In Your Midst


November 2004

Sister Margaret Downey not only went to Cathedral School in the 1920s, but came back and taught as a Sister of the Holy Names years later. Her older sister, Margaret Jane Downey, was among the first Eucharistic Ministers installed at the Cathedral (see p. 10). Sister Margaret has fond memories of her early days in the shadow of St. James: “I was one of seven Downey girls who attended Cathedral school. I started in the first grade at the Cathedral. On my first day of school my sister Rose, who was a senior, was in charge of me. The first thing we did was assemble in the auditorium—everybody, first grade through fourth year of high school. Rose was in charge of seeing that I got to my first grade classroom. However, she disappeared promptly with all her friends as soon as the thing started, and after we sang a song and did some praying everybody cleared out of the auditorium and I found myself to be the only one there. I looked around and waited but there wasn’t a soul anyplace, so I started crying. Finally the janitor came and found me. I made it through that first day, but not without a lot of tears!

"One of seven Downey girls" is front and center!

“I lived in Bellevue on the hill where Sacred Heart Church is now, and I took the bus, a boat, and three streetcars to get to school. In the afternoon school would get out at 3:30 and we’d get home at 5.

“I made my First Communion in first grade, the first Friday in October, which was unusual. Father Stafford was the pastor. He was a very interesting character. He ruled very strongly and very noisily. I remember when I was in first grade he came over to the office and asked the superior, ‘Aren't you going to have some children make their first communion?’ And she said, ‘Well, no, it’s kind of early in the year.’ And he said some children should make their first communion. So they picked out five children in the first grade, two boys and three girls. (One of the other girls was Mary Elizabeth Dunton, who is also a Sister of the Holy Names). When I went home that night and told Mother that I was going to make my first communion, she didn’t believe it so she asked my older sister ‘What is this about? She says she’s going to make her first communion tomorrow.’ My sisters shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘We don’t know anything about it.’ And the next morning, indeed we did! A great crowd of people just surged up the aisle to the railing. We just went along in our dark uniforms and made our first communion and that was it. My family couldn’t believe it! Not much ceremony there.

“When I was in the early grades I always had to wait for one of my older sisters (I had many) and they would pick me up. The first three grades got out earlier, at 2:30, and I would sit and wait for my sisters to come and pick me up and take me with her because I had to take the bus, a boat, and three streetcars! This particular day, Mary Elizabeth Dunton came to me and said, ‘Margaret, you’re so silly! You sit and wait for your sisters. And where are they? They’re upstairs playing on the rings and swings and having a good time and you’re sitting down here waiting for them! Come on up, and have a good time.’ I said, ‘Well, that sounds logical.’ So we just had a great time swinging and ringing. Mary Elizabeth and I did all kinds of things. And when the time came we looked and there wasn’t a soul up there except the two of us! She said, ‘Oh, we’d better go home.’

“So we ran downstairs. Nobody was in the school, there wasn’t a soul there, not even a janitor. And here I had to go home by a bus, a boat, and three streetcars without any sister to help me! I didn’t know what to do. Mary Elizabeth ran up the street to her own house, which was only three blocks away, and I stood in the corner crying. I didn’t have any money and my sisters were all gone. It never occurred to me, ever, to go over to the Sisters’ house and report my plight. It just never occurred to me to go tell the sisters I was lost!

“So as I stood there weeping one of the priests of the Cathedral came by and said, ‘What’s the matter, little girl?’ And I said, ‘I have to go home, and I haven’t any money, and I have to get a bus, a boat, and three streetcars!’ He said, ‘How much do you need?’ I said, ’I just need a nickel.’ He gave me fifty cents. So I went down and caught the Yesler Cable to the wharf. When I got to the ferry dock, one of my sisters was there. She said, “WHAT are you doing here?” And I told her the story and she said, ‘Well, you’ll get your woolly pulled when you get home!’ Everyone was happy to see me when I got on the other side of the lake—Alice especially, because she felt responsible.

“And that’s my story of the Cathedral. It’s been quite a story! The Cathedral has a lot of memories for me. It’s a very important part of our Downey lives.”


Raymond Michael McKay—better known as Mike McKay—has been a parishioner of St. James Cathedral for almost all of his 78 years. Mike, along with every one of his fourteen (!) brothers and sisters, attended Cathedral School. The McKays lived for years in the old Lippy Mansion at 1019 James Street, and for a brief time in 1945, the entire clan was together under one roof! The old mansion, with its odd turrets, towers, and lookouts, was a wonderful place to grow up—and to keep an eye on what was happening on First Hill.

As a boy, Mike was an altar server at the Cathedral. “There were very rigid rules for altar servers in those days,” he says. “You started out as a benchwarmer at age six or seven. Then you could advance to being a candle-bearer. Then you progressed to sitting on the side during Mass so you could observe what was done. Finally, you were allowed to serve Mass. Later on you got to be an acolyte, cross-bearer, boat-bearer, or thurifer.”

High Mass with Bishop Shaughnessy in the late 1930s.  Note train bearers and "benchwarmers" behind the altar rail.

Mike loved serving, and learned quickly. “I was always poking my nose in to see if there was anything I could do at the Cathedral. The Cathedral was my refuge. So I poked my head in one day, and Father Christopher Sloane said to me, ‘McKay, where’ve you been? You’re MC.’ I said, ‘But I don’t know what to do!’ He said, ‘you’ll be fine.’ So I stepped in as Master of Ceremonies. My older brothers were not too pleased about it, since they were serving as cross-bearer and acolyte at the same Mass! When Mass was over, Father Sloane said, ‘you did fine.’ Then he handed me his book on ceremonies. ‘Take it home and read it cover to cover.’” Mike did—and at age 15, became the youngest ever Master of Ceremonies at the Cathedral.

“The liturgy was quite a bit more elaborate in those days, especially when the Bishop was present. Bishop Shaughnessy would appear in cappa magna, trimmed with ermine, and he always wore special gloves and slippers for saying Mass. He would have two trainbearers and an entourage, all wearing white gloves. There was also a candle bearer who would hold a candle whenever the Bishop read. There would also be a miter-bearer, a crosier-bearer, a glover bearer, and an MC (usually a priest), plus a lay MC of the Mass.”

With so much to remember, it was inevitable that mistakes would be made every now and then. Bishop Shaughnessy was not always subtle in pointing these out. “Once an MC put the kneeling cushion down too early—‘pick that up,’ the Bishop whispered. But the poor guy got confused, and when he put it down at the wrong time again, the Bishop kicked it and it landed clear across the sanctuary!” On another occasion, one of Mike’s brothers was serving as train-bearer at a Mass at which Archbishop Howard of Portland was present. The train bearers would sit on the sedilia, ready to hold the train when the Archbishop moved to the altar. But in the course of a long sermon Mike’s brother fell asleep, and when he rose to move to the altar Archbishop Howard was brought to an abrupt halt by the small boy sleeping on his train!

In the early 1940s, Mike was a driver for Bishop Shaughnessy. He remembers well the instructions the Bishop gave him the first time they got into the car. “This is my domain,” the Bishop said, pointing to the radio and the glove compartment. “That wheel, and all those other buttons and pedals—those are your domain. If you stay out of my domain, I will stay out of yours.” And the Bishop was true to his word: he only interfered with Mike’s driving once or twice. “I was late picking him up to drive him to the seminary for some minor ordinations,” Mike remembers. “It was foggy and I was trying to make up time. But when I got to the Kenmore turn, I saw the blinking amber light at the turn. I didn’t want to wait for it so we went on two wheels over the railroad tracks. The Bishop fell over on me, straightened up, and said calmly, ‘Mike, it’s rather foggy. Perhaps we’d better slow down a bit. After all, they cannot start until I get there.’”

Today, Mike McKay is still an integral part of the liturgy at St. James Cathedral. He serves as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and is a volunteer sacristan as well. And week in, week out, he can be found at Swedish Hospital, visiting the sick and bringing them communion.


Hannah Hirabayashi was baptized at St. James Cathedral and graduated from the Cathedral School in 1953. She has been a parishioner of St. James, cumulatively, for more than thirty-five years. She remembers:

Special thanks to Hannah Hirabayashi for these informal photos of a school picnic in 1953.  Monsignor John Gallagher, Cathedral pastor, is very much at his ease!  Some school alumni remember thinking it unfair the priests got to "dress down" on such occasions, while the nuns still had to wear their heavy habits!

“The typical day began with 8:15 Mass (optional). We marched double file to the school after Mass. We were allowed to visit in the classroom until the bell rang at 8:50. Prayer and the flag salute followed to begin the official school day. Followed by lots of learning!

“I remember music being an important part of the curriculum and I looked forward to singing class. Girls in grades four through eight formed the children’s choir. We sang at most of the requiem Masses and, of course, on special occasions, one being the Three Hours on Good Friday (I did not look forward to that—mighty long hours for us at that age!).

“I remember Father William Gallagher was our religion teacher once a week during our eighth grade year. One day Father announced that he would give us a test on the following week. The week arrived all too quickly, and, of course, we were not ready. During recess we conspired to distract him from giving us the test by asking him as many questions as we could think of. Father graciously and patiently answered them all! The ploy was successful… we never had that test—ever!

“Cleaning and mending books at the end of each school year was quite memorable. We enjoyed it because it was a break from the regular classroom routine and we got to TALK! Another memorable event was the selling of Holy Childhood stamps “to save the pagan babies.” The prizes awarded varied according to the amount each pupil sold. Who can forget the glow-in-the-dark statues and rosaries?

“The school was special because of the Sisters who taught not only academics, but taught us respect for and acceptance of each other. I like to think we were one big family. To this day many of us in our class have remained good friends.”

Maria Laughlin is the Office Manager and Archivist at St. James Cathedral.

Other articles in the November 2004

Celebrating the Human Part of this Great Place

One Hundred Years Ago

The Century at St. James

Parish Annual Report 2003-2004

The Cathedral in Cyberspace

Image of the Divine

Cathedral Almanac

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