The Archdiocese of Detroit and My Family History

St Albertus Church

There has been a Catholic presence in the city of Detroit since the parish of Ste Anne was founded in 1701. The city was first made a part of the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky in 1808 and then it became a part of the Diocese of Cincinnati in 1821. Pope Leo XII named Detroit as a diocese in 1827 but for some reason his proclamation was not implemented. Once again, in 1833, Detroit was made a diocese with Father Frederick Rese as it’s first bishop and Ste Anne as it’s first cathedral. March 8, 1833, was the official date that the Diocese of Detroit was founded. That was 179 years ago today. The territory of that initial diocese included all of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas east of the Mississippi River.

When Michigan officially became a state in 1837, the boundaries of the diocese were realigned to match the state boundaries. As of 1841, the Diocese of Detroit had 18 priests, 30 churches, and some 24,000 Catholics. The population continued to grow and many new churches sprang up around the state. The densest population center continued to be the city of Detroit. In 1853 the upper peninsula became a vicariate.

By 1870, the Diocese of Detroit had 88 priests, 80 churches, and 150,000 Catholics. The following year, in 1871, Detroit’s Polish immigrants petitioned Bishop Borgess for a church of their own. Permission was granted and the first Polish Catholic church, St Albertus, was founded in the area known as “Poletown”. When my great grandparents, Szymon and Ludwika Lipa, first arrived in the U.S. from Poland (1881) they became members of St Albertus parish. Their first American-born child, Stanislaw, who was born on March 8, 1882 – 49 years to the day after the founding of the Diocese of Detroit, was baptized there.

As more and more Polish immigrants came to Detroit they settled primarily in two different areas of the city, one on the east side, Poletown, and one on the west side. It didn’t take long before the Poles living on the west side wanted a church of their own so as not to have to travel all across the city to hear Mass said in their native language. In 1882 the second Polish Catholic church in Detroit was founded. That was St Casimir. The communities of Polish immigrants continued to grow and flourish and the third and fourth Polish parishes were founded in 1886, Sweetest Heart of Mary (east side) and St Francis D’Assisi (west side). A fifth Polish parish was founded shortly thereafter in 1889, St Josaphat (east side).

The entire Diocese of Detroit was growing as immigrants continued to flood the city. The population swelled and so did the churches. My maternal grandparents arrived here in 1912 and 1913. Many more Polish Catholic churches were founded in the years just before and well into the new century. Some of the parishes my family were members of included Sweetest Heart of Mary (1886), St Francies D’ Assisi (1886), St Josaphat (1889), St Hedwig (1903), St Hyacinth (1907), Assumption BVM (1911), St Andrew (1920), and Sts Peter and Paul (1923).

On May 22, 1937 Detroit was elevated to an Archdiocese and Edward Francis Mooney was named as the first Archbishop. At that point the Archdiocese had more than 800 priests, 345 parishes, serving 602,000 Catholics. This would later become known as the “Golden Era” for the Archdiocese of Detroit, when the pews were packed to the point of standing room only for many Masses. That same year the makeup of the Archdiocese was changed as Lansing became a diocese and Grand Rapids and Marquette were made suffragan dioceses. The following year, in 1938, the Diocese of Saginaw was formed.

It was in the 1940s, during WWII, that the first expressways were built in Detroit. More followed in the 1950s. Those major thoroughfares cut through many parish neighborhoods as they were being constructed. Some historians point to those first expressways as the beginning of the decline of some of the Catholic parishes in the city of Detroit. As homes were bought up to make way for the expressways, people were displaced and often moved farther out from the city.

For the most part, the Catholic churches in the city proper still flourished during the 1950s and 1960s but more and more people were moving to the suburbs and new churches were being built there to accommodate the population shift. In 1967 there were serious race riots in the city and that seems to have been a real turning point. Many Catholics fled to the suburbs because they no longer felt safe in their Detroit neighborhoods. They sold their homes in the city to African Americans who usually weren’t Catholic. That movement became known as “white flight”. The Archdiocese of Detroit shrunk even more in 1971 when the Dioceses of Kalamazoo and Gaylord were created.

A handful of Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit were closed or merged during the 1960s and 70s but by the end of the 1980s it became clear that more needed to be done to deal with the population shift. In 1989, thirty-one parishes were closed by Cardinal Szoka. Among those 31 parishes were St Albertus, the first Polish parish, St Casimir, and Assumption BVM which members of my family belonged to. Another 40+ parishes were closed or merged since the year 2000. And sadly, even more will have to be closed or merged this year.

As of 2009, the most recent year I can find statistics for, there were 271 viable parishes in the Archdiocese, 60 of them were located within Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, 195 were suburban parishes, and 18 were considered to be in rural areas. The Archdiocese of Detroit now consists of six counties, Lapeer, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St Clair, and Wayne. Many, many of my extended family members still live within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

On this day, the 8th of March, I celebrate the 179th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of Detroit and the 130th birthday of my Granduncle, Stanislaw Lipa.

Cry Fowl – Remembering Lenten Fridays

My limited experience with Lent began as a young newlywed. I was determined to be true to my husband’s Catholic faith, especially during Lent, a season celebrated with absolutely no fanfare by my Baptist ancestors. Our first year of marriage we lived in a little duplex apartment in Moscow, Idaho while my husband was in graduate school. I didn’t know any Catholics in town but when Lent rolled around I dutifully prepared to observe meatless Friday meals.

The first week I served tuna casserole. Good so far.

The next week I prepared roast chicken. My husband didn’t say much, just looked at me over the drumstick with a confused expression.

On successive weeks I alternated chicken and proposed tuna casserole. I say “proposed” because every time I said, “Oh honey, I thought I’d make Tuna Casserole tonight,” he would respond with something like, “You don’t  have to do that. It’s Friday. Why don’t we go out and have bean burritos?” Who could resist an invitation like that?

This continued throughout Lent that first year and for the next few years as well. Chicken and “proposed” tuna casserole were our standby Friday night meals. As it turned out, we both learned something from those Lenten sacrifices.

It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the real reason we ate out so much during Lent was because my husband hated tuna casserole. It reminded him of the one can version cooked by his mom.

After overhearing me share a chicken recipe with a friend, my husband finally figured out my affection for fowl. I thought meatless Fridays meant no RED meat, and chicken, therefore, was an acceptable Lenten alternate. Like fish, only with feathers.

Funny postscript to this story: my son’s favorite meal is chicken schnitzel, chicken breasts pounded flat, lightly breaded and cooked in butter. He calls it “Flat Chicken.” I once asked him why he liked it so much. His reply, “Because it tastes like fish.” Good Catholic boy.

P.P.S. – My fellow Catholic Gene Editors asked me to post this story and to add my tuna casserole recipe. I didn’t think this would be a problem until I realized that that the recipe probably joined the leftovers in the garbage. Instead, I offer a similar version adapted from a recipe in one of my mother-in-law’s Slovenian cookbooks.Enjoy!

Noodle-Tuna Casserole

1 package egg noodles
1 or 2 cans tuna, drained
1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
handful diced celery
pinch celery salt
1 cup grated cheese
crushed potato chips

Cook the noodles and drain. Butter a casserole dish. In a large bowl, mix noodles, tuna, soup, celery, celery salt and grated cheese. Place mixture in casserole dish and top with crushed potato chips. Bake uncovered at 350 until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Adapted from a recipe in Pots and Pans, Hermine Dicke, ed. (Joliet, Illinois: Slovenian Women’s Union of America, 1982).

Young Ladies’ Sodality

Back in her youth, my mother belonged to a Catholic organization known as the Young Ladies’ Sodality. Over the years when she would reminisce about the days of her her youth, she would always mention the Young Ladies’ Sodality. It was an important part of her life for many years and she had many pleasant memories of her involvement with the group. She took great pride in being an officer of the group as well (treasurer).

I heard her stories many times over the years but I never thought to ask specifics of what the group was about. I know it was affiliated with the parish her family belonged to, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, in Detroit, Michigan, but I don’t know much else. So here I am reflecting back on her life and wondering why I didn’t ask her for more information about the Young Ladies’ Sodality (YLS). Since Mom is no longer with us on this earth, I’m left to do the research on my own. Here is what I’ve come to learn about the YLS…

The Young Ladies’ Sodality was a Catholic church society for young ladies that had four components: 1) Religion, 2) Purity & virtue, 3) Charity, 4) Social. The emphasis on each of these four parts seems to have differed somewhat from parish to parish and from age to age. There is plenty of evidence of these societies being in existence in Catholic parishes in the U.S. back in the 1800s. They may well have existed before that.

First and foremost, the YLS was a religious group. As these groups were formed in parishes they would establish a spiritual relationship with the Virgin Mary as their patron. If the local YLS was affiliated with the Mother Soldality in Rome members could receive indulgences and privileges granted by the Holy See. Members were usually required to receive Holy Communion once a month with the group and attend Mass together on Holy Days. They were also encouraged to pray the rosary often. The YLS provided guidelines for Catholic living and taught morals in keeping with the church.

Purity and Virtue
In the 1800s and early 1900s there seems to have been an emphasis on purity and virtue and the societies promoted that in a number of ways.

For instance, there were “rules” of comportment. These were usually not written down and spelled out specifically but rather were known by the elder women who were the sponsors and guides for the young ladies who were members. YLS members were expected to conduct themselves in ways befitting a group that was under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. They would have been expected to dress demurely, maintain a pleasant attitude to those around them (especially those less fortunate), respect their elders, and refrain from lewd language and behavior. Those who broke the rules risked being censured or expelled from the group.

In many parishes the members of the YLS were granted special privileges. As a result of this it was something of a prestigious group and young women deeply desired to become members. Examples of these privileges included: marching with the group (usually dressed in white with blue ribbons) and carrying the society banner in parish ceremonies and processions, at her wedding a member might be allowed white satin kneeler covers, special candles or flowers, and be allowed to present a bouquet of flowers at the altar of the Virgin Mary, and if she chose a religious life instead of marriage she would receive special prayers and Masses from her fellow members.

Stained glass window sponsored by the Young Ladies' Sodality, Sts Peter & Paul Church, Detroit, MI

Acts of charity seem to have been a common denominator of the Young Ladies’ Sodalities and something they spent a good deal of time doing. They organized fund raisers most often to benefit their own parish. Often they would “sponsor” a stained glass window in the church, buy altar linens, ecclesiastical vestments, candlesticks, tabernacle curtains, nativity displays for Christmas, altar flowers, etc. They also worked to help those less fortunate. During WWI, at least one Detroit parish YLS sold and collected bonds to help victims in Poland. In older parish jubilee books it is common to find a list of items donated to the church by the YLS. These donations seem to be what the group was most appreciated for by the clergy.

Young Ladies’ Sodalities provided a good many social opportunities for young Catholic women. I have not been able to determine any specific age range for members but it appears that young women commonly joined at about age 14 (typically 8th grade) and could remain members until they married or joined a religious order. My mother was the treasurer of her parish’s YLS the year after she graduated from high school so I think it’s safe to assume that membership did not cease with high school graduation.

YLS groups commonly hosted dances, theatrical performances, lectures, and group outings, all within the framework of the Catholic church. This is where young girls learned socially and religiously accepted behavior at social functions… how to interact with the opposite sex in appropriate ways. Often parishes that had Young Ladies’ Sodalities also had Young Men’s Clubs, which were the young men’s counterpart to the YLS. The two groups would help each other out at events with such things as taking tickets at the door or in the coat check room. And it goes without saying that they interacted frequently at parish functions.

Membership in the YLS also provided a network of friendship and support. When my mother needed a third letter of recommendation (from someone with a title) to get a job she turned to a fellow YLS officer with her plight. That lady friend just happened to be dating a state Congressman at the time and she was more than happy to make a request on behalf of her “friend from church”. My mother got the letter and got the job at the Federal Reserve Bank!

At the time of the Silver Jubilee of Assumption parish’s Young Ladies’ Sodality, they had 150 members. Fifty-five of those members are pictured below (my mother is circled). This photo appeared in the YLS Silver Jubilee booklet.

Young Ladies' Sodality, Assumption BVM Parish, Detroit, 1937

Here is a picture of the ladies that were officers in 1937 and who worked diligently to put on a celebratory dinner and evening of music to mark the Silver Jubilee.

Officers of the Young Ladies' Sodality, Assumption BVM Parish, Detroit, 1937

Today, Young Ladies’ Sodalities are virtually unheard of. There are a number of reasons for this but I think it’s safe to say that the main reason is that they simply lost their usefulness and popularity. Catholic church attendance is down and so is memberships in all church sponsored societies. Young girls no longer value purity and virtue the way they once did so joining a group that proclaims that publicly is no longer desirable. There are social opportunities around every corner, and online, for young girls and no “rules” to have to learn for how to conduct oneself. And charity works for the needs of the church… well, it goes without saying that young girls today are not much concerned with that. More’s the pity because the church still has needs… maybe more now than ever. They could use the energy and enthusiasm of youth to help with fundraising and prayer.

I suspect that Young Ladies’ Sodalities fell victim to the rise of women’s liberation in the 1960s and 1970s. A friend of mine was a member of her parish’s Young Ladies’ Sodality in the mid 1960s. I belonged to a parish just a short distance from her but I don’t remember there being a YLS at our parish in the late 1960s or early 1970s when I would have been of an age to join. Our parish had a “Teen Club” which had some similar objectives, fundraising and chaperoned social activities, but it was a coed organization and lacked the emphasis on purity or religion that the YLS once had.

Were you a member of a Young Ladies’ Sodality or was someone in your family? What were your experiences with the organization?

Catholicism in New Mexico


An Historical and Personal Perspective

Most people when asked to name a “Catholic” state in the US, think first of Maryland. Maryland has a unique Catholic history among the original 13 colonies. But arguably, New Mexico is the most culturally Catholic state, at least historically.

New Mexico celebrates its 100th anniversary of statehood this year. The 47th state joined the Union on January 6, 1912.

New Mexico’s European history, of course, traces back to Spain. In 1521, following the defeat of the Aztecs, Spain, established the “vice royalty of New Spain,” which covered much of western North America, south of Canada. All of present-day New Mexico was part of new Spain. In the 1520s and 1530s, explorers Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and Francisco Alvarez de Coronado for gold in New Mexico. A Franciscan, Marcos de Niza, described the Spanish quest in 1539. Franciscans would play significant roles in the 16th century explorations of New Mexico. These expeditions experienced much hardship and failed to find any gold. For the next 50 years after Coronado, there was little activity in New Mexico.

Near the end of the 16th century, the Spanish eventually established a permanent colony in New Mexico. San Juan de los Caballeros was built near the confluence of Chama and Rio Grande rivers. Franciscan missionaries were a large part of this community. San Juan was intended to be the capital of the province of Nuevo México; however, constant conflicts with the indigenous population led the Spanish to move the provincial capital to a location near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This new capital, established in 1609, was called Santa Fe. More than 400 years later, it remains the capital of New Mexico. It is the oldest continuously occupied capital in the United States.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico

In the early 1700s, Spanish settlers moved into the Rio Grande Valley and established Albuquerque. One of the first buildings in Albuquerque was the Church of San Felipe de Neri, on which construction was begun in 1706. The original church was completed in about 1719. This church collapsed in the rainy season of 1792. A new church, which still stands in Old Town Albuquerque today, was built in 1793.

San Felipe de Neri Church, Albuquerque, New MexicoSan Felipe de Neri Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico

European Catholics who came to New Mexico included not only Spaniards, but Irish and Italian immigrants as well. In 1853, Jean Baptiste Lamy, a native of France, became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1875, Lamy was consecrated the first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Jean Baptiste Lamy (1814-1888), first Bishop of Santa Fe. Willa Cather’s novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop, is based on his life.

Lamy was a legendary churchman who did much to improve the administration of the Church in the American West. Part of his great influence was due to the sheer size of the Santa Fe see. Since 1875, parts of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe have been spun off into the Vicariates of Arizona and Colorado, and the Dioceses of Dallas, El Paso, Las Cruces, and Gallup.

Although the culture and history of New Mexico are inextricably tied to the Catholic Church, modern demographic trends have caught up with the Land of Enchantment. Only 26% of the population identifies as Catholic according to the United States Religious Landscape Survey (2007), conducted by the Pew Foundation Forum on Religion and Public Life.  That’s only slightly more than the U.S. nationwide figure of 24% Catholic. These figures represent a significant change from the 1920s, for example. The 1920 federal census found 360,350 inhabitants in New Mexico, while the federal Census of Religious Bodies in 1926 counted 215,553 Catholics. The figures work out to roughly 6 out of 10 New Mexicans as Catholics in the 1920s.

What happened? Much has to do with changes in Latino demographics over the years. Whereas the Latino population of New Mexico once was predictably overwhelming Catholic, as in Latino populations elsewhere there has been tremendous growth in Protestant Evangelicals among Latinos in New Mexico. The 2007 Pew survey found the total percentage of Protestant Evangelicals in New Mexico to be about 25%, nearly equal to the percentage of Catholics. Approximately 20% of Hispanics in New Mexico are said to be Protestant Evangelicals.

My Catholic family moved to New Mexico in 1961, several months before the 50th anniversary of statehood. We attended Mass at the two chapels located within the boundaries of the semi-secret Sandia Base, then the nation’s premier atomic weapons installation, located on Albuquerque’s southeast side. Our pastors were chaplains from all of the military services. We attended public schools in Albuquerque, although a lot of our friends went to Catholic schools, especially Holy Ghost School in the southeast quadrant.

Because we didn’t go to Catholic school, we had to attend catechism classes every week. These were taught by nuns of the order of Sisters of Charity, augmented by lay teachers from the community.

In 1961, as I recall, the catechism classes were on Saturday mornings in the meeting rooms of the multi-faith chapel officially known as “Chapel No. 2.” this was a relatively recently constructed edifice across the street from the hospital; like the hospital, it was gleaming white. Apart from officialdom, everyone called it “the New Chapel.” So was it distinguished from “Chapel No. 1,” which was also known as “the Old Chapel.”

[The Old Chapel was across the street from the parade grounds, a large green open space ringed by huge poplar trees and guarded on the side which faced the chapel by empty replica shells of Fat Man and Little Boy, both natives of New Mexico. The Old Chapel at this time was an exclusively Catholic venue. It was a wooden building constructed to Army specifications for World War II chapels. I imagine before the New Chapel was built, it too, served a multi-faith purpose. In the early 1990s, now part of Kirtland Air Force Base, the Old Chapel was converted into a child care center. More recently, the building was torn down.]

Several years later, catechism classes were moved to Sunday mornings at 7:30 before the nine o’clock Mass in the New Chapel.

There was a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) chapter on the base. CYO was much fun. We had hayrides and dances, went ice-skating, and to the movies. We got to know other Catholic young people through CYO.

My brothers and I became altar boys during our time in New Mexico. We made great friends like Mike Stark, Frank LoCasio, and others, and had memorable experiences (no, the time I got sick on the altar during the 5:00 a.m. sunrise Mass one Easter doesn’t count!).

TVLand: A Source of Catholic Genealogy?!

 [Note: a version of this post originally appeared at Geneablogie in 2006.]

An almost sinful obsession of mine (other than genealogy) a few years ago was watching Gunsmoke [formerly on TVLand, most weekends; also early mornings during the week.] Some weekends, it seemed as if the time passed and little got done except hours of Gunsmoke.  Let me tell you about one of those days.

At the first strains of the compelling theme music of the day’s first episode, I could feel myself being drawn in. By the time George “Smokey the Bear” Walsh had solemnly and ritualistically  intoned, “Gunsmoke . . . starring James Arness as Matt Dillon,” I was captured. To mitigate the situation, I tried to think of some genealogical angles to Matt Dillion, Festus, Doc, and Kitty that I could blog about. I was still pondering that when the fifth episode of the day began. An obviously very ill woman was being tended by three black nuns. The woman’s two children were nearby. The nuns agreed to see that the children made it to the farm their father was supposed to be preparing for the family near Dodge City [Episode #14, Season 15; first aired 12/29/1969]. Having already seen four episodes that morning,  I was actually about to turn the television off and get down to some real business when

one of the nuns mentioned that they were members of the “Oblate Sisters of Providence.”

I sat back down to watch the rest of the show.

[The children's father (Jack Elam, as despicable as ever in his Gunsmoke recurring role as Pack Landers!) turns out to be a drunk layabout and petty criminal who offers to help the nuns build a school so as to get his hands on the funds donated for that purpose. It's a sort of bizarro version of Lilies of the Field]1, 2.

What re-captured my attention was the mention of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, which is an actual order of Roman Catholic nuns headquartered in Baltimore. Founded in 1829, it was the first religious order for African-American women. The first Superior General, Mother Mary Lange, started the order for the benefit of Haitian immigrants. The order has concentrated on child development and education.

On the 1920 federal census for Baltimore, there is a two page section for the St Francis Convent and Orphanage, operated by the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Listed in that section is 16 year old Emma Micheau, born in llinois. She’s the last and youngest “assistant inmate” listed before several boarders ranging from 38 to 94 years old, and then the orphans. “Assistant Inmate” appears to have been the description given to all the nuns and novitiates except the “Superior General” of the Order, who in 1920 was the Reverend Mother “M. Frances.”

Emma Micheau was the daughter of Marshall and Sophronia Micheau of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. Marshall Emmanuel Micheau was the son of George Micheau, who had been born in Missouri in about 1852 and George’s wife, Mary Emma Roy, born in Prairie du Rocher in 1855. George was one of five sons of George [1813-1907] and Margret [1834-?] Micheau.

As a religious, Emma was known as Sister Philomena. After her initial stay in Baltimore, she returned to Missouri and later became the Superior at St Frances Girls School in Normandy, Missouri.

In taking Holy Orders, Emma Micheau was following the example set by her aunt, Adelaide (“Addie”) Micheau, who was the daughter of George and Mary Emma Micheau. Addie, born in 1885, became Sister Celestine, OSP, and was resident at the Order’s mission school in St Louis and later, at the Normandy, Missouri, orphanage.

Sister Celestine was my wife’s first cousin once removed and Sister Philomena was my wife’s great-aunt.

Mother Mary Philomena (nee Emma Mary Micheau)

Research Tip: The Oblate Sisters of Providence maintains an Archives and Special Collections Library at the Our Lady of Mount Providence Convent in Baltimore, Maryland. The collection is accessible by appointment only between the hours of 9am and 4pm Monday through Friday. Photocopying and photograph scanning services are available. Some of these records contain the names of orphans and students who resided at the various OSP facilities. Many other religious orders have similar archives.

A tip to search for Catholic religious persons is to use the words “father,” “mother,” “brother, or “sister” as either a first or last name. For example, if you search the 1850 census for Maryland for “sister” as a first name, you come up with about 185 members of the Sisters of Charity in Frederick and Baltimore. Catholic dioceses and archdioceses also have records of their personnel as well as worshippers. For more information on Catholic genealogical records, see the guide at

Sisters Monica, Mary and Cecelia Bellasis…..A Work in Progress



I started my research deep in a rural village in the depth of Surrey England. As my research evolved and I researched back through the generations exploring the lives of direct and indirect ancestors I stumbled into the surname of Bellasis.

The connection starts through the my 7 x Great Grandfather Henry Budd. Henry and his wife Martha nee Ottway raised a family of 8 in Puttenham from 1724. I can speculate on the birth place of Henry, as the neighbouring village of Shackleford as documentation in the village of Puttenham indicates “First of the Budd’s“, so I know he was not born there. There are some early records which indicate that a Henry Budd was resident in Shackleford and there is also references to Henry Budd in the neighbouring village of Elstead a few miles away. Certainly these villages were within walking distance of my 18th Century ancestors.

Henry and Matha raised their family of 7 children in a time, fairly reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I can almost hear and feel the panic as Henry and Martha realised that they need to marry off their daughters to Gentlemen of certain means.

Their eldest daughter, Ester married George Bridges Bellasis. I have written before about the antics of George during his time in the East India Company, (for that post click HERE). The Bellasis family were well established. As I researched further through the line of Bellasis I encountered the half brother of George, Edward Bellasis. George’s father had been a vicar and so I was very surprised to see that Edward converted to Catholicism in 1850. It was this angle and part of the family that posed the most research and questions, not only about the family, but about the religious aspects to it.

Edward Bellasis was born in 1800 to the Rev. George Bellasis and his second wife Leah Cooper Viall. Edward lead an interesting life, he was educated at Christ’s Hospital and undertook legal studies at the Inner Temple. He formed a legal practice at the Chancery Bar and retired from legal practice in 1867. He died in France in 1873.

He was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Father Brownhill on 27 January 1850 and soon after his wife and children followed. He was keen on all things Catholic and was fairly instrumental within the Roman Catholic community; including founding the School of Oratorians at Edgebaston. Edward married twice, but it the children of his second marriage to Eliza Garnett that takes us along a fascinating path.

Together, Edward and Eliza had 10 children. Two sons, the eldest and youngest became Priests and three of his daughters became Nuns.

I had barely interpreted the information of the conversion, when I was sent this photograph by a fellow researcher.

The photograph is of three of the daughters of Edward Bellasis, Monica, Mary and Cecelia Bellasis. Where would the research lead and how far could I research their lives as Nuns? Now, I was in uncharted waters in relation to my research skills.

The Catholic Family History Society holds an index of Nuns, who were in the English Province of their Order. The index itself reveals the date of birth for the Nun, names of parents, religious name, dates of profession, date and place of death and the name of order.

Here are the basic details contained within the index:

Monica Bellasis
  • Born 25th November 1855
  • Died 27th April 1927 St. Leonards
  • Entered into Convent 16th January 1879
  • Professed 16th January 1881
  • Religious Name – M.Edward All of the Sacred Heart Child Jesus
Cecilia Bellasis
  • Born 28th June 1845
  • Died 25 December 1930, Harrowgate.
  • Entered Convent 5th August 1869
  • Professed 8th September 1871
  • Religious Name – St. Aloyius
Mary Bellasis
  • Born 4th January 1842
  • Died 18th June 1927, Harrowgate
  • Entered into Convent 12th December 1863
  • Professed 18th November 1865
  • Religious Name – Francis Xavier

Just these few basic facts give me, in addition to the timeline of their existence a starting point as I try to piece together their lives within their Church and Faith. I think this is going to be an interesting journey………

My Catholic School Memories

My parents sent my brothers to Catholic grade school but I begged them not to send me. I wanted to attend the local public school because the kids that were my age on my block weren’t Catholic. Not a one of them. So they were all going to the public school and I wanted to be with my friends. My parents gave in without a big fight so it was off to public school I went.

But that meant I had to go to religious education classes after school at our local Catholic church.

When I was very young, they were called “Catechism” classes. I started them in the fall of 1st grade and they were held every Monday at 4pm throughout the traditional school year, save for the religious holidays that gave us a day off. In later grades (7 & 8) the classes met at 7pm and were referred to as “CCD” classes, which stood for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Yeah, that’s a mouthful, hence the CCD abbreviation. Now a days they call them “Faith Formation Classes”. It’s all the same thing.

True confession: I never really enjoyed catechism classes. First off, they were always held on Mondays. Mondays already felt like long boring days at school and adding another hour+ of education felt like torture. I’d get home from public school about 3:30pm and I’d have to be at catechism by 4pm so that didn’t leave much time to grab a quick snack and head back out the door for the long ;-) (.5 mile)  walk to our local church.

I hated that walk.

I had no one to walk with. And my parents never drove me or picked me up. So when it rained, I walked. And when it snowed, I walked. And when it was windy and bitterly cold, I walked. And by the time classes were dismissed (5:30pm), it was dark out or close to it for much of the school year. So then I had to walk home alone in the dark, in the rain, snow, wind, and bitter cold. And let me tell you, that half mile seemed like 5 miles to me! True, I had to walk to public school in the elements as well but I always had friends to walk with and that made it so much more bearable. When it came to getting to and from catechism classes, I was on my own.

In first and second grades, my catechism teachers were nuns. It was their job to prepare me for my First Holy Communion and Confession which happened at the end of my second grade school year. I also had nuns for teachers a few other years but I can’t remember specifically which grades. I don’t remember the nuns ever smiling or being friendly in the way that my public school teachers were. They were strict and for the most part had a “no nonsense” attitude. They did a good job of keeping us in line and teaching us our prayers though.

During the Advent season, just before Christmas, I remember making cut-out stained glass windows using card stock and colored cellophane paper. I thought those were really cool.

During Lent we were given “Lenten banks” which were tin cans, kinda the size of cat food cans, with a slot in the top. We were expected to fill our banks with coins and return them just before Easter. I wasn’t a fan of giving up some of my allowance for the Lenten cans but I did it because it was expected of me.

It was either the 7th or 8th grade when I had a male teacher for catechism. I tend to think it was 7th grade because I don’t remember him helping prepare us for our Confirmation (at the end of 8th grade). Anyway, he was totally lost with a room full of teenagers and didn’t know how to keep us in line. Some of the boys in my class made fun of him (he was kinda nerdy) and I don’t think he even realized it. It sure made the rest of us crack up though. Looking back, I recognize that was really rude of course. But at the time it made for a humorous year of CCD classes!

Those are the highlights I remember from my catechism years. The church and school where I attended catechism classes is still standing, still a Catholic grade school and a place for public school kids to attend “Faith Formation” classes. I suspect most of them get driven and picked up from their catechism classes though. It’s a different world now, not the one-car-per-family world I grew up in. I wonder if the kids like their catechism classes any more now that they don’t have to walk miles by themselves in the blowing snow, uphill, in the dark, without… ;-)

Grade school wing of the Catholic school where my catechism classes were held

Candlemas Day

Today, February 2nd, is the 40th day after Christmas Day. For people of Polish descent who faithfully observe their ethnic customs, it is the last day of the Christmas Season. This holy time of year always comes to an end with a very important Church Feast, The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. On this special day we commemorate Mary and Joseph bringing the child Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem for the first time, 40 days after His birth. According to the ancient Law of Moses, every Jewish mother was excluded from attendance at public worship for 40 days after giving birth to a boy child. Mary fulfilled this command of the law by presenting two pigeons as a sin offering and through the paryers of a priest was pruified from the ritual uncleanliness associated with childbirth. This feast day, therefore, was formerly called the Purification of Mary.

Today the feast is commonly known as Candlemas Day because of the blessing of candles which takes place at the beginning of Mass. The lighted candles are carried in procession in church to remind us that it is Jesus Christ who is the true Light of the World, a Revelation to all the nations and the glory of the People of Israel.

Parishioners lining up for procession at Candlemas, Sweetest Heart of Mary Church, Detroit, 2007

In Poland this day is called Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej which is translated literallly as Mother of God of the Thunder Candle. The candles blessed this day are called gromnicy or thunder candles because they are kept in the home for use especially in time of thunderstorms to protext the house from being hit by lightning. They are  also a protection against other natural calamities such as floods, fire and drought. The blessed candles are also lit at the bedside of the dying to protect the individual from Satan, and to light the way to heaven. It was believed by many that at the time of death there was a contest for the soul of the dying between angels and the devil.

At the Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan there is a beautiful painting hanging in one of the halls which depicts Mary walking at night through the snows of the Polish countryside, carrying a large candle in her hands as if it was a sword. At her feet wolves can be seen running fearfully away from her and from the small cottages of the townsfolk she is protecting. Polish legend says she walks across Poland with her gromnica aglow, protecting homes and farm animals from many packs of hungry wolves, that prowl about looking for prey during the harsh Polish winters.

Even though we do not live in rural Poland, on this occasion I encourage us all to invoke the Blessed Virgin for her help and protection on one of her special feast days. May Mary continue to protect each one of us from the dangers that roam the dark streets of our world at night during the remainder of this winter.

[Many thanks to Rev. Mark A. Borkowski, Associate Pastor, Ss Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Detroit, Michigan, who was kind enough to allow me to share his article with you.]

Father Mark Borkowski at Mass (Candlemas, 2007), Sweetest Heart of Mary Church, Detroit

My maternal and paternal grandparents were married at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church, were members of the parish, and no doubt walked in procession there for the Candlemas celebration. It warms my heart to think of them celebrating this very Polish, very Catholic, feast day.

The Value of a Catholic School Education

Today kicks off the first day of Catholic Schools Week 2012, (January 29-February 5).  The theme is: Catholic Schools – Faith. Academics. Service. In order to Catholic Schools Week, I thought I would write a post about my 12 years of Catholic education.

For grades one through eight I attended Duquesne Catholic School (no longer open).  This school was made up three different schools in three different buildings: Holy Name (grades 1-3), St. Joseph’s (grades 4-6), and Holy Trinity (grades 7 and 8).

Yearbook for Duquesne Catholic School 1976-1977; Owner: Lisa Alzo, for private use

After Junior High “graduation” I then attended Serra Catholic High School.

My father also attended Holy Trinity (he called it “Hunky Tech”–that was because it was the school of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Duquesne, now in West Mifflin, PA–which was identified as the “Slovak” church). My mother, however, was Greek Catholic, so when she was young she had to attend the Duquesne public schools. Dad did not have the chance to go to a Catholic High School and attended Duquesne High School. My aunt, Sr. M. Camilla Alzo, who belonged to the Blessed Sacrament of the Incarnate Word order, taught at the school for a few years even though her home convent was in Victoria, Texas. I shared her story in a previous post.

Holy Trinity School (a.k.a. "Hunky Tech"), Duquesne, PA, 1941. From personal photo collection of Lisa Alzo, held for private use

Classroom of Sr. M. Camilla Alzo at Holy Trinity School, Duquesne, PA, 1941; From personal photo collection of Lisa Alzo, held for private use

My parents did not want to send me to the public schools and felt strongly that I receive a Catholic education, and they made the sacrifices necessary to pay for me to have this opportunity. And so off I went to first grade at Holy Name (in 2005 the school was demolished). I was very sad when I saw pictures of this event (see below). I met my first best friend there in that school, and my first favorite teacher, Sister “K”. I always loved going to school at Holy Name.

Holy Name School, Photo courtesy of Jim Hartman, April 2005.

So, what did I learn from my 12 years in Catholic school? Actually, quite a lot. First and foremost I learned respect.  My parents taught me how to respect myself, and how to show respect for others–especially my elders–even in times when I might not agree with them. The nuns and teachers in school reinforced this lesson. On my first day of school, my mother told me, “You are to listen the nuns. Pretend they are me. If you misbehave, I WILL know about it, and they have my permission to punish you.  Then, you will be in trouble when you get home too.” I was SO afraid to disobey those nuns! The majority of my classmates were too from what I can recall. Sure, there were those who were a bit ornery or always seemed to be in trouble. People may frown upon this “fear factor” today, but one thing is for certain:  I  never remember having to worry that someone might bring a gun in and shoot everyone, or have a bomb, etc.

I also learned discipline and how to apply it both to my work, and my personal life. I believe my quality of education was much higher in the Catholic schools. Our classes were smaller and the teachers, for the most part, truly cared about their students, and even more than 30 years later, they will remember you. I found some of my old report cards–very interesting to read. I received one “bad” report–in 1977-78–in Math (this is not surprising because to this day “I don’t do Math!  My English grades were always better!).  The teacher wrote that I was “getting careless in my work…and not concentrating.”  Since a parent had to sign the report card and could make comments, my mother, who was not happy, did sign it but requested an interview with the teacher.  My mother wrote: “I will not tolerate this kind of work from Lisa.  What can I do to help her?  This is the first bad report since she has been in school.  I’m very disappointed in her and her Dad is too.”

Talk about tough love! You can bet that I did better after that report!  I did improve my grades for the next grading period. Mom was a stickler when it came to school.  Very strict. My Dad not so much; he cared, but he let my Mom handle it. It was not fun at the time, but I appreciate my mother pushing me to do my best. It has provided me with the strong work ethic I still have today.  I went on to be an honor student in high school, even winning three awards for being an “Outstanding Student” in Biology, English, and Psychology!  Out of the three, the Psychology award surprised me the most, but the priest who taught the subject said he gave the award solely on merit and that the papers I was writing for his course were college level papers and how my mother should send me to Harvard.  Of course, my mother, the ever frugal Slovak, asked “And, how do you suggest we pay for Harvard?”  He suggested scholarships, etc.  I didn’t apply to Harvard, but I did graduate Magna Cum Laude from West Virginia Wesleyan College where I went on to receive several senior awards, including the outstanding student in the English department. I furthered my education by earning a Masters in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Pittsburgh.

This past November I was truly honored that one of my former Duquesne Catholic School teachers (Mrs. “Y”) attended MY lecture at the Pitt Slovak festival. We had been corresponding for a few years by e-mail after she spotted a couple of my books in the local bookstore. It was such a thrill to see her again and to have her tell me how proud she is of me for the work I am doing with genealogy/family history.  A few months ago, I received an e-mail from another teacher from my Duquesne Catholic days congratuling me on my work. I also keep in touch with several of my former high school teachers.

Of course, religious education was also a major part of the Catholic school experience. The nuns were always quizzing us on the “Lord’s Prayer,” the “Apostle’s Creed,” the “Ten Commandments,” and how to correctly pray the rosary. I plan to write a future post about one of these nuns, so stay tuned.

By writing this post I am in no means saying that Catholic schools are perfect. Not all the teachers were caring or good at their jobs (about a year or so ago I read a story in the Pittsburgh papers about one of my former teachers who was arrested and in quite a bit of trouble). However, I do feel that my Catholic school education helped to shape the person I am today. For this I am grateful.

So, as Catholic Schools Week begins, I’d like to say a big “Thank You” to my parents for making the choice to provide me with a Catholic education, and also to all of those teachers who cared enough to make sure that I succeeded.

You Will Always Be in Our Hearts

My father, Francis Joseph Danko, passed from this life on 04 January 2012.  As much as my family knew this day was coming, it still seemed that we were unprepared for his death.

One of the most important decisions we had to make was the choice of a church in which to hold the funeral.  The Church of St. Vincent de Paul in Albany, New York, the church we had attended as a family, did not seem like a suitable choice because the church no longer had a permanent pastor and we would have had to bring a priest in from somewhere else to celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial.

We had decided that McVeigh Funeral Home would conduct the funeral since McVeigh’s had arranged the funeral for my father’s sister Helen and we were familiar with them.  Besides, the funeral home was just up the street from our old family home.  We had also decided that my father would be buried in Our Lady of Angels Cemetery where several other family members, including my mother, were buried.

Church of the Blessed Sacrament

Church of the Blessed Sacrament

SOURCE:  Church of the Blessed Sacrament (Albany, Albany County, New York); photographed by Stephen J. Danko on 08 January 2012.

We decided, then, to hold the funeral at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, around the corner from the funeral home and on the same street as the cemetery.  In December, my father had asked to see a priest and Father John Bradley from Blessed Sacrament came by to visit Dad and administer the Anointing of the Sick.  Blessed Sacrament is still a thriving parish in Albany, close to our old home, close to the funeral home, and close to the cemetery.

My sister and I met with Father Anthony Gulley who would celebrate the Mass.  We discussed my father’s life and made some decisions about the details of the funeral.  Father Gulley asked me to choose the first two readings and I decided on readings that would emphasize the belief in life after death.  I read the first reading from 2 Maccabees 12:43-46:

A reading from the second Book of Maccabees

Judas, the ruler of Israel, took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice.  In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.  But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.  Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.

The word of the Lord.

My cousin Karen, my father’s Goddaughter, read the second reading from Romans 6:3-9:

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans

Brothers and sisters:

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.  We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.  For a dead person has been absolved from sin.  If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.  We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.

The word of the Lord.

Later in the service, and again at the gravesite, Father Gulley recited the Prayer of St. Francis, my father’s patron saint, and the patron saint whose name I took for my confirmation name:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Rest in peace, Dad.  You will always be in our hearts.


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