Friday, April 7, 2017

Sepia Saturday: Angels with Devil Horns

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

Leo Slade and Fred Slade Portsmouth, VA 1937
Leo and Fred (my dad) 1937
(not quite the right age to be an altar boy yet!)
Like the three boys in this week’s Sepia Saturday photo, my dad and his brother served as altar boys when they were young.  That was in the 1930s at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in downtown Portsmouth, Virginia. At that time they (and their parents) were living with their grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh, a VERY Irish, VERY Catholic matriarch. She loved those boys and was determined to see to it they were raised right. That meant they received a proper education at the Catholic school and they served the Church. Likely most of the boys that were in Daddy’s class at St. Joseph’s Academy were altar boys too.

The role of altar boy was an important one. He carried the cross and processional candles; he held the book for the priest; he carried the incense and censer; he rang the altar bell; he presented the bread, wine and water to the priest, and he washed the priest's hands as well. The altar boy was instructed thoroughly in all parts of the Mass and responded IN LATIN to the priest’s prayers. He also joined in the chants of the liturgy. During Mass, he displayed proper reverence at all times to set a good example for the congregation to help them be more reverent too.

As an assistant to the priest, an altar boy was expected to be well-behaved in general, not just in church.

But boys will be boys.

One day at school, Daddy and his friends held one of the boys by his ankles and lowered him out the window to peek into the girls’ classroom below them. What was so enticing about that classroom to make little boys risk life and limb is anyone’s guess. This adventure or prank – whatever it was – was short-lived, however, because meanwhile upstairs in the safe confines of the classroom, the boys were startled when the nun came back. Everyone knows not to cross a nun, so there was nothing for the boys to do but let their friend go. Drop him, they did, right into the bushes.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall that day!
Lillie Killeen 1930s
Aunt Lil
As punishment, the boys had to remain after school with the nun. When she realized she had to get to the bank, she made the boys go along with her. Who did they run into but Aunt Lil, a maiden aunt who also lived with Daddy’s grandmother. Daddy thought surely they would be in trouble now, but part of being a successful mischief-maker is being a quick thinker. They told Aunt Lil they were guarding the nun because she was carrying money. Apparently sweet Aunt Lil bought that story.

Please visit the bloggers at Sepia Saturday where everyone is on their good behavior.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Wendy, the cover story about guarding the nun made me laugh out loud. Thanks for sharing the photos and a story that reveals personality.

  2. Brilliant story, made me smile and all the better because it is a true family story.

  3. I had forgotten at one time Mass was in Latin. Too funny story with the boys; quick thinker y our dad was indeed!


  4. Great story and photo to go with it. Your Dad looks like he might have been up to something right there! Lucky the dropped boy survived the experience.

  5. I agree with other bloggers - you have given us a great family story with an enticing title, and a punch line to make us smile. Surely they were two lads with other escapades to tell!

  6. The image of the boys dropping their buddy into the shrubbery made me laugh out loud -- have you ever thought about writing a book?

  7. A wonderful, most enjoyable post. I laughed when they dropped the poor lad in the bushes, and I laughed again at their quick-thinking story about guarding the Nun. I'll bet those boys were successes in whatever they went on to do in their lives!

  8. Great story. Good thing there were bushes down there to catch the dropped boy! And good quick thinking about guarding the nun with her money.
    Finding Eliza

  9. An entertaining post. It's good to record oral history in a lasting record like a blogpost.

  10. Very funny story. I'd forgotten all the responsibilities of the altar boys. My father served at mass daily as a youngster and as an adult never missed mass a day, unless terribly ill. When he turned 50 he announced he'd done his part and quit going. As usual a delightful submission for SS.

  11. Thanks for sharing this most enjoyable post, and as I have nothing but protestant background, it was also enlightening for me to learn about a choir boy's responsibilities. I shall enjoy sharing these exploits with some of my friends this week!

  12. Terrific story. Made me laugh too.

  13. That’s hilarious, and the mental image of a cheeky youngster being dangled by his friends, will stay with me for a while.