Memories of Easters past

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With the frigid temperatures (hopefully) a distant memory, we can now set our sights on the warmer months to come. The one pleasure of surviving a Chicago winter is planning to make the best possible use of the coming good weather.

Right now, we’re in the midst of Lent which began on February 22, and we’re looking forward to our Easter celebration on April 9. Easter was always a big deal at St. Anthony of Padua Parish on Kensington Avenue. Back in the 1950s and before, Catholicism was in full stride in our part of Roseland and the many reminders delivered by the nuns kept us on our toes.

Doing without something for Lent was always a big deal. What you gave up was supposed to be something personal between you and God, but it somehow always seeped into discussions with your classmates. Giving up candy or chocolate was a favorite commitment along with being nice to a brother or sister for the entire 40 days of Lent.

I never felt like I received any special benefit from my Lenten sacrifices, but that might be because I never gave up anything extraordinary. Also, I can’t remember sticking to my pledge for the entire 40 days, regardless of what I told people when I was in grade school. I do remember as an adult giving up beer for Lent one year, and that time I made it through the entire Lenten period. I may have done it to make up for all those grade school lies I told about my sacrifices!

My brother Augie and I were the two youngest among eighth siblings and we were a year apart at St. Anthony’s and the two sisters born before us were quite a bit older. That translated into special considerations, i.e. new suits for Easter Sunday.

We were no different than many of the Roseland Christians in that we headed to Robert Hall’s Clothing on 112th and State Street. It was a special occasion when we would get measured for a suit that actually fit us, unlike a hand-me-down that might fit.

The salesmen were always happy to see our family walk in because they knew we were a sure sale. The number of kids that walked in definitely corresponded directly to the number of suits that were going to be sold. That would make any salesman smile.

A totally Roseland memory for the Easter season belongs to the Ward family. I went to school with the oldest daughter, Janet Ward, the oldest of 18 children. I recently found out that her brother John Ward and his wife, Lisa, live on Forestville here in Pullman. Lisa told me Jan and her husband retired to Pharr, Texas and are enjoying a relaxing life near their children.

Every year that went by, the Calumet Index would make it a point to post a photo of the entire Ward family dressed in their Easter outfits: the boys in their suits and the girls in their dresses. The reason they were annually featured in the newspaper was the fact that their mother made all of their Easter outfits — every year. When I ran into Lisa at the Pullman Club at a recent coffee gathering, the subject of the Ward Easter outfits came up. It was definitely an annual highlight for the Ward family and many of those having a coffee recalled the story.

Graduating from St. Anthony’s in 1961 meant that all of my memories of the church and its decorations were of the old building. We were told to take solace in the fact that we were the last class to graduate from the historic old church, ending the history of the building that our immigrant forefathers had worked so hard to build. Looking back at my childhood, it’s hard to recall the decorations in a church that was designed when sanctity, dignity and reverence were denoted by darkness.

However, I can recall the beauty of the new St. Anthony’s Church, which has gone through a few revisions since it was first dedicated in 1961. The original pulpit was removed and the one-piece marble altar rail was redesigned into a more useful sectional rail. The pulpit marble was used to create the new altar facing the congregation. Each year, the flower decorations for the holy days such as Easter are a magnificent beauty to behold.

The bright marble of the church with the illumination from the stained-glass windows and the special lighting highlight the floral arrangements that are positioned around the front of the main altar. The annual collections for these floral displays have always provided for ample decorations honoring God and the feast day.

Since COVID has been on the wane and a number of churches have been combined, the St. Anthony’s mass attendance has consistently grown. We have not reached pre-COVID levels of attendance, but we have seen an increase at each Sunday’s mass. It is a fervent wish of Fr. Mark and all of St. Anthony’s parishioners that more people will take the opportunity to visit St. Anthony’s on at least one holy day occasion to remember the beauty we all knew in our youth when we were regular attendees.

My book “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” has sold more than 800 copies since it became available. Copies are available from me at $20 + $5 s&h. Contact me at petalsfromroseland@gmail.com or 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; res: 773-701-6756. My book is also available at D & D Foods, 1023 S. Halsted, Chicago Heights, at Bookie’s New and Used Books, 10324 S. Western Ave, Chicago and at Miles Books, 2819 Jewett Ave., Highland, Indiana.

 

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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One comment

  1. Another great article from CJ that brings poignant memories from the past to experiences in the present. Bravo, CJ!

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