As has often been said in this blog, St. Anthony's Catholic Church on School Street was the Faith center of the Village. Liturgical events marked the passages of each person there. Baptism as an infant was the first event.
When I was a child and before a baby did not go out of the house until he/she was baptized. This is a photo of one of my grand nieces on her Baptismal day.
Back in those days it was felt that there were too many dangers- such as infectious diseases - that might harm the child. Many families could still recall such times.
Baptism, then as now, marked a child as a Catholic and insured theirt heavenly destination should disaster befall.
The next rite of passage was the sacramental rite of First Communion. Not only did it mean a major milestone in the spiritual life of the child allowing that child to regularly receive Communion,it was a powerful Church and Family ritual. It also initiated the child into an age group. For us in the Village, that group was the one you took religion classes with, and probably the group you were with at Fuller School and onward. Many of us, those still among the living, still keep connected, Even if we see each other infrequently the bond of the Village is always strong and supportive.
This is the oldest family First Communion photo in my collection. Here is my Uncle Eddy: Edward Souza in 1927. As it was at 7 years of age that a child received First Communion, I can date this accurately.
As was the case in the Souza Family of old, it is a formal photograph taken at the Boutin studios in Taunton. This was true for most families, the occasion almost rose to that of a wedding in terms of formality. There are two important things about this photo and the date. My grandfather, Joseph Souza, died suddenly in a tragic fishing accident that year in July. First Communion usually took place in early Spring. It is hard to know what date, but one has to wonder if the fact that he is dressed in black means that he had already lost his father. At least for girls and for boys white was worn for this occasion.
Surfing through the incredible Pinterest posts I hit pay dirt. One of those times when
an amateur historian and blogger lets out a "hoorah".
I found this photo on Pinterest of Frank Sinatra on the occasion of his First Communion.
Here he is in black suit and stockings. This photo was taken in 1924.
Both Uncle Eddy and Frank have the white ties and the
white ribbon on the left arm. They also have the
certificate of this event in their hands.
Portuguese families as well as many Catholic families love to celebrate religious occasions and a child's First Communion called for just that. In the case of the Village, the old St. Anthony's would have been filled with proud parents and family members proudly watching a gaggle of 7 year old boys and girls. Present would have been godmothers and godfathers, of special importance in the life of a child of Portuguese descent. Godmother is Portuguese is Madrinha, Godfather is Padrinha. A child shortened it early to Midinga or Minga and Padinha. They were beloved members of the family.
From 1906 to 1951 children at St. Anthony's would have made their First Communion in the dark old, subterranean basement Church, a prelude to the new bright one that would come in 1951.
No doubt, the dark tones would have had an impact on the solemnity involved. The insert is that of Father Louro, first Pastor. I received my First Communion from the very dear Monsignor Texeira whose simplicity and kindness was well known throughout the Diocese of Fall River.
To learn more about St. Anthony's please go to
Children would have processed in the procession like the one below before or
after the Mass. I recognize each of these houses across from the Church, although this looks like the entrance to the newer Church, it was obviously taken in the early 50's from the dress and the cars.
The old Church had deep long stairs from the top ground entrance downward which were
often frightening for a small child. Often processions with little ones came in at the side
whose stairs were much shorter.
Below is a 1925 Pinterest photo of two young girls at their
First Communion. Like Uncle Eddy's and Frank Sinatra's everything
is far more elaborate and in tune with fashions of the day.
Here we see that candles complete the ensemble. The dresses
are long and modest.
These are St. Anthony First Communion studio portraits of a Village brother and sister: Arlene Rose Gouveia and her brother, Donny Rose. The white suit replaces the somber
black one but the white arm ribbon and neck tie remains.
The certificate is gone and only the rosary remains.
Donald Rose : 1939
Arlene Rose: 1941
For little girls, the elaborate headpiece still remains, although much simplified,
as do the long whitegloves. The veil is still quite long. One might say these were small debutantes for the Lord. Here Arlene kneels on a kneeler. her dress also is shorter than the two
I received my First Communion at the old St. Anthony's
in 1947. I was 7 years old. I kept my mouth closed in the photograph
because I had lost my front teeth.
Memories of that day: the silky feel of the white gloves and the
way my fingers felt in them. The stiffness of my veil and how I was
careful my veil and cap did not fall off. My veil ends at the hem of my white dress,
Little shoes that had a tiny heel making me feel so grown up. The awe. Feeling my little friends
in front and behind me supporting my long procession up the aisle to the alter rail, the start of friendships that would be lifelong. There was the emotion we youngsters felt on approaching this Holy of Holies the right way, of reaching out for the host correctly with our tongue and of not chewing it but rather swallowing it whole. A lot for a child to remember along with keeping our minds open to prayer and thanksgiving. I remember a little gold edged prayerbook covered in white silk which I kept for a long time...but not long enough.
Each time I hear the hymn:" O, Lord I am not worthy..."
I am transported back to that day.
Here I am, long gloves and white stockings and all.
Another contemporary of mine in her First Communion attire.
Finally, here is my sister, Mariellen, in her photograph (not studio for the first time)
and her First Communion attire. She received her First Communion in the newer present Church
No gloves, shorter white stockings. The veil, too, is shorter although the headdress is still quite fancy. Maryellen's dress is shorter. She has the sweetest smile of all my photos on this post. Still sweet ruffles and lace, white shoes and socks
and a white rosary.
First Communion memories can be found in our hearts. Those that happened at a simpler time when liturgical events were an event for child, family and the Village. It is a gift to revisit them, to
re-ignite the simplicity our our childhood Faith and trust.
We were innocent in a more innocent time. Though it had its problems, they were not as multiplied as today and our Faith kept everything centralized and in its place. Those memories can still
light up our souls strengthening them when we need them the most.
Times like these, they really can comfort and inspire.
Question: do we share such memory with our children and grandchildren?
My next blog will be about how we do that, pass on
the stories that inspire and share family history and keep such history
safe for the future.
Photography from Arlene Rose Gouveia and
Sandra Souza Pineault
About memories of First Communions:
see links below each photo.