The Easters of our youth

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Many of the traditions we grew up with have gone by the wayside. Somewhere along the way we’ve come to realize and accept, albeit grudgingly, that change happens — without our approval!

Halloween is working hard to overtake Christmas as the major holiday of the year. President’s Day his when we buy our mattresses at great savings and, rather than focusing on former members of the military, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day weekends have regrettably become opportunities to save money on appliances and material for home improvements

The Easter of today is more about bunny rabbits and plastic eggs in wicker baskets. How far that holiday has strayed from the East of our youth!

My personal story is based on my Catholic background at St. Anthony’s on Kensington in Roseland. An integral part of that story are the nuns who made life both difficult and interesting, laying down rules that were meant to be follow exactly as stated and meeting deviation with devastation. Punishment ranged from a smack upside the head, a whack in the hand with a ruler, or a sudden jerk of an ear lobe.

Easter was a month away when my brother and I were herded into the car and driven to Robert Hall on State Street. It was an annual event that we knew was coming without even have to think about it. It wasn’t like we didn’t get to express an opinion. Our options were “Yes, it fits, okay,” and “No, it’s not too tight.”

Then there was the Ward family who made the Chicago Tribune because their mother handmade Easter outfits for all 17 children. I went to St. Willy’s with Joanne Ward, the eldest child, and I can report she was as normal as the rest of us.

Whether your mother put a ton of love into an annual extravaganza of design and tailoring, or you got carted off to the store each year, you were dressed to the “t” for the celebration of Christ’s rising from the dead!

The church also put on it’s Sunday best for Easter, uncovering the statues, icon and crosses for the first time since Ash Wednesday. And I would be remis if I didn’t mention something about those ashes.

Our thoughts are fears ranged from “How much ash will the priest stick on me?” to “Will everyone notice my ashes?” Non-Catholics had their questions, too, starting with “What is that?” and ending with “How do they get those ashes off?” There were probably a lot more questions than answers floating around out there.

Preparations really kicked into high gear on Palm Sunday. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and, unbeknownst to everyone but God, his crucifixion. The crucifixion was the event that made Easter possible and made it the glorious celebration it was.

Walking into church on Easter morning was an event of unparalleled beauty and anticipation. Bouquets of Easter lilies were spread throughout the church and centered on the altar. The main crucifix of the church was uncovered and, to everyone’s delight, surrounded by fields of lilies.

When we were children, if there was a special procession or program involved, we were herded about by the nuns and grouped with our classes. If there were no special events, we were able to stay with our families. The mass was expected to take longer because, after all, we were celebrating the resurrection of Christ in fulfillment of the promise of our salvation.

We all lingered after Mass to admire all of the Easter finery each family displayed. Of course, when it came to time to head home, family time got serious.

When we were older, all my sisters and brothers came over with all of their kids for the big Easter dinner. My mother would prepare the main meal and my sisters would bring the side dishes. Those were the fun times with what seemed like a million people in the house, at times all talking at once, Italian style.

My book has struck a chord with many people and I’ve heard from a few of them. Back in 1961, when I graduated from St. Anthony’s, I entered Sacred Seminary to study for the priesthood and the vocational director was none other than a St. Anthony class of 1942 graduate, Fr. Albert Corradin.

In the past year or so I learned that Fr. Al is living the life of a 92-year-old retiree at Villa Scalabrini Rest Home in Sun Valley, California. He received a copy of the book as a gift from my friends Sam and Joanne Cutrara, and was up most of the night reading.

Fr. Al wrote to tell me that “cruising down the Ave” for him meant riding his bike as fast as he could between stop lights to beat the cars. He also recalled riding his bike down to Pullman from his house at 117th Place a couple of doors down from St. Louis of France Church. He remembers seeing the WPA construction crew warming their hands over a fire barrel as they worked on the construction of Kensington Avenue during the depression years.

I’m sure Fr. Al would appreciate a note or letter at 10651 Vinedale Street, Sun Valley, CA 91352-2825. If I remember him, I’m sure many other former St. Anthony parishioners do, too.

Thank you to all who have supported my book and have gotten back to me with how much they’ve enjoyed the nostalgic train ride it has taken them on. Copies of the book can be ordered directly from me. Remember that all of my Fra Noi Petals from Roseland columns are available online at Fra

Please Note! The Annual St. Anthony alumni dinner dance fundraiser is back by popular demand! Mark your calendar for Oct. 10 at the Serbian Social Center and stay turned for details.


Contact me at; 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL 60628; 773-701-6756.

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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