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St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on West Commonwealth between Highland and Richman. Fullerton, CA. 2019.


The church looks pretty, and completely different from in 1951, when I first remember, or maybe 1950. Elizabeth Loeblich and Kathy Muckenthaler would remember earlier. There was the 90-minute Mass in Latin, English homily and (lengthy, detailed, even minute) announcements.  Ushers holding out the collection plate on poles, asking people to move to the center of the church to make room for more people. I tried not to smile when my dad volunteered to be an usher sometimes, or more likely, was drafted into action by the priest. The church was full on Sundays. Hot and close in the summer, and once in a while people fainted, Women wore hats or veils until Vatican 2. The priests were always Irish, German or Italian. Families with as many as 14 or so children. Full cut suits for men. No one wore shorts, T-shirts, sandals -- the ushers would stop you at the door and tell you to go home and change clothes into something suitable. Always at least a dozen babes in arms, in swaddling clothes. We were all used to hearing babies cry in church, and their mother would quickly quiet them, or at least muffle them. Once in awhile a mother would need to leave to change her baby. Men took cigarette breaks outside at the Confiteor: shameless, as the more judgmental attendees would say. There were always some nuns there, and some very old ladies -- widows, probably, or those uncharitably called “old maids” -- and they didn't tolerate children making noise in church, especially little boys. They'd jab you with their canes or umbrellas to be quiet. The ushers could be local millionaires or construction workers. Families generally sat in about the same place, if they could, but there were no seats or pews sold. Some of the priests went in for fire and brimstone, some with a true gift for the lugubrious, and others spoke more mildly and optimistically. Far fewer people left Mass early then, compared to now. You’d see dozens of kids you knew from school and your neighborhood, and church was one place where we treated each other politely, if not with kindness. Some families stayed after a long time to visit with the priests on Commonwealth, have a donut in the church hall, or enjoy a pancake breakfast for the entire family. Those low-cost meals were a boon to the families without big incomes -- fish fries I remember vividly. We boys always appreciated priests who were good athletes. Anyway, many families left after Mass as if the FBI were chasing them. Quite often as we stood outside after Mass, a chivaree wold pass after a Mexican-American wedding, and we loved to see it, although our parents most often shook their heads in disapproval. Did I mention the nuns?  They wore the old fashioned habits, then, and several types of them, so unlike the wooden cross on the chest or other minimal signs of some nuns today. I’m sorry not every family at St. Mary’s took the kids for a cone at Baskin Robbins next door, but it wouldn’t happen if Sunday afternoon lunch was on the way. If you were unlucky, your parents would drag you over to the Safeway market at Richman, where you’d have only the old coffee machine inside to interest you. You could stand and watch people turn on the coffee grinder to collect all their ground beans in the little bags they sold. Everybody spilled some, and occasionally a mom or dad would take the Lord's name in vain. My favorite Sundays then were when  Mom got a roast, corn on the cob and ice cream, and my dad stocked up on New Brew 102 or Hamm’s or Jax beer, or Burgie, with Camel cigarettes, for a Los Angeles Angels Triple A baseball game on TV -- or a Ram's game, maybe against the 49ers at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. Anyway, I doubt if St. Mary's is anything like that any more, after 70 years and at least one rebuilding and several remodeling. But that's OK, because we’re not, either.