18 March 2011

We Crown Thee With Blossoms

Above & Below: Two images of my Mom in her First Holy Communion veil, May 1959.  To hear her tell it, a young Catholic girl is groomed to look forward to the day of her Communion in much the way she is groomed to anticipate her wedding.  As mentioned in earlier posts, Saint Joseph Hill Academy had a way of making the preparations for any pivotal rite of passage seem like the end-all / be-all of human existance.  It would be some 22 years later that I would be engaging in this very same ceremony (with all the attendant preparations) at the very same school in a neatly-pressed suit and tie with a crisp white shirt.

My Mother, still veiled and beautiful as can be, with my great grandmother Mae Costello (above) and my Uncle Kevin and Aunt Karen (below).  They are seen here in front of the family's apartment on Hoyt Avenue in Staten Island, shortly before moving into the newly-built family home on Browning Avenue in Todt Hill.

Above, we see what was known at SJHA as "The Bungalow", but it's actual name was The Holy Infancy Building.  This diminutive, low-ceilinged structure housed both First and Second Grade classrooms as well as one of the Third Grades.  Somehow, it contained an antiquated Elementary School library and restrooms.  The campus and its buildings were almost identical to its condition in these 1959 shots when I attended in the 1970s and 80s.  I still find it kind of odd that my Mom, Aunts and Uncles and I were schooled for a time in a building named for the formative phase of the Baby Jesus, but there it is.  I clearly recall a P.A. announcement from our principal, Sister Perpetua, in which she requested that we stop referring to it by its slang name and only use its proper moniker so that we could "keep it holy".  She supported this request by reminding us of the plaque that greeted main office visitors:  "Let it be known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school."  That still doesn't explain the frilly campiness seen below...

Such finery on girls is one thing, but on boys... it's just creepy (and confusing).

Everything about the Catholic May Crowning ceremony is a lot like a wedding... Employing dresses, flowers, veils and a procession that looks a lot like a bride and her maids.  One would even think the young lady selected to "crown" the statue of Mary was in some way betrothed or beholden to it.  Despite the para-military precision and excruciating attention to every manuever, petal and ruffle, I always found this annual performance a bit odd.  For a religion that is built upon the condemnation of "false gods" in The Ten Commandments, this whole show smacks of pagan idolatry in the extreme.  Year after year, though, my classmates and I watched, sang the attendant hyms and participated in this florid Rite Of Spring.  I'll be the first to admit... it had some beautiful moments.

Above: My grandparents Joan & Norman at the First Communion with my Mom and Uncle Kevin. 
Fashion Note: Check out my grandmother's ever-so-fetching fox fur stole with the mouth-as-clasp. 

The young ladies and gents approach the steps...
"Oh, Mary we crown thee with blossoms today / Queen of the angels, Queen of the May"

...And with that, Mary is crowned.