Men in black were always a welcome sight to the residents of the house on Guilford Avenue

March 16, 1997|By Jacques Kelly

NO ONE WHO GREW UP in my house was ever surprised to see a man of the cloth. Walk in the front door, and there might be a priest in the parlor. Climb the cellar steps to the kitchen, and there might be a priest at the table.

Over the years, clergy named Mack, Carley, Maguire, Duggan, Brennan, Monaghan, Dohoney, Roach, Costello, Carmody, Knott and Martin were all regular callers at the old house on Guilford Avenue.

Those were the days when people didn't make appointments to visit. They just rang the doorbell and expected you to be home. Most of the time, with a household of 12, someone was home, and always the front parlor was ready for a short-notice visit.

Not all the guests were priests. At least two were monsignors -- John Duggan and Nicholas Dohoney. Their visits were formal and polite, their tact and manners refined.

Monsignor Duggan, who was a friend of my grandfather Edward Jacques Monaghan, once remarked, "The floors and furniture sparkle like my mother's." That did it. From then on, the man could do no wrong.

Another favorite, a character lifted from the pages of Southern Maryland history, was Brother Carley, who often dropped by for "just a cup of tea." He was utterly charming, with dancing eyes and better stories than Mark Twain. He could work a room with the best of them. The man had no enemies.

My father's old friend, the Rev. Clarence Martin, S.J., who grew up on Ailsa Avenue in Hamilton, also was a frequent visitor.

In the 1960s, he was assigned to renovate a pair of rowhouses up the street at 31st and Guilford. That gave him a chance to stop by. Always a gifted and serious speaker, he often told us about his work overseas and his capture during World War II in the Philippines.

Over the years, I began to associate visits by the men in black (with touches of scarlet for monsignors) with the foods that materialized when they did. Father Martin, for instance, had a weakness for the sugar cookies my family made in December.

We stacked away great quantities of these buttery, nutmeg-rich confections, made in strips from dough cranked out of a long tube. The stash usually lasted until mid-January. But if we knew Father Martin would be visiting, all the rules were broken. It might be the first week of March, but the flour, butter, sugar, nutmeg and cookie gun all reappeared.

One late afternoon the Rev. Aloysius Mack, S.J., arrived unexpectedly at the front door after a trip to Wernersville, Pa. My grandmother, Lily Rose, knew his favorite dinner was roast pork, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and applesauce. Whatever dinner she had planned got shoved in a baking pan and thrust into a cold pantry.

Without calling attention to the situation, she ordered one of her family out of the back door with a mission to find the largest unfrozen pork loin available.

She had the potatoes and sauerkraut on the Oriole stove before Father Mack could open his satchel.

Father Mack also enjoyed another rare privilege. He could occupy my grandfather's chair, a plain wooden one that was especially comfortable. He just walked in the kitchen and took that seat, his seat.

During the 1960s, a young priest named Francis Maguire often called from the local church, SS. Philip and James. Once again, the whole family turned out as word spread through the three floors that Father Maguire was the person who had rung the doorbell.

My Aunt Cora O'Hare had the third-floor front room. She was hard of hearing and never noticed the bell. But someone always slipped halfway up the stairs and called out, "Cora, Father Maguire's downstairs."

What happened next was the cosmetic equivalent of the pork-roast switch. Although then in her 70s, she became young again. After a few minutes, she descended the staircase with a broad smile on her face. She wore fresh lipstick, powder and rouge. Her hair was perfectly combed. When the clergy called, she was 20 again.

It is, however, a curious footnote that Lily Rose went out of her way to welcome the clergy, even though, at some point, she'd had a battle with the Roman Catholic Church and decided not to attend Sunday Masses anymore.

She had been raised Catholic, receiving her instruction at what is now St. Francis Xavier Church at Caroline and Oliver streets. I know she was once observant because a girlfriend of hers told me she used to have chocolate caramels ready for my grandmother when she left church. In those days, Catholics fasted overnight before receiving Communion.

But staying away from Mass was as far as her protest went. Both of her children were sent to Catholic schools. And there was no fasting in her kitchen when a priest called.

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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