There were only two Presbyterians in the 7th grade at St. Margaret School in Bel Air in 1952 and I was one of them. The other was Johnny Clark, who, following ‘graduation’ in 1953 went on to some school for the delinquent rich in southern Maryland. Me…I went to public school in my hometown of Bel Air.
We had ‘recess’ at St. Margaret, twice a day, not including lunch time, when I walked home usually to have lunch with my mom and my brother. A Catholic school in a rural town in Maryland in the early 50’s was a good place for learning. I learned a lot and there was stern discipline to back it up. First thing after we gathered in the classroom and prayed was catechism and even though I did not have to take it, I had to listen, or on occasion, was sent to the First National Bank six or so blocks from the school with the collection funds from church services and bingo.
In that little cigar box that I so carefully guarded but never once looked inside of…Me the little Presbyterian, near-sighted, buck-teeth, kinda nerdy, but carrying big money to the bank for Father Joseph McCourt and the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
It came to pass the archdiocese sponsored a writing contest for our school. Amazingly I won first prize and can’t recall what I wrote about just now. But I won, and I was so proud, and happy when Sister Hillaire, the school’s principal, read my name.
First prize was a glow in the dark, Blessed Virgin Mary holy water font, suitable for mounting on the wall. It was the blessed mother, with a blue veil and open arms outstretched to the little pool at the bottom for holy water. The dipping of fingers into holy water was as normal then, for me, as cleaning my glasses or sharpening my pencil.
“Let’s see it,” my dad said, and I presented the blessed mother at the dinner table. My mother had never seen a blessed mother, holy water font that glowed in the dark…and she was amused, and then got real serious when dad asked what we should do with it. There was my opening, because it was ‘first prize’……”Put it up, please, dad, in the hallway at the front door, then every one can have holy water when they come in…please dad, please.”
And so it was done. With care not to shatter the plastic hanger, dad mounted the blessed mother on the wallpapered wall just inside the front door of our home on Hickory avenue, a mere block from the St. Margaret Convent, school and church.
“Well son, if it’s gonna be done, it’s gonna be done right…get some holy water and we’ll fill it,” dad ordered. He gave me a clear empty bottle of some sort and off I went to meet with Father McCourt for the ‘fill up’..We went to the sacristy and he dipped the sacred water into the clear glass bottle and I took it home and dad filled the font with it.
I think I was the only one who used it, every time I used the front door, which wasn’t that often. When dad had a poker game with his pals, some of them used it when they came and when they left. They were ‘grown up Catholics’ and dad put a stop to it before the poker games. Something about an ‘unfair advantage.’
Soon the water was all gone and I had to get more. When I asked Father McCourt if we could have some more holy water he nodded in agreement and suggested this time I use a Mason jar instead of a ‘clear, empty bottle’ from Russia.
After a poker game one night I came downstairs after everyone had left to see if the blessed mother really glowed in the dark. She did and I was pleased.
When we moved to the farm in 1953 I lost track of the blessed mother. In the confusion this 12-year-old lost track of the sacred prize that meant so much. I had graduated from St. Margaret and Father McCourt was no longer a fixture in my life.…I was caught up in the eye-opening bustle of public school with lots more classmates, no school sisters of Notre Dame and no more cigar boxes full of money for the First National Bank up town.
They must have found another Presbyterian in the school to take care of those chores. My brother, Brian, was six years younger than me, and he went to St. Margaret as well. Maybe the job went to him. Poker games were many and often at the farm, and dad’s winnings seemed to increase when we no longer had the glow in the dark, blessed virgin Mary holy water font next to the front door.