Just before my eighth birthday, my father decreed that I would become an altar boy and he signed me up for the summer training session. Thus I embarked on one of the greatest experiences of my young life. The parish priest was Father Joseph P. McNamara. He was a man's man. He was a bird colonel in the U S Army Chaplin Core during WW II. He insisted that he serve with the men on the front lines as he felt he could not comfort them well behind the line of combat. He has long ago gone to his Heavenly reward. I'm not sure why I have been thinking of him lately....but I have. Father Mac always wore highly shined black high top army boots. In the nine plus years that I was an altar boy, I never saw him wear low cut shoes. Most of the boys my age only stayed for a few years. There was another altar boy who began a year or so after me who also stayed well into high school. We were the altar boys for the Sunday 9:30 AM mass. I knew the Latin mass inside and out. It was more than memorization. I knew the priests words and the English counterpart as well as my responses. I was pleased when the Bishop requested me for one of his masses. I often was specifically requested to serve weddings and funerals.
I believe I stayed that long because of Father Mac. I remember in 1955, Father Mac said to me that he did not know what the world was coming too. When I asked what was the problem, he told me that Buick was no longer offering a standard transmission. Father Mac always drove a black Buick with a dark blue interior and a standard transmission.
Father Guertin was the Chaplin at the Catholic orphanage nearby. Occasionally he would say the weekday morning mass. One particular morning after a record 18 minute mass, I commented that he lost me early on. There was more French than Latin. About 3 minutes into the mass, I gave up trying to respond and was happy I was ready with the water and wine when he was. Because of my longevity, I was able to occasionally comment on their abbreviated masses.
One time Father Mac came to the house when he was doing a parish census. My parents were having a new rug installed. When Father Mac walked in, the installer immediately knelt and asked for a blessing. After Father Mac left, he explained that Father Mac was the Chaplin for his unit when he was in combat in Europe during the war and how much he was respected.
I also had my own cassock and blouse for mass. My mom wanted me in a freshly washed and starched altar outfit. As I grew, they always made sure to keep me in a properly fitted one.
I left the altar boys just about my 17th birthday. I know Father Mac was sorry to see me leave, but he understood that I felt it was time for me to move on. My father did not.
Years later when the horrible news surfaced about priests and altar boys, my father asked me if I was exposed to any of that. Absolutely not! My priests that I served were fantastic role models who treated us with great respect.
I will always remember Father Mac.