Interview with Monroe Abram, St. Peter Claver, Macon

Digital Library of Georgia
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00:00:00 - Introduction, Early Parish and School, Altar boys

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Partial Transcript: KLockard OK perfect. Okay. So to start out we just need you to say your name.

MAbram Yeah. Name is Monroe Abram.

KLockard Yes, and Mr. Abram can you spell your name for us?

MAbram M-O-N-R-O-E, last name Abram A-B-R-A-M

Klockard Thank you.

BMiddlebrooks Okay Monroe, we're interviewing you now for Black History. We are trying to recapture some of the history that was lost long ago and we have the history of the church and school, but we wanted the history from the parishioners to tell their memories of church and school here at St. Peter Claver.

MAbram Um-hm.

BMiddlebrooks So you want to begin with one of your earliest memories?

MAbram I think I just stated one. I told this room we should be the baptismal room just however I was baptized in this room right here, see where we at now. [00:01:00] And my son, he was also baptized here too. In fact, we had the same godparents, you know. So, in 1933 is when I came into the church, you know. This is all to bring back so many, many memories up there. I was altar boy there.

MAbram The priest who was there then was a German priest, Father Prendergast, he the one taught me and two other fellows how to do the Latin for the mass, see. During those days the priest's back was to the people; he wasn't facing the people like now. Another priests that stayed with us for a long time was Father McKeever, that stayed here for quite a few years and we were the regular altar boys and we would be at every [00:02:00] Sunday mass, see. Every mass.

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Abram touches on baptisms and some of the priests in the earlier days of St. Peter Claver. He also mentions being an altar boy here, and how the mass has changed.

Keywords: Baptism--Catholic Church; Latin mass; McKeever, Rev. Michael J., S.M.A.; Prendergast, Rev. John; altar boys

Subjects: St. Peter Claver Parish (Macon, Ga.)

GPS: St. Peter Claver Parish and School, 131 Ward St, Macon, GA 31204
Map Coordinates: 32.843858, -83.649573
00:02:00 - Men and Women Separate Seating, A Black Priest

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Partial Transcript: MAbram And I remember at the time that usually wasn't a law but it was just the practice that women [would] sit on one side and the men on the other one, see. And my mother, I could remember her sitting right in one of the pews back here now. She used to get up early in the morning she used to make that six o'clock mass, six thirty mass, where she'd get back home to fix breakfast for us, so we could come to mass. I can remember now, every lady that you'd see in here had their head covered, and we were very faithful.

MAbram The thing that I remember most about this church, it was a priest by the name of Father Howard, was a black priest, SVD order, and this place never been so packed with Black, non-Catholics. You know, because no one had seen a black [00:03:00] priest before! And he was here for a whole week giving that mission. And speaking of missions, I remember a time where this church wasn't a parish, it was a mission and someone else took care of us, because we weren't able to take care of it. But anyway, Father Howard put on the mission there for a whole week, preached every week. And then like on Sundays they had a big high mass, what we call a high mass and low mass, you know. He was the celebrant, and way back then they had the celebrant, and you had a deacon and you had the sub-deacon, see, and the deacon and sub-deacon almost like waited on him like the altar boys do to the priest now, see.

MAbram And they confessed they had never seen nothing like that before you know. And I remember Sunday, that Sunday morning when everything ended, you know that we had a big breakfast for everyone, and as one would, we use to meet [00:04:00] when we was in the yard, we said, "It's Deo Gratias," you know, whatever that meant back then, but that's the way we used to greet one another you know.

MAbram But he [Father Howard] kind of got myself two others kind of shook up. [He] wanted to know, did we want to come down to Bay St. Louis. See, that's the only place that a Black priest could go back then those days, and did we want to come down? So we all went to eighth grade and we wanted to become priest[s], but that didn't last too long, you know.

Segment Synopsis: Men and women used to sit on opposite pews during the 6:30am mass. Black Catholic priests drew large crowds of Catholic and non-Catholic audiences because of the rarity of black priests.

Keywords: High mass; Low mass; Priests, Black; Society of the Divine Word (SVD); mission/revival

Subjects: American Catholic tradition; Priests, Black; Saint Augustine's Seminary (Bay St. Louis, Ms.); Society of the Divine Word (SVD)

00:04:31 - St. Peter Claver School, Abram's Family

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Partial Transcript: MAbram [I] Graduat[ed] from the school over there. See, my mother started school part of the time.

MAbram [Pause]

MAbram We only had four boys when I graduated from school there, you know, just four boys, maybe three girls, that was still in there, you know and [00:05:00] we only had one lay teacher there, which I think you and I spoke about. She was a fixture in the place named Mary Davis. She did the kindergarten all of these years and I went from the kindergarten right on up to the eighth grade to the school here. It was one of the fondest memories I can remember.

MAbram Of course, Father Galvin he came here and he stayed for years too, you know. And Father Gavin is the one who buried my father and my grandmother. And, most of my family, a lot of them was baptized from birth, but a lot of people was baptized on their death bed. They was called extreme unction back there during that time. And every time before, like before my daddy died, he was baptized. [00:06:00] My mother's mother was baptized. My grandmother on my father's side, she was a convert. She married someone who was a Catholic, a very faithful man, named Mr. Thomas, then she became Catholic [and] she was buried here. She was a member of an old congregational church that no longer exists over there on Madison Street here in Macon.

MAbram I left here and I went down to Old Ballard. But this was the fixtures of the place. The priest use to take us to Atlanta, they had a parish up in Atlanta, they use to say mass up there, so we made acquainted with the altar boys up there and altar boys here.

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Abram's eighth grade class only had 4 boys and 3 girls for students. Not all of Mr. Abram's family was baptized at birth. He also attended several different high schools and became acquainted with other altar boys between Macon and Atlanta.

Keywords: Anointing of the sick; Ballard-Hudson High School (Macon, Ga.); Galvin, Rev. John; Mrs. Mary Davis; St. Peter Claver School (Macon, Ga.)

Subjects: Extreme unction; St. Peter Claver School (Macon, Ga.)

00:06:45 - Parish Visitors, Acts of Charity

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Partial Transcript: BMiddlebrooks Who brought Catholicism to you all?

MAbram Well the Pattersons was very, very old time faithful members here and see, [00:07:00] before come Patterson, it was Hunt. It was a man come from Virginia named Tom Hunt. He was what they called the “church warden” in those days. They put out to fans and they made ice water and made all of that sort of stuff and he brought it back. And then, Marion Patterson, which is the mother of Jessemme (sp?) and Mary Patterson, who has passed away. There used to be a Catholic place out here, Saint Stanislaus Circle, the place still existed and I think that they had some nuns or something that use to come over here to the school.

MAbram Now I don't know what come first, the school or the church. But I should know because I went to the canonization of Mother Drexel, and I don't know whether seventy-five [00:08:00] or a hundred years it will be today. But I would say to them that there's no way in the world that we would've been able to afford our education because we just didn't have the money to pay for it like that and people were coming in and the nuns were just something else. They’d see you come to school and your clothes didn’t look too good, kind of nasty or dirty. They'd put new clothes on you to send you back and then they were always giving money to the people, to the families, you know. And you got to remember too, all of these people coming through here wasn’t Catholic, they were non-Catholic. But I remember the nuns. There were people who give them donations, and they would take it, and turn round and give it to us.

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Abram retells the role of a "church ward", the Patterson family, and former Catholic activity at Stanislaus Circle in Macon. He further recounts the Mother Drexel's canonization and acts of charity from the nuns toward community children, whether Catholic or not.

Keywords: Drexel, Katherine, Saint; Patterson, Marion; Saint Stanislaus Circle (Macon, Ga.); Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

Subjects: Conversion--Baptists, [Catholic Church, etc.]; Drexel, Katharine Mary, Saint, 1858-1955; Saint Stanislaus College (Macon, Ga.); Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

GPS: Stanislaus Circle, Macon
Map Coordinates: 32.844051, -83.664784
00:08:41 - School Activities, Music, Mass

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Partial Transcript: BMiddlebrooks Now when you were in elementary school here, you started in kindergarten—

MAbram Kindergarten, yeah.

BMiddlebrooks —and graduated? So what kind of activities did you all have?

MAbram Well, we had very little. We had the yard out there. We weren’t [00:09:00] competing against anyone. We had a volleyball thing and then that was it. But I remember the day, see L.H. Williams used to be right down here, four or five blocks down below. Well they changed the time of the calendar, of the school up here getting out and the time they get out because we were getting in such big fights going on. So, they changed the time. [Laughs] So I think we was getting out later than they were, you know.

BMiddlebrooks And did you have a band?

MAbram No we didn't have no kind of band.

BMiddlebrooks And a choir?

MAbram No, no, the choir that we had here was a lady named Essie Hutchings. Her husband is co-owner of Hutchings Funeral Homes. She was the organist here. And they had another fellow [child] that sang in the choir named Bernard Rogers. [As an adult] He ran a shoe shop downtown on Broadway next door to the Douglass Theater. [00:10:00] Bernard Rogers, I think it was in the thirties when he went to Saint Emma's, the military's school in Virginia. So then that's how my brother got to go to this school too. But Essie Hutchings, she was the organist here for years and years until she died. Now we did have some kind of choir, because she [Mrs. Essie Hutchings] would come over to the school and play the piano for that. And you know my sister, they always like having my sister sing. It was two songs they don't sing today in church, “O Salutaris” and “Tantum Ergo.” She would sing them. And I know during the Christmas-time, when the people use to have the parties at the different stores down there [downtown], [00:11:00] they'd get my daddy to bring my sister down there, Bernadine, to sing those songs, Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris.

MAbram It was all Latin songs back then. Just like all the Latin that we were learning for serving mass and singing. We had a book, on one side would have the Latin and the other side have the English, but we really didn't know what it meant. We really did know what it meant. But this time I expect you might see some of those books around now, the Latin on one side. Just like at midnight mass, this place was packed. And they had non-Catholics come here. Everybody was looking for the midnight mass. It was a big thing. Everybody would show and that went on for a long time, long time. I don't know whether I have it today or not, but they [00:12:00] had a special service for that at that time.

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Abram mentions school fights, and the impact Essie Hutchings had on the church.

Keywords: Essie Hutchings; Hutchings Funeral Home; L.H. Williams Elementary School (Macon, Ga.); Latin mass; Midnight mass; Rogers, Bernard; St. Emma Military School (Powhatan, Va.)

Subjects: American Catholic tradition

GPS: St. Emma Military Academy
Map Coordinates: 37.5401555,-77.9205217
00:12:00 - Acts of Charity, Black Non-Catholics, Church Youth Organization

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Partial Transcript: BMiddlebrooks Now you mentioned to me before that a lot of people in the neighborhood were not Catholic.

MAbram Not Catholic.

BMiddlebrooks But the priests here took care of everybody in the community.

MAbram Yeah.

BMiddlebrooks Especially when they were sick or dying.

MAbram Oh yeah. Oh yeah, well you know when they got sick. Mostly they took him when they was really running short something to live on like clothes, money and rent and all of that sort of stuff. Didn’t too many of them came here to be baptized because you've got to remember back then, like today, the predominant Blacks were all Protestant. So quite naturally, if we did it [were baptized], would be a lot of hell raised if they come and begin to get buried in the Catholic Church!

MAbram Well back in them days, there use to be an altar rail go[ing] cross that front of [the altar]. Well that altar rail, that means that if [00:13:00] you married a non-Catholic you couldn't go inside the altar rail to the sanctuary. Well when my mother and father got married, they married them over in the priest's house. So from the priest's house it got better that they’d let you come into the church [to get married], but you couldn't go inside sanctuary. You had to stay outside the altar rail. Later on, they started letting you come into the sanctuary to have your marriage and then, if you had a Protestant minister, you could bring them along with you so the times just change, religion changed since then.

KLockard Were your parents - one was Catholic and one was not?

MAbram Yeah. My mother was Catholic. My mother became Catholic through some of the kin people like I was telling you, old man Tom Hunt. She came through [them] and that's how she became [Catholic]. And she brought all us up [Catholic]. I had a brother and sister too [00:14:00] that were Catholic.

BMiddlebrooks And you had a youth organization too?

MAbram Yeah, yeah. [The] CYO. It was a priest by the name of Father Cannon. He started that need. He's the guy [that] started having some things [activities] for CYO. Now, come to remember some years back, the priest rented a film to show movies here on Sunday night. And everybody [attended], you know, because there wasn’t no movies, or nowhere else to go to on Sunday night. And I think it was a nickel a piece to go into the movie. So we would come here on Sunday night to go to the movie.

Segment Synopsis: Most of the people in Mr. Abram's neighborhood were not Catholic, but the priests took care of the community anyway. Being black and Catholic was not socially popular, and the church had strict regulations on non-Catholics attending mass.

Keywords: Cannon, Rev. Daniel J.; Catholic Youth Organization; Conversion--Baptists, [Catholic Church, etc.]; Second Vatican Council; Vatican II

Subjects: American Catholic tradition; Catholic Youth Organization; Conversion--Baptists, [Catholic Church, etc.]; Ecumenical associations (Catholic Church); Interfaith marriage; Interfaith marriage (Canon law); Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)

00:14:38 - Parish Seating, Post-Vatican II Mass

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Partial Transcript: BMiddlebrooks Earlier you mentioned that men and women sat on opposite sides of the church.

MAbram Yes.

BMiddlebrooks And you were the first one I've ever heard say that. So since then though, talking to other people, I found out that they remember when men and women sat on opposite sides.

MAbram [00:15:00] Yes.

BMiddlebrooks And then there was a guy that was a convert.

MAbram Um-hm.

BMiddlebrooks And he said the first time he entered a Catholic Church, that's the way they were seated.

MAbram Um-hm.

BMiddlebrooks Do you remember about what time that was?

MAbram Hm. It had to be back there in the twenties and thirties, see because when I was born, it was that way. I remember Mother use to sit right back there and you had faithful people who would come to say mass and that was their pew. You just didn't sit in their pew! That was their pew. You know I think [in] some old churches now everybody's got “their” pew.

BMiddlebrooks But you don't know when it changed?

MAbram I think it just gradually changed. It most probably changed in the sixties.

BMiddlebrooks Ok.

MAbram The sixties or maybe the fifties.

BMiddlebrooks After Vatican Two maybe?

MAbram Yeah. Because during that time, when they changed the mass, [00:16:00] the way to mass was said in English. They stopped saying it in Latin and the priest faced the people.

BMiddlebrooks And all the children sat in front of the church?

MAbram Huh?

BMiddlebrooks Did all the children sit in front?

MAbram Yeah. And I remember times when they [would] bring the kids in, if I'm not mistaken, the boy sat on one side and the girl sat on the other one. Now they might have been sitting by grades. I don't know, but I can remember. I noticed back in them days, when someone came in church, you just didn't bow down and nod. You use to do nothing. You just sit there. You didn't look back to say, "hello," and all this other stuff. This handshake of peace is something brand new, to come to where people got to really talk. We were a really silent church, just silent. And you didn't speak at all or talk on the inside. You waited until you got outside on the grounds [00:17:00] before you could speak. You know, you just didn't do that. You didn't sit there and talk like when we meet in the back of the church [today]. No you didn't do that then.

BMiddlebrooks All right, Monroe. Thank you so much.

MAbram Yeah.

BMiddlebrooks for telling us your story.

MAbram Yeah.

BMiddlebrooks We appreciate it.

MAbram Okay. Good.

[End of Interview]

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Abram thinks the gender separated seating happened in the 1920-1930s. Pre-Vatican II mass was also a lot quieter than today's services.

Keywords: Second Vatican Council (1962-1965); Sign of Peace; Vatican II

Subjects: American Catholic tradition; Catholic Church--Liturgy; Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)