Friday, May 2, 2014

Sepia Saturday: Maper Session

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt of white-gowned girls replaced a previous prompt featuring a May Pole dance.  Either one takes me back to my childhood in Cradock when the “Maper Session” was a spectacle that the entire community turned out to see. 

May 1959
My friends next door took part in the “Maper Session” every year because they were a good Catholic family.  After Vatican II, Daddy lost his enthusiasm for the Catholic Church.  To him the change to make the Church modern and relevant made the Church “soft.”  Daddy thought about Catholicism the way Jimmy Dugan thought about baseball:  “The hard is what makes it great.”

So had we not stopped attending Mass at Holy Angels regularly, I would have been there in my fancy dress and patent leather shoes marching in the “Maper Session”  with my friends.  Instead I stood in the crowd of onlookers.

But “Maper Session” is not what it was called, only what my child-size ears heard.  It was the MAY PROCESSION.

The May Procession is just one part of the May devotion, an annual ritual observed in the Catholic Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  There is no particular structure to this observance, but it might include visits to churches dedicated to Mary, creation of Mary gardens, special Mass incorporating the singing of Marian hymns and reading of pertinent scripture, family devotions, and service to the community.  With Mary as mother of Jesus, it is fitting that Mothers Day coincides with this month-long celebration of Mary’s role in the history of salvation.


Most people who lined up along Afton Parkway, Dahlgren Avenue, and Prospect Parkway to watch the parade saw only cute children dressed up for church.  But the Holy Angels Catholic Church May Procession was more than that.

I extend a special Thank-You to Margaret Allein Dyas who supplied me with these photos from May 1959 and her memories.







Flower Girls

Patty Dyas is the one in the blue plaid dress
Girls from the church and from Holy Angels Catholic School carried flowers or baskets of flowers that would be used to adorn a statue of Mary in the church.  Each grade wore a different color dress.  Sometimes the youngest was selected to carry a real crown or a crown of flowers.


Different color dresses for each grade

Mary, Queen of May

An older girl, usually from the seventh grade, was selected to be the Queen of May.

A well-known Marian "Queen of May" song ends with the words:
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.





May Altar



When the children finished the procession around the block, they entered the church where an altar was covered with red roses.  The practice of honoring Mary with flowers can be traced to the convents and monasteries of medieval times.  


May Crowning

Is the little boy carrying a crown?


The climax of the May Procession was the crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary with flowers.  Typically this was performed by the Queen of May.













Undoubtedly no one but the Catholics understood what the parade was all about, but the May Procession never failed to be one of the most beautiful and joyful events of the year.



Please join the procession to Sepia Saturday.

40 comments:

  1. I grew up in a small community with about 5 different denominations of churches, and one was Catholic, but I never saw or heard of the May Procession. Not even as an adult when we lived just a block away from a Catholic church. I wonder if some communities celebrate and some don't. It looks like a very fun and joyful occasion.

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    1. When I was researching the May Procession and May Crowning, I stumbled upon a message board in which some Catholics were discussing the "revival" of the May Procession. It seems that part of the May devotion has fallen out of favor or practice, I guess, but is being revived in some areas.

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  2. I haven't heard of this before, either. But then, our church was not into parading about! I think I might have liked the excuse to dress up for this.
    I'm also impressed by the colour photos from1959!

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    1. It's pretty good color for 1959.

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  3. Which order were the nuns?

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    1. Margaret says Daughters of Wisdom.

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  4. Very interesting post. I never heard of the May Procession before. If my church did anything, it probably would have just involved the kids at the school next to the church.

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    1. I think it must be an event that some churches do and others don't. From my research, it sounds like something that might have been done in the past but not so much in recent years.

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  5. Such pretty dresses. It's always goof to have a reason to wear something pretty. A nice collection.

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    1. I love those 50s little-girl dresses myself. And the moms look pretty spiffy too.

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  6. I have to laugh every time I see Alan's theme photo-box the girls appear like they're hanging wallpaper! This is another fascinating twist to May Day celebrations, it's so interesting how folks and religions all have their own style to it! Your photos are lovely, the little girls all so adorable in their dresses!

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    1. Since you said that, now all I can see are women hanging wallpaper. Funny!!

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  7. I didn't know it was called the May Procession (by the way, your child's mispronunciation made me smile.), but we lived only a half block from a Catholic church & my friends & I used to go up to the corner & watch all the goings on there - such as the processions with the children all dressed up, or weddings, & such. I was kind of envious because our church didn't do all that neat-o fun stuff.

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    1. I don't live close enough to a Catholic church to know whether any of them still do the May Procession. But it was sure fun while it lasted.

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  8. Lovely memories, stories and photographs - I especially liked the dresses. The photographs reminded me of my childhood participation in Gala Days in Lancashire, These had no connection with church, but brought the village community together with a procession culminating in the crowning of the Rose Queen, and dancing displays, followed by sports, games and picnics. I was in the junior dancers and looked forward to a new dress for the occasion which later became my party dress for the year. Happy memories!

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    1. Any festival that unites a community is time well spent, I say.

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  9. I learn so much from these Sepia Saturday posts and this was particularly enjoyable with these beautiful pictures of May Day celebrations.

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    1. I learned a lot myself just putting this one together.

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  10. I've never heard of the May Procession or the Maper Session. Our family joke about mis-hearing in church was, "Hail Mary, full of grapes" which one of our cousins used to say, innocently? By the way, I agree with your Dad.

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    1. Well, if you were responsible for raising the son of God, you'd be full of grapes too. (that's so cute)

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  11. I would not be surprised if the May Procession and May Queen were swiped from the pagans!

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    1. Probably so -- right along with Christmas trees.

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  12. A great substitute of symbols for cymbals. Many older photos probably celebrate church events like this, but as you write, the traditions get forgotten.

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    1. Symbols for cymbals -- yeah yeah, that was my intention all along. Really it was. I wouldn't lie. Much.

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  13. My class has been celebrating May Day for more than 20 years. We decorate pots or baskets of flowers and deliver them to houses in the neighborhood around our school. we ring the door bells and shout, "HAPPY MAY DAY!" when the lucky homeowner answers the door. The kids love it and so do the neighbors...they write thank you notes to us. I take photos for the kids' memory books...so maybe someday they will look back and say, "What a great tradition!"

    I loved your photos from church. Reminds me of my Catholic days when I made my 1st Holy Communion. I did not have Maper Session at my church but we did have a May Pole at my school.
    TGIF!

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    1. Oh that's right -- I remember reading one of your posts about May Day. It's wonderful that the neighbors like it too and send thank-you notes. And what a good thing for kids to see people really do write thank-you notes!

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  14. Beautiful photos. What fun everyone seemed to be having. Thank you for sharing.

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  15. What a lot of effort they went to with the clothes. It would have been quite expensive as well, unless they were into hand-me-downs.

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    1. Catholics always bought a special white dress for the first Holy Communion, so I think they were somewhat prepared anyway.

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  16. Like others, I'd never heard of this either. It must have been fun for the girls to get all dressed up. I think it's cute that your young ears interpreted the name as Maper Session.

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    1. Yes, it had to have been fun to dress up, especially since most of these kids went to parochial school and wore uniforms.

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  17. I do remember the May festivities. First Communion happened sometime in May also, as I remember. Poor you having to watch and not take part.

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    1. Yes, that's right. I think in some churches the first communion might have been done on the same day.

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  18. How funny you have gone for 1959 as well!
    I'd heard of May processions but never knew it was linked to Catholicism - learn something every day - or every Sepia Saturday at least!

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    1. I don't think I've ever heard of a May Procession NOT associated with a church.
      '59 was a good year.

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  19. All decked out. Kind of like The Easter Parade. Beautiful photos

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  20. I Must Admit My Dad Was also a Hardcore Catholic :not liking change for changes sake.Your photos are wonderful! As a child in the 50-60's in UK we also took lots of photos of Catholic Events.I always assumed it was just a 'Polish Thing' [i.e. to send back to family in Poland.]On seeing your photos i guess It must be a general 'Catholic Thing' !!

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  21. I was raised Catholic and went through all the rituals, never though heard of "Maper" I like Tony was in a very Polish family and thought it was their tradition. We had Maypole and of course the first communion was a very big to do back then. Lovely photos. After nearly a lifetime away from the Catholic church, I find my self drawing back today. Guess my grandma was right, "Once a Catholic always a Catholic."

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  22. Well I've never heard of this. Interesting. Especially enjoying the nun in the first shot. I'm thinking Sally Field and that if a strong breeze comes along that nun is heaven bound whether she wants to go or not.

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