Catholics, Protestants, and Distinctions From Easton's Past
I live about a mile and half from the MacPhaidin Library. Sometimes I walk over and back. Sometimes I drive the round trip. Yesterday I walked.
Along the way this lapsed Catholic became reacquainted with my Catholic heritage. I had some thoughts on Catholic institutions and Catholic spiritual leaders who spent time in Easton.
And I got to thinking that while growing up in Easton whether one was a Catholic or Protestant was not much of a big deal. I also thought people might find it interesting that there was a time when whether you were Catholic or Protestant may have been, if not a big deal, something of a deal.
On my walk to the MacPhaidin library, I passed the headquarters of My Brother’s Keeper, a volunteer Christian ministry that does sacred work – providing furniture, food, and other essential resources to the needy throughout southeastern Massachusetts.
My Brother’s Keeper is located on the Stonehill College Campus. Stonehill College is a Catholic college founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross, a Catholic order.
Further along, into Stonehill, I strode along the peaceful and shaded Rosary Walk. I passed the statue of the “Rosary Priest,” Father Patrick Peyton, a Congregation of Holy Cross priest, who I believe will one day be canonized a saint. I passed the world headquarters of Holy Cross Family Ministries, an international Catholic ministry founded by Father Peyton.
I arrived at the MacPhaidin Library, named for a great priest, Father Bartley MacPhaidin, the former president of Stonehill who is now living out at the University of Notre Dame – the Congregation of Holy Cross university from which my dad graduated in 1951.
I enjoy telling the story how late in the Major League Baseball regular season of 2004, how one night I was at the Tedeschi’s across from Hilliard’s, and I was relating to someone how the Red Sox lost a tough one that evening. Father MacPhaidin was in the store and he overheard me. And he lightly grabbed my sleeve, and he – a man of God who dealt day in and day out with the cosmic and celestial – posed to me, plaintively, a cosmic and celestial question: “Why do these things happen?”
I think back on what a dedicated and effective Boston Democratic Party operative told my sister more than 20 years ago about his experience of campaigning in Easton in 1960 for the presidential run of John F. Kennedy. This operative was surprised how staunchly Republican was the town, and how difficult it was to find support here for Kennedy, the Massachusetts native son and Irish Catholic, even though Easton had a Catholic church and Catholic college.
In fact, in the 1960 presidential election, Richard M. Nixon trounced Kennedy in Easton, something like 3 to 1.
My father was new in Easton in the mid 1950s. He was single and worked as a teacher and coach at Oliver Ames High School. One Monday morning he was called in to the principal’s or superintendent’s office; my recollection is not exact on whose office.
The administrator said to him, “Your car was seen in front of [so and so’s] house the other night.” My dad replied, “Yeah, I took her out; we went to the movies, and I was over there for a while.” The administrator said, “You’re a Catholic; she’s a Protestant. I don’t want the car seen there again.”
This really happened.
During the previous school year, and this summer, I have been tutoring in English and early American history for an OA student, who begins her junior year at the high school next month. I assigned the young lady a paper in which she told the story of the American Industrial Revolution through her examination of the Ames Shovel Industry in Easton, and the shoe industry in Brockton.
While reading her paper, I was surprised to find out that in the early 1800s, the president of the Ames Shovel Company, Oliver Ames – the grandfather of Governor Oliver Ames, the man for whom OA is named – was strongly resistant to hiring Catholics. His sons – Oliver Jr. and Oakes (the governor's father) – though prevailed on him with their argument that such exclusion and discrimination was not right and not good for business.
Of course, the Ameses and Catholicism would successfully team up in Easton. Stonehill College is located on a former Ames estate. I also very much like that some of the stained glass windows at Immaculate Conception Church were formerly in Unity Church, the historic house of worship of the Ames family.
In the first few decades of the 20th Century, Easton had a fairly established Ku Klux Klan. It never did any violence – although it most certainly burned crosses in town. Historically, the KKK wasn’t fond of Catholics, yet in Easton don’t think the KKK harassed any “Papists.”
I heard stories that back some 50 years ago now, the reason that the principal of OA, Peter C. McConarty – a graduate of Harvard University – wasn’t named superintendent of schools in Easton was because he was Catholic. Really, this rationale was bandied about.
Actually, growing up as a Catholic in Easton, I kind of thought, in terms of religion, I was in the “in” crowd. Catholics lived next to us on Andrews Street. The Conceisons – a Catholic family – were on one side of us. And the Lordan sisters – Catholics – were on the other side. And when we moved to Summer Street, out next door neighbors on one side, the Barrys, and on the other side, the Currans, were Catholic.
Yes, issues of Catholicism and Protestantism in Easton are issues from long ago – not today.
But I did think that readers would find some of the history interesting.