. I can honestly say that I never learned one damn thing from my mother, all she did was beat on me physically, mentally and emotionally through my whole childhood. Her sickness and madness knew no boundaries when it came to me, her tortures for me were endless and awesome. I was my father’s son and she was going to do everything she could do to hurt and destroy me. I would pay forever with her for the sins of my father. I could read very well by the time I was four and reading became an obsession for me, it became my refuge. Within a book I could be anywhere but where I was and my imagination grew. I learned early as a six-year-old child, that with the noise and clutter of my mother’s voice that I could not do homework in our project apartment, she would sweat as she screeched on and on about her color, her mother, my father, the welfare lady, the welfare department, my father, her color, how we were black and ugly and nobody wanted us, I heard that a million times as a child, always complaining, always sad, always hating, always hating me, and there was nothing or nowhere for me to sit and do homework on anyway. There was no peace and there was no God at 159 Cabot Street, apartment 157, there was only struggle, anxiety, poverty, and my mother’s howls at what had happened to her. So I learned to do my homework by reading whole books at a time, all at once and memorizing them and then reading the assigned book with my class and getting A’s and B’s on my tests. I learned to read my assigned reading with a flashlight under the covers at night, while listening to a transistor radio that my Grandmere’ had given me when I turned nine years old. This transistor radio had an ear plug and I kept it under my pillow so that The Monster I lived with couldn’t find it. I listened to all the hits with Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsberg on WMEX. I learned to love music and books with Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsberg in my ear, after I finished my late night job of killing roaches, and my mother was asleep. And unless her howls brought this monster into my room late at night after 1:00 am or 2:00 am, where her howls would end in a severe and traumatized beating of me with the belt buckle end of the belt, all the while this monster would be screaming incoherent words at me that I didn’t understand, while dripping sweat and hate, I would listen to music and read books into the night.
7) I was unsafe and safe in the unsafe and violent world of my mother and the projects, but all the music of 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, the books, the bookmobile, the libraries, the Boy’s Club, the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, The Nuns and Priests of St. Francis de Sales and God’s love, were all coming in to teach me, to save me and I listened and learned, and what I remember is that “The Monster” could not destroy me. I would find these people and places and I would know that the howls and monstrosity of that monster would make me stronger than it, that I was stronger and could defeat it and time would be on my side and that one day I would get out, I dreamed all this when I was nine, ten, eleven and twelve years old, everything I would be, everything I would do, everything I knew I could do, I could do and be, because if I could live through this monster then I could live through anything. I did this until the prime and always there and consistent enemy and dilemma of the project-ghetto boy/teenager; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), death and violence both inside and outside of my project apartment caught up with me, and embraced me, and I found alcohol, girls, drugs, and the gangs. They would soothe me and I would feel strong and safe in their embrace and eventually I would go crazy, just like millions of poor, hungry and black project-ghetto kids do every day, but in the end God was stronger, the books were stronger, the music was stronger, the nuns were stronger and God would meet me again when I was eighteen and take me by the hand and show me the way out, and I would begin the long journey to sanity through insanity and come out decades later still insane after all those years, but just sane enough to do some great things. The insanity of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder destroyed my mother, her mother, her brother, her uncle, her father, her sisters, her nephews, nieces and her children, but somehow, luckily, my sister and I had a beautiful grandmother, we called Grandmere’, who loved and cared about and for us and began to save our lives as soon as we were born and no matter where we had to live, or who we had to live with, we knew that there was a better place because she always said so and we believed her. Every African American whose family traces back to slavery and has lived through segregation in the south and segregation in America suffered and suffers from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder’s natural inclination to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed, traumatized or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger, and that’s called paranoia. PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers. PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as muggings, rapes, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or child abuse.
8) There’s always something different and then you’re back at the same place. You’re poor always. Your poverty never stops. You’re always poor, but I was always, mostly, treated well within the confines of that school. Not everything was always great; there were a couple of ghost sisters who were definitely prejudiced and weren’t very happy about having the experience of teaching poor, ugly, colored children, and showed it at times; but the education was formidable. The education was the most important thing that I got. I learned how to read and write and spell and do math wonderfully. It was something exceptional, it was a gift that had been given to me. At the time the gift was being given did I know that? Yes. but I also had to live through it, walk through it. And this means, I also had to deal with life there and I had to deal with life at home and in the projects at the same time. So it was and I was, quite formidable in every aspect. It was neither good nor bad, it just was what it was; but I went on and I went every day, all year, every season for five years. Up the street on Vernon Street was something I also didn’t know was there, and that was St. Francis de Sales Church. So between school and church, for the next five years, the church and the school became to be the most important things in my life. I became an altar boy and I learned how to read and write well between the ages of 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. It was that simple. And up the street from there on Vernon Street, there was a place called the Blessed Sacrament where I went and there were more ghost Sisters and they taught arts and crafts and you could go there from time to time and they also gave you food and baskets with turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And up the street from there, and around the corner from Vernon Street was the Salvation Army, so I learned how to go and eat there to. And from there I would bring my sister and my mother to the Blessed Sacrament and Salvation Army and we would eat dinner and we would get gifts and they would fix food for us and we had the most wonderful time. They would give us clothes and baskets of food and all kinds of things at the Blessed Sacrament and the Salvation Army. And up the street from there, was a place called The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul so we would go there and they would give us more clothes. And I brought my mother and my sister there and I showed other kids from the projects these places. I would have a number of people from the projects attend the Blessed Sacrament, Salvation Army and St Vincent DePaul, where we would get free clothes and free food. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, they would have little parties and social things for us and we would go to them and I learned to like that life and it became part of my social life for all those years. They were wonderful ghosts, wonderful ghost people and it became an important part of and development of who I was; and to this very day I give everything I can, all the money I can give to those good people.
9) While I was at St. Francis De Sales, there were a number of kids from the projects who went there – I think my sister went there for a year, but she didn’t like it and she wanted to go back to where her friends were at the Timilty School. Frank Jenkins was there from the projects, Carl Jones was there from the projects, and Carlton McCarthy was there from the projects. So, like I said, we had to wear our uniform for all five years – a white shirt with a tie and blue or black pants…that was our uniform. It was a uniform school and we had to have a blue or gray blazer jacket, and these clothes were bought with a stipend from the school. Our tuition was $10 a year. They had to charge us something so they charged us $10 a year to go to St. Francis de Sales School. While I was in school, I met and made friends with a number of ghost kids who seemed friendly enough. I had never made friends with any ghost kids before then. I also made some ghost enemies—Richard Brewster, I’ll never forget—his father owned the Brewster Ambulance Company, and Kevin Jenna. They were constant adversaries who by the time I would get to be 11 years old and in the six grade, we had a fight and I beat both of them up and that was the end of them. I remember busting Kevin Jenna’s nose. One of the sisters who was prejudiced kept me after school. She was very prejudiced, disliked that she had to teach colored kids. She kept me after school and sent them in the room to deal with me. It was over singing black spiritual songs like “Old Black Joe” that she wanted us black kids to stand up and do, and I wouldn’t do it, I refused to stand up and sing it for her and the snickering ghost kids. She left me alone in the room with them, they surrounded me and I suppose I was going to get beat up. But, of course, I was quite something, and surprised them and the prejudiced ghost sister. I can still see her snickering with the ghost kids as my colored classmates were standing there singing, as she called them, “old darky songs”. I had learned that knowing how to fight was necessary when I was about six in the projects. I learned that sometimes you won and sometimes you didn’t, sometimes you fought and sometimes you ran, sometimes you stayed alive and sometimes you died, sometimes the kids were older and you fought anyway and sometimes they were dangerous, and you just stood there and looked at them, but you never backed down from a bully, you always stood your ground and looked them in the face. Most kids didn’t have guns then, so you could deal with ghetto life like that, you didn’t have to worry about some coward pulling out a gun and shooting your ass dead. So fighting another kid was something that I understood and dealt with very well. There was this fight, a major fight that I had with this Irish kid from school named Thomas Walpole. I’ll always remember it. It was interesting because it was a thinking kind of a fight. Thomas Walpole was a year older and much bigger then I was and he was going to beat me pretty bad. I mean he was beating me pretty badly and then I’m thinking there’s this wall at my back; and as I was fighting, I was thinking, I remember thinking that if I backed up, because he was hitting me so hard and bad, if I backed up I might be able to do something. And so I did. I backed up, and put my back to the wall and I watched his fist come toward my face. He was planning to knock me out with a very powerful blow to my head. I watched his fist in slow motion and as his fist came, I inverted my head to the right. I’ll never forget that day. You could hear his fist crack against the brick wall. All the kids who were watching the fight heard that sound and I remember just beating him and kicking him all day, he had spit and blood coming out of his mouth while I was kicking him. I’m probably still kicking that motherfucker. I was still kicking him until he stopped making noises. I had quite a few fights at St. Francis de Sales, but that was the fight the kids in the projects talked about for a long time.
10) Most of the ghost sisters were wonderful. In the midst of it all, once in a while, down the hall watching us, was a man who would often pat me on the head and ask me how I was doing. He was a tall ghost man and he had on the same uniform as Father Paul Francis, but he had a hat with a red thing on the top. He was nice, he had a nice friendly face and he always smiled at me. He always seemed to pick out the colored children and be especially nice to us. He always said something nice to me. His name was Monsignor George Kerr and he was a big fellow, a big man, and I would always smile at him and tell him I was doing fine. And he would pat me on the shoulder and I would see him often. He was always talking to the sisters, talking to them going back and forth up and down the hall with all the classrooms. So it was a good experience and I remember something that was very important. I remember Cardinal Cushing praying with me at St. Francis De Sales Church. He often said Mass there and a few times I was his Alter Boy. I was confirmed in the Catholic Church at 12 years old, I went through my confirmation, together with a few of the project kids. I went through my baptism and turned Catholic when I was about 9 years old and my name became Peter. My middle name was changed to Peter and then when I was twelve, at confirmation, my middle name became Peter Joseph. While researching Monsignor Kerr, Father Paul Francis and St. Francis de sales Church and school for this book on Goggle, I found this Obituary from a distant relative of Monsignor Kerr, a man I knew as a child, a man I knew from my childhood who walked the hallways of the Catholic School I went to. When I first read the obituary I couldn’t believe what I had just read, I had to read it over and over and then I saw that I had been part of something big, part of a man’s belief, part of a man’s dream to do something for those who needed help. I slowly began to realize that the day I walked up to that rectory door and knocked and rang the bell for the first time and the Nun saw me that there must have been a lot of prayer and conversation behind the door after I left, that the beginning of the dream and wish of Monsignor Kerr and Father Paul Francis had just walked up to the door and that through God’s divine province, that the will of God was at work, that God’s will was going to be done and that the first colored child to go to St. Francis de Sales School had just walked up to the door, on his own. While reading the obituary, I would know what I always knew to be true, that we have to save ourselves, that the life you save may be your own. That I had begun to save myself as a little child, and that Monsignor Kerr, Father Paul Francis, the good Nuns of St. Francis de Sales Church and Parochial School and God’s love would always be inside of me, no matter how far I would stray, that the love of God, if I listened would always be there. After I read the obituary I wondered if Monsignor Kerr had remembered us, his little colored kids, and while reading more about him, I knew that he had remembered us and had prayed for us all of his life. Through the years, as I got older and all the hustle and bustle of my young man work in the music business was through and I was living in Los Angeles, I had time to reflect on my youth and I began to remember those wonderful people I had met as an eight year child, who had begun to save my life a very long time ago, and although I had no idea at that time that I had walked into a situation that God had planned for me, I began to pray for their them and their souls, and although I thought of them often and even found Father Paul Francis in a nursing home and talked to him on the phone, he did not remember me he said, and that to me meant that he had saved so many children that we were all as one to him, and even though I never saw any of them ever again, I remember them and their love and teachings to this very day. From: Betty Subject: Rt. Reverend George KERR, Obituary, 1983 Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2005 09:34:50 -0500 Hello, I had recently discovered that people who subscribe to “The Boston Globe” (home delivery) are able to search the archives of the GLOBE (news items only) for free. I just signed up to be able to do this—this morning, and, was browsing around a little.
I found this obituary from 1983 and thought it might be interesting to researchers:
RT. REV. GEORGE V. KERR, 63; BECAME ALL-AMERICAN IN LIFE’ Author: By Edgar J. Driscoll Jr. and William P. Coughlin Globe Staff Date: 01/24/1983 – Section: RUN OF PAPER OBITUARY Rt. Reverend George V. Kerr, chaplain of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for nearly a quarter of a century and pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church, South Weymouth, died of lung cancer at 12:10 p.m. yesterday in his summer home in Falmouth. He was 63. Msgr. Kerr had been ill for the past six months. Monsignor Kerr, who had been Roman Catholic chaplain of the House since 1959 and was coordinator of its chaplain services, was a former Boston College All-America football player who played guard on the famous Boston College football squad which came up from behind to win, 19-13, over the Tennessee Volunteers in the Sugar Bowl game of 1941. In a Boston Globe column in 1965, Will McDonough wrote of Monsignor Kerr as the “righteous reject” at Boston College who reported to then coach Gil Dobie wearing three sweaters and two overcoats to weigh in for the team at 185. When it was later discovered that his true weight was only 165 pounds, he was told he “was too slight for a football scholarship.” “It’s the story of a youngster who went from sixth team to All America; from curate to monsignor,” who at the time of the column was to be honored by Sports Illustrated magazine as a “man who has become All-American in life through his 25 years after graduation.”
Monsignor Kerr became pastor of the South Weymouth Church in 1979. Before that he was pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church, on Vernon Street, Roxbury, a church he saved from the wrecker’s ball. He was named administrator of the Roxbury church in 1958. At the time, the then 89-year-old church was in serious disrepair and could not be supported by its poor membership, which once had numbered 17,000 persons but had dwindled to fewer than 300 families.
Richard Cardinal Cushing, though he did not want to, was seriously considering tearing the church down when the then Father Kerr, by now no stranger to comeback victories in life and an aide in the Catholic Charitable Bureau, volunteered to try to save the old church and all its traditions. It was August 1958. “I’d never give it up,” Father Kerr reportedly told Archbishop Cushing. “You’ve got the job,” the archbishop told the priest. Fr. Kerr immediately set out “running and writing” to raise funds and within a year the church, where the famous Irish tenor John McCormack once sang and prayed, was renovated, along with its school (built originally in 1913). In addition, by moving into a room on the second floor of the school, Father Kerr gave his rectory over as a convent for nuns to staff the school since their old wooden convent had been condemned. It was not long before the number of St. Francis de Sales’ parishioners increased. And while he was at St. Francis de Sales, Monsignor Kerr was in the forefront of efforts to put Christian virtues of love, kindness and charity to work in Roxbury’s streets on behalf of the black community. As a pastor, he spoke out often in behalf of black causes, describing “integrated schools as . .anchors for present and future generations.”
Before coming to Roxbury, he had served as assistant director of the Catholic Charitable Bureau of the Boston Archdiocese for three years. The broad-shouldered and once dark-haired 6-footer had been stationed as a curate at St. Mary’s Church, Dedham, from 1945 to 1953. Then he was made administrator of St. Linus’ Church, Natick, where he served until 1955. Monsignor Kerr was born in Philadelphia on Feb. 14, 1919, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Felix Kerr. Brought up in Brookline, he was a graduate of St. Mary’s High School, where he was a star athlete in football, baseball and basketball, and of Boston College, Class of 1941. He was graduated from BC Cum Laude, with a scholastic average of 90, and was voted the most talented in his class. Years later, Frank Leahy, the famous coach of the BC national championship team in the monsignor’s senior year, said of him: “I sincerely believe he is the greatest all-around scholar-athlete that I have ever coached and I feel convinced that he would compare favorably with the finest in history at any school.”
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Sugar Bowl win, Monsignor Kerr told a large dinner gathering, sponsored by the Boston College Varsity Club: “A man may glitter athletically on the gridiron, and he may twinkle intellectually in the classroom. But unless his conscience sinks deep into the subsoil of religious faith and shoots its antennae up beyond the stars and space, that man will miss alike the music of Divine inspiration and the thunder of Divine command.” In 1962, when a new $50 million football stadium was proposed for the city and a Greater Boston Stadium Authority was formed, former Governor John A. Volpe appointed him to the board with the then Boston Patriots President William H. Sullivan Jr. of Wellesley Hills and Robert M. Jenney of Brookline. Monsignor Kerr had been at Boston College when Sullivan was athletic director there. At a birthday party in the monsignor’s honor in 1968, while he was chaplain of the House of Representatives, Volpe lauded the clergyman for his compassionate work in his Roxbury parish and his dedication in state government. “Fortunately,” he said, “to the extent that brave men, good men, spiritual men, like Monsignor Kerr, create a refuge of faith, a center of light in areas of darkness, to that extent they are lifted up from despair, and others are strengthened as examples of good citizens and successful Christians.”
That same year Mayor Kevin H. White appointed the clergyman to a six-man committee for an in-depth study of student racial unrest in the Boston public schools. In the 1970s Monsignor Kerr was the eye of a political storm on Beacon Hill when members of the House questioned his $8400 annual salary as chaplain and called for a system of rotating clergymen of other faiths to say the opening prayer. It was then that he was made “chief” chaplain and established a rotating schedule for other clergymen to deliver the daily prayer. As for the salary, he said he had never sought increases and that he always turned his paychecks over to his St. Francis de Sales parish to aid the poor.
The popular and dynamic monsignor prepared for the priesthood at St. John’s Seminary and was ordained by then Archbishop Cushing at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End on June 29, 1945. He was named Papal Chamberlain in 1959 and was elevated to the rank of Domestic Prelate by Pope John XXIII in 1964. During his years in the priesthood Monsignor Kerr had served as director of the Archdiocesan Nocturnal Adoration Society and as chaplain for the Cecilian Guild, the Boston Press Photographers Assn. and the Caritas Guild. Monsignor Kerr leaves a brother, Peter Kerr of Jamaica Plain, and a sister, Mary Kerr Lynch of Hyde Park as well as nieces and nephews.
His body will lie in state in the rectory Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. and in the church from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday. A funeral Mass of the Resurrection will be concelebrated with more than 30 concelebrants Thursday at 10 a.m. in St. Francis Xavier Church, South Weymouth. Homilist will be Rev. Msgr. Francis Dolan, a longtime friend.
Betty (near Lowell, MA) P.S. I am descended from an extended KERR family who arrived in Everett and/or Malden, MA, in the 1870’s, coming down from Quebec, Canada! I believe there are still relatives in that area, but I don’t know their current addresses. I just lost an uncle, George Raymond KERR, last month.
Reverend Paul R. E. Francis entered into eternal life October 16, 2011. Father. Francis was born in Belize, formerly British Honduras, June 16, 1915. He was raised in Belize and attended St. Johns College before entering the seminary at the Pontifical Urban University Rome. Father was ordained December 22, 1941, and his first assignment was in Belize City. He moved to New York in 1952 serving parishes in Brooklyn and Manhattan. He transferred to the Archdiocese of Boston in 1958 serving at St. Francis de Sales in Roxbury and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. His next assignment was as associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Weymouth, from 1969 until 1982. Father then served as pastor of St. Theresa’s Parish in Revere until he moved to Regina Cleri Residence, Boston, in 1988.
For many years, Father continued to assist at St. Gerard Majella in Canton and St. Bridget in Abington. Father Francis was the devoted son of the late George and Bernice Francis; beloved brother of the late William Francis, Gwendolyn Smith and Sister Barbara Marie Francis; and is survived by his loving nephews, Norman, Paul, Andrew and Franklin Francis; and nieces, Karen Francis and Ann Belizaire.
Father Francis will lie in repose Wednesday, October 19, at Sacred Heart Church, Weymouth, from 4-7 p.m. and at Regina Cleri Residence, 60 William Cardinal O’Connell Way, Boston, Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. Relatives and friends respectfully invited. Funeral Mass Friday at the Sacred Heart Church, Weymouth, at 10 a.m. with principal celebrant Sean Cardinal OMalley, O.F.M. Cap. Burial in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, Weymouth. Donations in memory of Father Francis may be made to Regina Cleri Residence, 60 William Cardinal O’Connell Way, Boston, MA 02114. Arrangements by the Clancy-Lucid Funeral Home, Weymouth.
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