Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Of missions and marriages

screengrab of a 1922 newspaper article about a Catholic picnic
All friends were cordially invited to attend St. Peter Catholic
Church's annual picnic in 1922. Screengrab of DeLand
Daily News article is from America's Historical Newspapers.
Vintage archival copies of my town's local newspaper have moved from microfilm to online. The paper's current iteration, the West Volusia Beacon, made the announcement last month. The DeLand News Historical Archive is hosted on America's Historical Newspapers. I can access the database through my Volusia County Public Library account.

This opens up a new portal for me! Day-to-day local history is only a click away.

I love the way newspapers in the olden days kept track of the common aspects of regular folks' lives.  The papers reported on people's vacations, houseguests, picnics, and so on. Such minutiae gives me a sense of domestic life in earlier periods.

Because my parish church, St. Peter, was established in DeLand in 1883, I first browsed the online archives for a look at church doings in years gone by. Here are some examples, with quotes taken directly from the articles:

  • On Jan. 15, 1904, John Francis Cairns and Mary Ellen Donahue were married. "The day opened with a storm, which continued up to 9:30 raining torrents; but notwithstanding this, the little church was filled with invited guests. At 9:30 the skies cleared and the sun came out and there was beautiful weather for the marriage." January weather is generally nice in Florida, and I imagine it was even prettier after the storm blew through. The rest of the wedding day was splendid, according to the newspaper reporter: "The impressive ceremony of the Catholic Church was used. After the ceremony, about 65 invited guests repaired to the home of the groom's parents on Amelia Avenue, where congratulations were extended and a most sumptuous wedding breakfast partaken of. Bushnell's orchestra was present at the house and discoursed sweet music." The DeLand Daily News ended its account by wishing the couple a long and happy married life. 
  • The bishop came to town March 18, 1904, to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation at St. Peter Church. "Bishop Kenney of St. Augustine was assisted by Father Chisholm of DeLand," the article notes. Nine candidates were confirmed and the church was filled with people for the occasion. "Before performing the impressive ceremony, Bishop Kenney gave a most lucid explanation of the procedure and the symbolisms," the reporter wrote. Then, as now, some editorializing crept in. The reporter said "Bishop Kenney has an easy, quiet way, a pleasant speech that impresses one very favorably." We also learn that the "music was exceptionally good."
  • The Jan 23, 1918, edition of the paper reported on a week of missions at St. Peter. The mission was opened on a Sunday by Dominican fathers. The opening night sermon focused on mortal sin. On Monday evening, the missionary preached on "The Evil of Gossiping." The next night - the day the newspaper was published - was to focus on "The Home." The reporter closed the article with a wish that parishioners and their friends "will take advantage of this precious opportunity of hearing exposed and explained the doctrines and teaching of the Catholic Church." 
  • Not all church doings were inside the building. On June 21, 1922, the newpaper announced that "members and friends of the St. Peter's Catholic Church will hold their annual picnic Thursday, June 22, motoring to Coronado Beach. About 15 or 20 cars will leave from DeLand, being joined by a car from Leesburg and two cars from Eustis." The group was to use Ocean View hotel as headquarters. A picnic dinner, games, and surf bathing "are among some of the delightful attractions which are on the program to make this the best picnic ever." I hope they had a good time.
Reading such accounts helps me understand that the anti-Catholicism prevalent in early 20th century Florida wasn't practiced by everyone. Non-Catholics attended many of the church events listed above. The newspaper reporters in all my cited examples were generous and open-minded in their coverage of events.

That realization gives me hope that, in the future, people browsing 2020 domestic history will understand that some of us - even in today's fractured, politicized culture - stayed firmly on the side of kindness and fairness.

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