Campbell’s Corner

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The Lethbridge Journal

The week of June 23, 2011


Hearing about the possible closure of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Lethbridge struck a sentimental chord with me last week. Without getting into the political side of the discussion St. Pat’s was a fairly significant part of my spiritual life growing up. I was baptized there. I had my first communion there. I went to confession there. I attended regular Sunday masses. When I got old enough to stay awake past 9pm, I looked forward to Midnight Mass at Christmas. And for seven years, I was an altar boy.

Back then you couldn’t just show up on a Sunday and have the priest hand you your cassock and surplice. There were training sessions led by Father McCann, one of the four
Oblate priests who lived in the rectory, and he was a stickler for detail:

•When you genuflect, the right knee goes right to the ground, not half-way.
•You clasp your hands so that they are parallel to your body, not pointing
outward, and the joint of your thumb is right in your solar plexus not under
your chin or down by your belly button.
•When you ring the bell during the Eucharist, it’s a sharp distinct DING, not
a tinkle.
•And, the big one for anyone wanting to serve mass, you had to memorize
your Latin. Yes, I’m that old. The Mass at that time was still said in Latin
and it was incumbent upon us altar boys to utter “Confiteor Deo omnipotenti,
beatae Mariae semper Virgini, beato Michaeli Archangelo” etc. with the
correct pronunciation. Never mind that none of us had clue what any of it
actually meant.

Fr. McCann wanted his altar boys to take serving mass very seriously. Being on the altar was a sacred responsibility and I willingly bought into it. I immediately learned my Latin, nailed my genuflection technique and before I knew it I was assigned to serve a Monday morning 7am mass. To use a sports analogy, that was sort of the minor leagues of altar-boying. You had to do the mid-week stuff before making it to the big Sunday service. It was just the way it was. You had to pay your dues.

As a 12-year boy getting in touch for the first time with a sense of spirituality St. Patrick’s church filled me with awe. There was the marble altar, the stain glass windows, the statues
of Mary and St. Joseph that I swear at times were real, the gold plated tabernacle where the communion wafers were kept and the remarkable large sculpture of Jesus on the cross. Throw in the mystery of Latin and it was a period in my life where I felt the closest relationship with God.

I eventually made it to “the show” and got to serve on a Sunday. There was a great need for altar boys then because there were actually four masses on Sunday: 7, 8:15, 9:30 and 11. You knew you made it when you were assigned the 11am mass because that was when the most people attended church and you had to be at your best—no dozing off during the sermon-you would definitely be noticed. And if you were on the right hand side of the altar, that meant you got to ring the Eucharist bell. I loved ringing that bell. If you were lucky enough to be assigned Midnight Mass, you got to ring it during the entire time that
Gloria In Excelsis Deo was sung. Yes, for seven years I was an altar boy at St. Patrick’s including a two  year period where I actually served mass almost every morning. That’s
right, they had a 7am and an 8am mass Monday to Saturday to go along with the four services on Sunday.

You got to know the priests quite well and became familiar with their various idiosyncrasies. There was Father Doherty who I think had a little OCD going on because for some reason he used to take forever to clean out the chalice after communion. It was no secret that Father McCarty liked the occasional alcoholic beverage. It is the altar boy’s duty to assist the priest in pouring both wine and water into the chalice. Father McCarty
would always signal me to stop pouring the water waaaay sooner than when pouring the wine. Father McCann was my favorite priest. As you might expect, he was precise with
everything—he had the best genuflection of anyone- but he when he took communion he would breathe heavily through his nose. Funny how you remember things.

St. Pat’s is filled with so much history and so many memories (I didn’t even have time to bring up SPEDAPSO—only certain St. Pat’s Catholics will know what I’m talking about.) To not be able to genuflect ever again among the marble, stain glass and the very real looking saintly statues, well it would simply break my heart.

3 Responses to Campbell’s Corner

  1. Orion says:

    St Pat’s High School in Ottawa (Oblate run and Fr McCann was there in my time) also had SPiritualEducationalAPostolic SOcial……It really was a different time and a fun time.

  2. Sylvia says:

    What exactly is SPEDAPSO Orion? I have never heard of it. Was it another name for a youth group?

  3. Leona says:

    I do recall McCann talking about his experiences with Spedapso in Lethbridge. I know he was very proud of his sizable youth group there. He took my brother and I to Lethbridge on one occasion and introduced us to a few people.
    I don’t recall too many conversations about his time at St. Pat’s in Ottawa.

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