Ad Altare Dei

by | Jul 30, 2021

Above: OLM altar boys circa early 1950s – long before Bruce’s time!

In some of the stories of the past I have talked about growing up Catholic. Growing up Italian. Just growing up.

In my early days, I was very devout. I had a mother who was very devout and I followed her word and example pretty much to a T. Then my father died. I was 12 and my whole world changed.

But, on a religious note, it got even more serious.

A new priest had entered our parish, Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich. He was different from our previous priests. Though he was Irish-American as most of ours were he was more hands on (no, not that way), always around, took a big interest in the kids and the happenings of the parish and the town. He would leave the pulpit and tromp down the aisles when giving his sermon. He would ask the seated parishioners and OLM students questions about the sermon. He would halt Mass and sternly admonish anyone who tried to leave early. He played softball in the town league.

He delivered a muscular type of Catholic preaching like no one in our neck of the world had ever seen.

And then there was me.

He knew my father had died and he made me a project of his I guess. I reported every Wednesday to his office for counseling. And confession. I almost never went into a confessional again. He wanted me to be a priest (subject of one of my all time best lines)*, and to start off, he wanted me to be an altar boy.

Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus et, dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.

May Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.

Amen!

It was to be the start of a 10-year relationship as an altar boy, right in to the service where one of my fellow servers became a friend. He went on to become an NFL Hall of Fame QB and he was even more devout than I.

Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus, et, dimissis peccatis vestris perducat vos as vitam aeternam. Amen.

May Almighty God have mercy on you; forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting. Amen.

Becoming an altar boy brought me into a different world. Some of it extremely serious and some of it tinged with fun. We were like pages to the priests. Father B., Father C., Father F., and Father McG., Irish all, who we had to wait on, serve, help get attired for Mass and any other bidding that came to them on Sunday mornings.

Et plebs tua laetabitur in te.

And Thy people shall rejoice in Thee.

Et salutare tuum da nobis.

And grant us thy salvation.

Et clamor meus ad te veniat.

And let my plea be heard.

Dominus Vobiscum. Et Cum Spirit u tuo. Oremus.

The Lord be with you. And with you also. Let us pray.

It’s funny going over this now. Back then I knew my Mass in Latin. Knew most of the Christmas songs in Latin. Knew the May Procession and Easter songs the same BUT could only get a C in Latin from Mrs. Barker at East Greenwich High School. Kind of like the guys at the corner, who could figure out the trifecta, perfecta and the numbers but could not pass math with Mr. Iannazzi.

Kyrie eleison   Lord Have Mercy

Christe eleison   Christ have Mercy

Gloria in excelsis Deo   Glory to God in the Highest

Benedicimus te    We Bless Thee

Adoramus te     We Adore Thee

Glorificamus te    We Glorify Thee

Quonium tu solus Sanctus   For Thou alone art holy

Tu solus Dominus     Thou alone art Lord

Tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe     Thou alone, O Jesus Christ, art most high

Cum Sancto Spiritu  in gloria Dei Patris   Together with the Holy Ghost, in the glory of God

Amen

I go over it now and some 56 years later I wonder how I remembered all that. It is a puzzle to me now as I look at it, though somewhere in the dark passages of my mind a light goes on in one of the side rooms, and slight stirrings of remembrance.

Gloria tibi, Domine.    Glory be to Thee, O Lord.

I remember at Communion, whenever one of our gang came up to the altar, looking all angelic – hands pursed together, fingers pointing to the heavens – we would slide the communion plate against his/her neck and rub it across the Adam’s apple, trying to get a laugh or reaction to which the priest would give a stern frown, while we, angelical to the core, would have our best face on in the seriousness of the task.

Laus tibi, Christe    Praise be to thee, O Christ

Per evangelica dicta deleantur nostra delicta.

By the words of the Holy Gospel may our sins be blotted out

Father C. used to reward the altar boys every summer. Also the basketball team and the baseball team. He got three weeks vacation. He had access to a farm in the Franconia Notch section of New Hampshire, where The Old Man in the Mountain used to be. Each group got one week. The farm was run by a family of Hungarian refugees, who had fought the Russians during their revolution. It was interesting meeting them, especially their teen sons, who had all shot at and been shot at by the Russian soldiers. They handled guns with ease and did a lot of hunting. As fate and Rhode Island lore would have it, one or two of them now live in the Ocean State and run an auto body shop in North Smithfield.

Et homo factus est    And was made man

This excursion, along with many other of our adventures and experiences with the church and the men of the church, helped build us as we worked our way to manhood. Some of us took a little longer to make it than others, but I always like to point out that five of us who were the “wildest” or most immature of our class have been in marriages of 50 years or more, while some of our more stable classmates fell by the wayside in the marriage department. I like to think that some of the oaths that we took meant something to us even though it took us longer to show our appreciation of it.

Et unam sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam

Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum  Et vitam venturi saeculi

Amen

And I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

And I look for the resurrection of the Dead

And the life of the world to come.

Amen

Our Catholic education went on beyond Sundays. For myself, I have prayed just about every day of my life and also meditate most. Yes, even kneeling by the bed before lights out. In the Marines, the Mormon recruits impressed me as putting their religion out there and were not ashamed to do their devotions out in the open. I had some respect for those guys.

At OLM we who did not go to OLM School had to go to Wednesday Catechism school in the afternoons after public school and, for a brief while, Sunday School. Then in the summer there was Catholic Summer School. The nuns were tough and I bear a few scars from Sisters E and A, though, funny thing, later in life we became good friends.

Father Joe got the men of the parish to convert an old horse barn behind the church into a teenage rec center. It had a beautiful dance floor with jukebox, a card playing area, a pool table, two ping pong tables, a reading/lounge area, a slot hockey/soccer game room … and, two basketball courts. Catholics love their hoops.

Of course, with the teenage craze of rock n’ roll hitting the nation, we used that dance hall to practice our moves and six of us won a dance contest where the prize was a week on American Bandstand in Philadelphia. It was the trip of a lifetime.

Sursum corda      Lift up your hearts

Habemus ad Dominum        We have lifted them up to the Lord

Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro        Let us give Thanks to the Lord, Our God

Dignum et justum est           It is fitting and just to do so

As you can see, Catholic education went further than the Catechism, the Bible, Mass and summer school. Athletics played a big part in it. For the most part good, but not all. As a public school coach, I have a lot of bones to pick with Catholic athletic practices. However, on the teams I played on there was a commitment to winning that permeated all but was hardly ever spoken. In hoops, baseball, softball (slow, semi, fast pitch) and track, the OLM teams were always on or near the top. My two sisters (Karen and Gail) also led their competition cheerleading squads to state titles.

Ite, Missa est      Go, you are sent forth

Deo Gratias       Let us give thanks to God

Benedicamus Domino    Let us bless the Lord

Deo Gratias       Let us give thanks to God

Requiescant in pace   Rest in Peace

Amen        Amen

Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus

Amen

May almighty God bless you all. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost

Amen, amen I say to you.

Amen to all and in the spirit of all that is.

Your Humble Servant,

Me

* Father Joe asked me to be a priest. I answered, “Father, I want to get married and raise a family. IF they let priests marry, I’ll become a priest tomorrow.” (This was 1958.)

Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich, where he experienced those 28-hour days and 8-day weeks that contained the magic that made his hometown so special. Included in all that were the numerous characters that added color to the local life and produced many of Bruce’s remarkable stories.

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6 Comments

  1. Kathleen Blier

    Though I attended olm a bit after you Bruce, it brings back memories. Sister Mary W. would tell us that if we didn’t stop chatting in line, we would be sent to the “bad girl school in Cranston. It was a correctional facility at the time. I believe it is now luxury condos . Thank you for your wonderful articles. Kathy Blier “cressman “

    Reply
  2. Judith Stenberg

    Another masterpiece, Bruce. I grew up Protestant in Riverside, but a lot of my friends had the same experiences as you, and we Protestants got a lot of stories like the one you relate here. (Remind me to tell you sometime about how I almost made first communion at St. Brendan”s!). Best regards to you and your family.

    Reply
  3. E

    Great story to those of us that remember that time growing up in EG…..although a little younger than you I do remember the fanatics some of you pulled.

    Reply
  4. George F. Anderson Jr.

    I read Bruce Mastracchio’s article regarding growing up as a Catholic boy in East Greenwich. I always read with great interest Bruce’s memories of this town. I too grew up as a Catholic boy but in Warwick (St. Peter’s and later St. Benedict’s). However I was also bussed to elementary school at St. Michael’s in South Providence. I was never an altar boy, but I find Bruce’s memories heartwarming. I think that this was a great article, but I find myself distressed by one sentence. Referring to a new priest Bruce states “…he was more hands on…” followed by “…no, not that way…”. We all understand what Bruce is referring to, but I don’t care for his choice of words. I feel that it is to nonchalant , considering the seriousness of the subject matter. I’m glad that Bruce’s experiences as a Catholic boy were positive…as were mine. However we should not forget our Catholic brothers and sisters who suffered at the hands of unscrupulous Catholic clergy.

    When I was young it was Bishop Russell McVinney who confirmed me and it was also Bishop McVinney who handed me my diploma when I graduated from Bishop Hendricken High School. Sadly, it was also Bishop McVinney who authorized the transfer of Father Brendan Smyth from Ireland to Rhode Island. Brendan Smyth would go on to ruin the lives of many young children right here at Our Lady of Mercy Church in East Greenwich. Not every young Catholic kid had the pleasant experiences that Bruce and I did. And we should not treat that nonchalantly.

    We were the lucky ones Bruce. Damn lucky.

    Reply
  5. Hub brennan

    Mr.Anderson is correct. The abuse of moral authority and betrayal of trust by the “unscrupulous Catholic Clergy” he mentions is vile and detestable. The institutional cover-up even worse. History must never forget the scourge of Fr Brendan Smyth who was assigned to OLM in the 1960s. A voracious world-class pedophile, he raped and abused many local children before being, once again, moved elsewhere. The abuse took place right there on Fourth Avenue, in the church in which we worship and in the school in which we educate our children, as well as in our homes and neighborhoods. Those of us who were his victims…and survived, had their lives changed forever. Many still suffer in silence. Thank you Mr Anderson for your important counter-point.

    Reply
  6. Ann Hagan Webb

    The idyllic Catholic childhood that Mr. Mastracchio describes is a far cry from the Catholic childhoods experienced by so many Rhode Island children who were sexually abused by Catholic Clergy, and revictimized by an uncaring, outright hostile hierarchy in the Diocese of Providence. Over the last 20 years, as a professional psychologist, I have worked with many hundreds of adults, sexually abused as children by Catholic priests, brothers and nuns. The survivors I have met in my practice and my advocacy work is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. They (we) often recover in spite of the church’s best efforts to thwart them. I wish I could trust that Mr. Mastracchio’s childhood idyllic is being heaped on Catholic children today, but I am extremely skeptical.

    Survivors looking for support should visit snapnetwork.org (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), or for information visit Bishop-accountability.org.

    Reply

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