In Your Midst

From the Archives

July 2010

In Your Midst... in 1928

The Cathedral’s Year Book was an annual publication which celebrated the life and ministry of a vibrant parish community (the In Your Midst of its day!).  It was paid for by advertisers like Poole Electric Co. (“We can electrify your old radio set”), Superior Cement (“Free! - interesting illustrated booklets on how to use concrete around the home”), and Three Brothers Dye Works (“We Dye to Live”).  A glance through the pages of the Year Book for 1928 gives us a glimpse of a flourishing Cathedral Parish, where much has changed—and much has stayed the same.

In 1928, the life of the parish revolved around education.  The parish had not one but two schools:  the Cathedral School, operated by the Sisters of the Holy Names, and O’Dea High School, under the direction of the Christian Brothers.  In addition to the usual academic subjects, the children had opportunities for spiritual growth, with retreats geared to them, regular participation in Mass, and even daily communion during Lent.  They had the opportunity to participate in the liturgy as well, joining in the the Holy Thursday procession with the Blessed Sacrament.  Students in the Cathedral School also engaged with the prevailing culture - the eighth grade girls staged a debate on the question of whether installment buying is detrimental to industry.  (The judges decided it was not.)  They also presented a grand annual entertainment, which featured songs and dances by the younger children, and a play presented by the older students, complete with student orchestra.  At O’Dea High School, there was a similar breadth:  a strong emphasis on athletics, of course, but also two groups of Irish dancers (Jig and Reel). 

 The Cathedral pastor’s essay in the Year Book for 1928 strikes a rather gloomy note.  “When we scan the horizon today,” wrote Msgr. James Stafford, “we behold ominous signs that spell disaster to the nations unless Divine Providence will avert the danger.”  He was not talking about the impending stock market crash of 1929.  Msgr Stafford was referring to people like Shaw, Wells, Freud, Nietzche, the “false prophets” of modernism.  These men “flatter the human passions: pride of intellect, vanity or lust. Men of this stamp dominate the press, the theatre, much of the literature of our day.  Aye, universities sow the seed of doubt, of atheism and corruption of the heart.”  But he found hope for the future in the Catholic Schools:  “Christian education is the only bulwark against this deluge of infidelity.”

Lay people were very involved in parish life, but that involvement took quite different forms than it does today.  The popular societies and sodalities were focused on spiritual growth more than education or outreach to the community.  The St. Vincent de Paul Conference was an exception.  Seattle Vincentians operated a free clinic for children, at Our Lady of Good Help Church at 5th and Jefferson.  This extraordinary ministry drew on the donated services of Seattle’s Catholic physicians and dentists to serve the needs of hundreds of children and mothers in the course of the year.

The Year Book also offers a glimpse into the flourishing Cathedral music program of 1928, under the direction of Dr. Palmer.  Music at the Cathedral was of a very high order.  “When I first came to Seattle, some eight years ago,” wrote Ralph Blake in his essay on Liturgical Music, “I was very greatly surprised to find here, in what had always seemed to me a remote and isolated corner of the country, ecclesiastical music of such striking quality.  The music at St. James,” he added, “is especially notable, not merely for its general excellence, but more especially for its thoroughly ecclesiastical and liturgical character.  Too many choir-masters seem to forget that a church is not a concert hall, nor yet an opera house; and if the choir-master forgets this, the congregation is only too likely to forget it too.”  There were two organs, a choir of men and boys, and a girls’ choir as well.  The choirs were renowned for their singing of Gregorian chant, but the repertoire also included masterworks of Renaissance polyphony and contemporary compositions.  The organ repertoire ranged from Bach to the works of the French composer-organists in whose company Dr. Palmer had learned his craft:  Guilmant, Franck, Widor.  “Under the guidance of Dr. Palmer, who is never satisfied merely with what is, or what has been, and with the continued cooperation of his devoted fellow-workers, we may confidently hope and expect that the work of the choirs at St. James will not cease to improve, as it has progressively in the past, both in scope and in quality, so that it will come to be in even a more eminent degree what it already is--not only a great honor and distinction for the Church of Seattle, but a very significant contribution to the musical life of the whole community.”

And that’s something that definitely hasn’t changed at St. James Cathedral!

A few small extracts from the 1928 Cathedral Year Book.  On the left,
vintage advertisements.  On the right, Cathedral first graders at
Cathedral school and the Irish Dancing Jig class of 1928.

Corinna Laughlin is Director of Liturgy at St. James Cathedral.

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