About the Author

About the Author

An Honest Appraisal of the Author of The Daily Arch

  Author/Editor/Publisher of The Daily Arch Stephen Arch

Author/Editor/Publisher of The Daily Arch Stephen Arch

The Daily Arch comes to you directly from my life in middle class America.  The importance of The Daily Arch is that it links (arches) daily, seemingly normal events involving "seemingly" normal individuals.  Growing up in a large family such as mine and being the "middle" granted me a unique vantage point from which to comment on all of the normal events that took on extraordinary meaning when taken both in and out of context. 

Heck, placing them in context usually makes them more humorous than taking them out of context. It's actually the contextual placement of these people and events that makes them enjoyable.



I have been a hard working English teacher and professor who just did a lot of reflecting on my life which has given me fodder for the stories I tell. I am not a hero in the truest sense of the word.  Most may sound much like sarcasm and a lot of tongue in cheek.   Be that as it may, these stories found in these annals are both true and have formed the backbone of my life's travails.  The fact that I grew up Catholic in the 60's and 70's receiving the punishment of "non-teaching. disciplinarian nuns" left an indelible mark on my views toward fairness and "what is right."  I hope my stories reflect this as you look through them and think of the topics.

  Growing up Catholic gave me a definite view of "real" life and formed most of my viewpoint

Growing up Catholic gave me a definite view of "real" life and formed most of my viewpoint

Additionally, these postings also will contain music, film, theater, and political reviews with a special slant mixed in with the day to day stories. Some of these stories contain photos that I have taken and included to help you experience my true emotions regarding these stories I am about to tell.  Please enjoy the stories, and hopefully identify with the images. I am not an historian, professional photographer, artist, actor, or director,  In the following pages, I just call them as I see them - they are REAL. A rather large portion of my life led me directly to escaping to movies, novels, poetry, film, and music - all which I take extremely seriously. But since this is my first post, I feel that you might want to know where I am contextualizing my life.

Also, because of my background, a note on my view of life is that "everything is political."  As an English professor, my main area of literary critical study was that of being a Marxist Critic(not in the "communist" sense) - rather looking at all aspects of life (marriage, child rearing, love, novels, plays, poems, essay, etc.) from their political formation and attachment to life's events.  I believe truly that EVERY major work written throughout the world was INSPIRED by some form of politics - locally or nationally - private, personal, or public.  And, with that in mind, all actions taken by humans in this world are political - sometimes a simple "quid pro quo" to attendance at a funeral and so on.  

Hence, the views discussed in my essays are political in nature - you can simply read the stories/essays as personal events that shaped my life; however, included in the narrative of these essays are political statements of those times - times when I was young and moved into adulthood.  Not one essay will appear on these pages that doesn't contain some element of political satire. Marriages are political contracts, having children are political contracts, the workplace environment is a political contract.

Many interesting events took place over the 50+ years of my life.  Some of them very pleasant; some of them not so pleasant - demons that existed daily with which I do battle personally and on even a grander scale.  It is in this context that you will find some painful thoughts, memories, ideas - part therapy to bring them out in the open, part a willingness to share with others who may recognize themselves in these events. It is within these parameters that I set my stories and memories - oh, yes, all of the stories that are contained in this space are true - there shall be no poetic license here adding to some of the pleasant and equally atrocious times in my life. Sarcasm is definitely apparent.  And, I have come to be extremely "snarky" in my life. 

I do hope you read these to understand the complexities of life and ways we are meant to manipulate our short times here on earth - lies the basis for these postings.  Feel free to "read between the line."  

Granted, the stories found in this blog are MY stories and MY interpretations.  Plus, the articles might be a tad long, but they are my narratives.  They are not articles meant to appear in newspapers or magazines.  They are part of a continuing narrative that tell my true story.


The Role of the Alter Boy (All the Privileges that Come with the Duties)

Stephen Arch                              sparch@comcast.net              www.sparch@facebook.com






Breaking away a bit from the Church Lady theme, of which I am sure that we will revisit many times, growing up Catholic meant that, particularly, only as a boy, one had to be an alter boy at mass. Think of the loyalty, think of the majesty, think of the honor, think of the status (being THAT close to the action and actually helping Our Lord on Saturdays, Sundays, Weddings, Funerals, and the very welcome 7 am and 8 am masses during the week - wearing a similar costume as the priest) .  But oh what fun it was to be an alter boy and finally gaining that reward. At that time, there was no downside of being an alter boy, and I often wondered why so many of my classmates turned down this extraordinary opportunity.  It did mean, however, that you had to serve at least one Sunday mass, but heck, if you were going to HAVE to go to church on Sunday, why not not only attend mass, but be a cool part of the mass also.


Of course, serving the 7 am and the 8 am daily mass, as well as at least one funeral per week, meant that the alter boys were able to get out of school for that brief period of time. Of course, the early daily mass was short in time because not many people would be in attendance and there was absolutely, so glorifyingly simplistic, NO MUSIC at these masses.  A good priest on a good daily mass could polish that mass off in 20 to 25 minutes if he really wanted to, and most of the time, he really wanted to. I've known even known a priest or two hit the fifteen minute record.  No singing, no homily, no refrains - get in, get out.  I knew a priest who was faster performing a 7 am mass than getting served at McDonalds.

But the funerals, oh, the lovely funerals.  Imagine getting to school in the morning and have Sister Christina - a young, stern, strict, masochistic, Boston accented woman - tell you that you had a funeral to serve that day.  And you know what that meant, don't you? Heck, funerals started usually around 11:00 am that morning.  That meant that you had to actually leave classes one hour early, around 10:00, set up for the mass, and then sit through an extremely long funeral mass.  Sorry folks, but all of the funerals I served at the time meant that the people for whom the funeral served as their final mass are all dead; so, I know this won't bother them, they usually took both an excrutiating one to one and a half hours.  That meant that the alter boys got to actually be away from school from 10:00 to 12:00 most of the time. 

Believe me, that two hours away from school was the ticket to heaven in a young alter boy's mind.  Getting out of class for that amount of time was THE BEST.  Plus, after the funeral mass was over, that meant usually that I had missed lunch.  So, when I got back to school at 12:00 noon, that meant that I had to eat, and for some strange reason, had to, after I ate, go out onto the playground for at least one hour to "play."  What a delight.  All of the classes I missed in school due to my alter boy status.

Yes, I know what you're thinking.  I actually prayed daily for funerals.  Think about this for a moment.  If I served the 8:00 am weekly mass, that meant that I would be away for the first hour of classes that morning.  Then, if that happened to be a day of a funeral, I would be able to miss not only the first hour of school that morning, but another hour and a half later in the day.  And the best of all worlds occurred when there were 2 funerals that day.  That meant basically that I missed most of the school day fulfilling my heavenly occupation of serving the needy.

What a boon it was to achieve top ranking alter boy status. I led the "Life of Riley" on those glorious days.  

But mind you, it wasn't all "wine and roses" at that time of my life.  In order to become an alter boy, we had to sit through hours and hours of after school "testing" to make sure that we were perfect alter boys.

That meant, at the time, that I had to sit with Sister Christina for hours after school learning the entire mass in Latin.  Yep.  I "learned" Latin.  Well, I actually didn't have a clue about Latin, but the mass at the time was in Latin, and, one of the main alter boy's functions was actually participating in the mass along with the priests.  All of the refrains and the prayers - usually for funeral masses, quite a few in attendance might not be Catholic and might not know the Latin mass.  It was the alter boy's duty to add refrains loud and clear so that the priest wasn't saying mass all by himself.  Well, he actually was because I had no clue what I was saying when kneeling on the alter those days.  My only memory was the priest singing in an awful voice "in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen" or "Dominus vobiscum... Et cum spiritu tuo." That's about all I remember, and in a singsongy kind of way.

The ONE DOWNSIDE was getting through Sister Christina, and that probably was the real reason why many of my classmates and friends didn't choose to be alter boys.  Come to think of it now.  I really had no say in the matter.  I was chosen by her; so, I am assuming one of two things.  I was able to earn alter boy status because I was saintly, or, the more clearer understanding of it was because Sister Christina thought I NEEDED more church in me.  The latter is probably the truer. I needed salvation badly in second through eighth grade.  (The only other reason that I can think of was that I lived only a half a block from the church and was available whenever they were short an alter boy, which was about ALL THE TIME). 

I recently read on a St. Mary's Help of Christian Facebook page a question about what ever happened to those "fine" sisters of Divine Providence.  I have to say, at this point, if I were to feel as I felt as a young person, I hope they are sitting in some level of Dante's Inferno.

  Dante Allegheri's Fifth Circle of Hell: Anger

Dante Allegheri's Fifth Circle of Hell: Anger

And please note that, as stated earlier, getting to be an alter boy meant getting through the process closely guarded and "taught" by Sister Christina.  If a boy was lucky to make the first cut, he didn't have to sit down with Sister Christina and recite and recite and recite again the entire mass, that meant gruelling hours after school sitting with her - who played the role of the priest - and go through the entire mass, line after line,   AND, you DID NOT become an alter boy without having memorized the entire Latin mass. Having to survive Sister Christina's battle field.  And when you passed, the weight of the world was off your shoulders. You were something.  You were an alter boy.

I remember staying after school, after studying the night before, practicing the mass with Sister Christina - making it through the entire mass, only to miss the last one or two lines. Which, of course, meant STARTING ALL OVER AGAIN FROM THE START, that day and many days to follow.  I didn't know it at the time, but I now know exactly why Dante wrote the Inferno - to get back at the nuns who made him practice and practice and practice until he got it right.  That, my friends, deserves its own layer in hell in my humble opinion.

PLUS BONUS FOOTAGE:  Father Feldmeier's antics in front of the congregation and how difficult it was to sit solemnly and not break into hilarity, driven to tears, over the mistakes he made during masses, particularly funeral masses.


Growing Up Catholic: PART FOUR "How the Saturday 'evening' 4:00 VIGIL to the VIGIL Changed My Life"

Stephen Arch                              sparch@comcast.net              www.sparch@facebook.com


Please Note:  I encourage you to read the following as it appeared in BuzzFeed written by Norberto Briceno, BuzzFeed Staff Writer.  It states some of the things I thought about while attending mass as a young child.

"23 Things People Who Grew Up Going To Catholic Church Will Understand"


This is where the fun actually begins, and where I began to see "the light" of the strategies of the Church Ladies.  The 4:00 pm Saturday Evening Vigil Vigil Mass, how it came about, and how it changed my life.  You see, Catholics go to church.  That's what they do.  And, apparently, to those people who really wanted to deliver on their promise to honor the Lord's day, they found an option that would make them extremely happy.   

The 4 pm Saturday mass was actually instituted quite some time ago.  

"Back in 1953, Pope Pius XII offered the possibility for evening Masses with the following norm of the apostolic constitution Christus Dominus:

'Rule VI. If the circumstance calls for it as necessary, we grant to the local ordinaries the right to permit the celebration of Mass in the evening, as we said, but in such wise that the Mass shall not begin before four o’clock in the afternoon, on holy days of obligation still observed, on those which formerly were observed, on the first Friday of every month, and also on those days on which solemn celebrations are held with a large attendance, and also, in addition to these days, on one day a week; with the requirement that the priest observe a fast of three hours from solid food and alcoholic beverages, and of one hour from nonalcoholic beverages. At these Masses the faithful may approach the Holy Table, observing the same rule as regards the Eucharistic fast, the presumption of Canon 857 remaining in force.'"  (Fr. Francis Hoffman.  Our Sunday Visitor.  

Please see more on this


So, the 4 pm Saturday Vigil Roman Catholic Mass came to us as sort of an anomaly.  Again, this is not a scholarly work, and I might be taking a bit of poetic license here, but it appears to me that the edict listed above wasn't designed to make going to church that easy - there had to be some sort of obligation and some sort of sacrifice to the equation.  It seemed to me that Pope Pius XII was attempting to help Catholics attend mass when and wherever they could whenever there was an extremely important conflict - illness, work, etc. which I feel is unbelievably reasonable, considering Catholics (as portrayed in my work) seemed to me as a young person so strict.  

I think back of the first masses celebrated with gatherings in caves and hidden out of the way of angry Jewish leadership and the Roman empire.  I feel that God has made it easy for any of us to attend mass, and that mass, now an extremely solemn occasion,was first meant to be a gathering of like-minded followers of Christ (Christians) to give praise and to celebrate Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection.  

But that is common knowledge.  If one were to read Pope Pius' mandate closely, he made sure to state that  "we grant to the local ordinaries the right to permit the celebration of Mass in the evening."  In my world, that opened up the floodgates.  Heck, if mass was already being celebrated (with the Vatican's permission), then why not go back into the record books and find the loophole that gives people a chance to fulfill their SUNDAY obligation even earlier on Saturday.  So, we move from only Sunday, to 7 pm Saturday, and on to 4 pm Saturday AFTERNOON.  I feel obligated to mention this following point for just a moment.  Please take the time to read Pope Pius' "requirements" for mass attendance:  fasting three hours before mass, no alcohol consumption..."  This somehow got lost in translation somewhere.  

Of course, growing up in Catholic grade school, I knew (still do) know all the rules.  I learned the lass in Latin - as an alter boy, I had to memorize the entire mass in Latin, and then, when it was switched to English, had to relearn the entire mass in English (at least now I knew what I was saying).  

My point is and has always been that people are people - people have flaws, have emotions, and have needs.  I also know that most human beings, whenever they can skirt a rule or two and get away with it, they will.  It's human nature.  What ever happened to fasting before mass?  Don't hear too much of that lately.  What about not receiving communion without first going to confession?  No judgements here, please, but I doubt at all of the masses I attended throughout my entire life, all of the long, long lines leading up to the communion reception, I hardly believe that  each and every one of the people went to confession prior to receiving communion.  But I am getting off point a bit.

The 4:00 Saturday mass opened up a massive can of worms, and this is how I get back to my favorite Church Ladies on Steroids.  As they would always say "God bless 'em."  So, God bless them.  The Saturday 4:00 mass meant quickly spread to another unwritten rule.  Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there happened to be a wedding taking place "around" 4:00.  At St, Mary's, and I know at other churches, a couple could have a 2:00 marriage mass.  That meant, then, that if another couple wanted to married that same day, they could be married at 4:00. My wife and I were married at a 4:00 wedding. 

It might be too much to ask if you are following my line of thinking.  Let's say, for example, that a certain couple wanted to be married at 4:00 in the afternoon.  And, as you can see in the photos I have supplied, St. Mary's was THE place for weddings - huge, gothic, gorgeous cathedral style church.  If young brides had their choice of churches, they would most certainly want to be married in the most beautiful of all the other Catholic churches in the area.  

And St. Mary's had A LOT OF wedding masses, most of the time, one on Friday evening, one at 2:00 Saturday and one at 4:00 Saturday.  But, you might be asking yourself at this juncture, how did the 4:00 Saturday wedding mass have any effect on the 4:00 Saturday Vigil Mass.  

The church ladies were not going to let a wedding deter them.  It was simple.  They went to the wedding.  No one, not even the brightest cardinals at the Vatican, could have figured that loophole out before it was opened.  It became common as word spread through the neighborhood that there was going to be a wedding at 4:00 that Saturday.  

Everyone was abuzz. "Hey Anne, did you hear about the Smith's wedding on Saturday.  It's a 4:00 wedding.  That can count as our obligation for the weekend."  I hate to even bring this up, but at times, for some reasons, a funeral took place at that time on Saturday.  Did the funeral deter the church ladies.  Heavens no.  Four o'clock mass was 4:00, and 4:00 was legal by the Pope's own words.  So, regardless of the event - weddings, funerals, baptism (when I was growing up, baptisms were not conducted during the Sunday mass.  They were usually held at different times on Saturday or Sunday).  

Now, imagine a young, impressionable youth watching this happen.  First, Saturday?  Next, no fasting?  Next 4:00?  Next funerals, weddings, baptisms?  This was cool, and really getting out of hand.

Another extraordinary event right after the 4:00 Vigil, Wedding, Funeral, Baptism Mass, the church ladies would usually send their husbands to the local White Front Market to purchase, you guessed it, the Saturday evening edition of the Sunday paper!  I was a paper boy with a huge route, and I hated the "bulldog" Sunday evening Saturday edition.  It didn't make sense. As a 10 year old, how could the Pittsburgh Press know the news ahead of time. It was a mystery to me. That was the life of the church ladies - Sunday mass on Saturday afternoon followed by the Sunday news on Saturday evening.  (Of course, I knew it was only for the pull out sections - the coupons, the grocery store deals).  But it just seemed so odd, and that oddity helped define me.

This is where I learned that I could be Catholic and could still the rules and still skirt the rules to get into heaven.  What a lesson!  What a tool! 

And believe me, realizing what for 8 years, I was beaten, bruised, degraded, embarrassed by nuns was the one way I could still be Catholic, still be me, and still get to heaven!  Imagine the possibilities!

PLEASE NOTE:  While writing this, I was listening to my wife speak with her mother on the phone about going to church on Saturday night.  Now because of what happened years ago as a result of the Church ladies, Catholics have a chance to go to a 4:00 Saturday mass, a 4:30 Saturday mass, a 5:00 Saturday mass, a 6:00 Saturday mass, and a 7:00 Saturday mass. They couldn't decide which mass to go to.  Usually, the result is "let's just go to mass tomorrow, on Sunday."  Too many choices.  Imagine that - going to mass on Sunday?

Growing Up Catholic: PART THREE "Church Ladies on Steroids"

Stephen Arch                              sparch@comcast.net              www.sparch@facebook.com


Getting back to the Church Ladies.  When the Pope declared that Saturday Evening Vigil Mass was "legal" and counted, it was a boon for just about everyone, including the church goers on my street.  What an event.  You could go to church and finally sleep in on Sunday, do chores, shop, visit, etc. without having to go to mass.  The obligation was fulfilled on Saturday night.  

At my church, St. Mary's Help of Christian Church, Saturday evening mass was packed to the brim.  Again, this is a huge church and if you didn't get there by the time mass began, you didn't have a seat.  You had to stand.  Yes, very dutiful ushers, seeing someone standing in the back of church would take that person and squeeze him into a pew next to someone else.  A pew that held 8 people would not be uncommon to have 10 people squeezed in.  This was particularly a problem during hot days - such a church did not have air conditioning.  It was hot.

But the Saturday 7:00 pm mass was THE mass.  If you weren't at the mass and had to drive somewhere, best one leaves the house before mass is over to avoid the mass exit of people and cars.  I lived on St. John Street, the same street as the church, and this was the major route to and from the church. After Saturday mass, after all masses, for that matter, St. John Street would be backed up for at least a half an hour or more.  

Catholics are a tough breed.  They go to church.  The want to go to church.  It is special for them.  Heaven help someone who didn't attend mass on Saturday or Sunday.

When I was a teenager, I hung around with several friends all who were Catholic and all who attended St. Mary's.  A common practice was to tell your parents you were going to church, and then some "lucky" young man would sneak into the back of the church, grab a handful of bulletins, and make sure we all had one.  This was the ticket to proving to our parents that we did indeed go to church, which we didn't.  But we had the bulletin, and if you had the bulletin, you had to have been in church.  I don't know if any parent every believed this, but to us, at least, it worked.  All of us were asked to see the bulletin by our parents.

My story is a little different.  I was scared to death of my parents - get to that later.  And, I equally wanted to be cool in front of my friends.  So, we did our "fake" Saturday night mass thing and went out and had fun.

Catholics are also a very guilty group.  And I emulated that guilt as much as anyone. Appearing tough in front of my friends was cool, but my parents finding out that I didn't attend mass would bear ferocious consequences.  Hence, I was "cool" skipping mass on Saturday, hung out with my friends, and loyally took the bulletin home.  However, I was so afraid of my parents finding out that I didn't go to church forced me to wake up early on Sunday morning, before anyone else, and go to the 7:00 am mass.  Had to.  No other options existed.  Of course, NO ONE knew of this scheme of mine.  I got to be one of the gang, skip church, and also attend church the next day.  That's just the way it was for me. I have no idea if any of my friends ever did the same thing, but I never saw them at the early Sunday mass.

Catholics believe that if you miss mass on Sunday (except in the event of illness), it is a sin. And, being a sin, if you didn't confess this sin, and your sins piled up, you definitely were going to hell.  No questions asked.  I can think of many great and wonderful people who aren't Catholic and never attended a Catholic mass; yet, I believe that they are so good, so innocent, so kind that I just can't see a just and righteous God condemning these good people to hell for all eternity.  

Attending a Catholic school for 8 years, it was literally and figuratively beat into us that you had to "Honor the Lord's Day."  This is something I grappled with as a youth and even today. Lets face it.  Jesus was Jewish.  According to Jesus' religion, the holy day, still honored by my Jewish brethren, was Saturday and not Sunday.  I know the biblical story that God created the earth and all its inhabitants in 6 days, and on the 7th, He rested.  I had to learn the bible in its entirety, and nowhere does it say in the bible that the day of rest is Sunday.  What if God started the creation on Wednesday?  That would mean that the 7th day would be Tuesday. Or what if he started His creation on Sunday and rested on Saturday?  We don't know this.  No one knows this.  And, as far as my understanding of the bible is that maybe the term "day" wasn't actually a "day?"  How long is a day for God?  We don't know that.  Methusalah, according to the bible, lived for 969 years.  Really?

I am not condemning any of these beliefs.  They are good.  They are rules.  They keep us honest.  But 969 years?  And I was taught that in grade school.  I was never, ever permitted to raise my hand and ask the "good sister" teaching me "did he really live 969 years?  How could this be?"  It was one of those mysteries that kept my classmates and me on our toes. I was told many things by the nuns who taught us, the good Sisters of Divine Providence, but was never permitted to question their teachings, even if it didn't make sense.  Just believe. I have a special blog post that I will send out to you about all of the "mysteries"  I learned growing up Catholic, but we can wait for later - that is another chapter.

Growing Up Catholic: PART TWO "How My Own Experiences Affected My Views on CHURCH LADIES ON STEROIDS"

Stephen Arch                              sparch@comcast.net              www.sparch@facebook.com



We believe what we want to believe, and mostly can't be told otherwise

Although the following may seem unrelated, it actually has much to do with the theme of these musings

I have a passion for listening to all types and genres of music - comparing older music (primarily from my era) with newer music.  I love all music types and styles. Probably the only type of music I do not like is "newer" rap and pop.  Everything else is fine with me, and I make it a point to, after listening to songs by Passenger, The Killers, Vampire Weekend, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, I for some reason found myself listening to Pink Floyd, Tanita Tikaram, Cranberries, and others.  

  Edward Sharpe and Jade Castrinos of the Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe and Jade Castrinos of the Magnetic Zeros

I was listening to Lou Reed the other day - a hero from my youth and THE ONLY performer I never had the chance to see live. Even on several trips to New York City, I would call the Village Voice entertainment editor to see if there was some way Lou Reed was performing in some out of the way bar while I was in the city.

While scrolling through YouTube, I came across a video written and produced by Lou Reed assisted by Andy Warhol.  The video was set to the song Walk on the Wild Side. It seems, according to the video, that the characters in Reed's song were real people, not just characters in a fantasy as I always thought.

At the end of short video, which lasted as long as the song - around 5 minutes, captions appeared showing that each character who "starred" in the video were deceased, and the caption explained the cause of their deaths.  Most from drug overdoses or complications from some aspect of drugs or non-exclusive sexuality.  Holly (who in real life was a pretty cute "girl"), Candy, Sugar Plum Fairy, Jackie - they all were REAL PEOPLE WITH REAL LIVES.   When that song first was introduced in 1972, being a "good Catholic boy" I listened with extreme interest - these were fictional characters with fictional lives made up by a cool dude who played great music.  My friends and I sang along with, played air guitar along with, and wore out albums and 8 track cassettes because of the popularity of his hit songs.

Additionally, Reed sang of a culture about which I knew absolutely nothing.  Even though I held a tentative, angry, and isolated life, I couldn't imagine that these characters were real - just that they were cool.

Now, even though they lived a lifestyle that wasn't like my lifestyle in any way, I actually learned to love the song even more knowing the characters actually lived.  No, it's not such a huge deal, but again, it just goes to show that we believe what we want to believe, and many of us, including me, keep these beliefs close to us, even getting into arguments over these when they are challenged. To me, it no longer is just a song - it is a biography of a lifestyle of castaways (all of whom I NOW identify). I just finished, before writing this entry, listening to Walk on the Wild Side four times, as well as Sweet Jane with probably the best song introduction ever written.  Listen to the original live version of Sweet Jane with introduction on the disc Rock 'n Roll Animal, and I am sure you will agree. As a side note, I did watch several different videos of Reed with a variety of different introductions to that song - personally glad he chose the one he chose.

Getting back to the end of the video. It explained that Andy Warhol died from complications from three gun shot wounds he received from a psychotic "actress" who shot him because he wouldn't produce a film she had written.  Warhol died from gallbladder disease which was a result from the gun shots from which he supposedly had healed, but the infection was a result of the wounds he suffered. 

My understanding throughout my life, and living in Pittsburgh, was that Andy Warhol, due to his lifestyle and sexuality, died from aids.  That's what I really, thoroughly believed - not thought, felt, understood, but BELIEVED.  At the time of his death, I felt badly that he died at the age of 58, but I was really shocked the to see how wrong my thinking process is/was.  I never knew the shooting story of Warhol because I "assumed" that the obvious had taken his life - sexual irresponsibility or drugs. I feel even more embarrassed because Pittsburgh is home to the Warhol Museum, which I have visited many times.

That's the point of the story that precedes and follows this Prelude.  "We believe what we want to believe - what we feel is 'right' and don't investigate the real reasons for events that happen unless we were either actually present when it happened or from someone 'reliable' or, even scarier, from our own thoughts about a person, an event, or an action - even a belief. All of us, even the smartest, serious, and studied persons take certain events on face value.

However, that is what makes us who we are - the idea of discovery.  I never disliked Andy Warhol and was saddened by his death (and even more saddened as I was proud that he was from my hometown). I even had the chance a few years back to meet his brother.  I just knew what I heard, repeated that over and over in my own ego, and was satisfied with the story I thought was true.

Back to Reed. Saddened also by the recent death of Lou Reed.  Again, before even thinking about researching his death at age 71 (I just heard on the news that he had passed).  No real reason for his death was publicized at the time. So, I thought that it must have been because of his lifestyle.  Growing up in the 70's, I knew Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were an extremely wild group of musicians and "experimented," as did Warhol, with drugs and sexuality. Nevertheless, I knew Reed was married to singer Laurie Anderson; so, my feelings that Lou Reed died of aids because he was gay wasn't true; it was what I believed.  Only after researching this did I make connections.  The research was accidental, but I believe nothing is accidental. Please note. The mention of Lou Reed's sexuality isn't the issue, and though I thought he might be gay isn't a major point.  It also is important to mention the AIDS epidemic in the 70's and 80's.  The idea of his personal life is being used to prove a point on my belief systems.  Neither am I anti-gay whatsoever.  I believe in personal choices being personal.

So, I did my due diligence and found that he had died from complications of a liver transplant that he had the year before. Neither do I know why he needed a liver transplant in the first place.  The fact is that now I don't care as much because at least I know that I initially was WRONG in what I BELIEVED.  That, to me, gets to the heart of what I am attempting to say in this narrative.

The POINT is that I took all of this information in the context of my own life.  I assume; hence, therefore, it is true.  That's not good.  But it is awfully human. And now I move on through Part Two of my story - the "birth" of the Saturday Night Vigil Mass and how this change led to another change in "church" going that entirely changed my view of the piety of those who forced me to do "the right thing."

I found myself thinking the same way about the death of the great Bob Marley.  Again, because of his lifestyle and advocacy of drugs, particularly high strains of marijuana, I just thought the he died from a drug overdose - until I watched a documentary on his life on Paladia last year.  He actually died of melanoma, he suffered a long and painful death.  Again, how one thinks about aspects of life and develop a strong feeling about that person, event, idea does indeed structure our viewpoints.  

Recently, the FX Network concluded its seventh and final season of the extremely popular cult hit Sons of Anarchy - a show I enjoyed watching and was sad to see this type of program end. The same can be said for The Bridge, American Horror Story (all four seasons - Murder House, Asylum, Coven, and most recently, Freak Show. Additionally, FX produces Fargo and Tyrant (favorites of mine, all).  The recurring theme in all of the episodes of all of those shows mentioned above is the idea of isolationism and the need to be separate, yet to belong to something.  In Sons of Anarchy and Freakshow - my favorites, characters (Bikers, Outlaws, Freaks) all have something to offer, all are basically good characters (for the most part); however, these characters possess flaws and inabilities to incorporate their ways of life into mainstream living - bikers have their "gang" and the freaks have their "show" of "monsters" as Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) refers to them.  As seen in both of these presentations of "the different" - the main characters seem to be the ones who are preciously loyal and attached to their kind while the entire world views them as being different, unacceptable.  The exact same way Marlon Brando played Johnny in The Wild One. (I've watched that movie a few times, and for the life of me, other than being a biker, in the movie, Johnny really did nothing wrong or wild (other than fight a rival gang member in the middle of a small town).  In fact, he was the one biker who tried to calm things down and only became emotionally eruptive when "normal" society felt the need to chastise or discredit him).  Johnny is punished just because of who he is.  Again, that's not good.  It was the views of the townspeople who labeled Johnny as a "bad seed" and who instigated actions against him.

The same thoughts about these characters - these freaks, these outcasts, these outliers, can be seen in the 1961 hit movie The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, and Clark Gable.  Again, characters with passion, with soul, with desire yet did not fit into conventional society and were trapped as freaks in a world that didn't accept them for who they were.  These themes tend to resonate not just with me but in many of the great novels, plays, movies, poetry - the main character as misfit. They had each other - that was all - but it is a bit disturbing that societal outliers have to feel only comfortable with other outliers. Freaks with freaks.  Bikers with bikers.  Cowboys with cowboys.  You get the point.  Mixing a different culture with mainstream never seems to work (look at Jax's relationship with his wife Tara, a physician who cannot accept Jax's rebel heart - Johnny's relationship with a local woman, Kathy Bleeker).

I don't mean to ramble about the plots of the shows, musicians, artists, characters, and movies I mentioned above - one can do that privately and individually, but there is something both fascinating, special, yet loathsome (to normalcy) about those who don't "toe the line" and live by the mandates of others.  

The plots all come back us time and time again, whether they appear in a Shakespearean drama or a modern masterpiece or artwork - freaks, outliers, outcasts learn to fit in without fitting in - learn to get along without getting along.

I am asking you to keep these thoughts in mind as I tell the my story of my views of the Catholic Church in the area of my youth.

Back to the Church Ladies

In 1983, the Vatican gave permission for Catholics to attend Saturday Night "Vigil Mass" as a replacement mass for those who couldn't attend a Sunday mass.  Pope John Paul II confirmed this and made the official canonical statement in 1998 that "[b]ecause the faithful workers and others who cannot keep the Sunday obligation...pastors have the corresponding duty to offer to everyone the fulfillment of the precept....From a liturgical point of view, in fact, holy days begin with the First Vespers. Consequently, the liturgy of what is sometimes called the 'Vigil Mass' is in effect the 'festive' Mass of Sunday" (www.vocationnetwork.org). 

What does an Andy Warhol/Lou Reed discussion have to do with Church Ladies on Steroids. The upcoming post that will tie all this together.  


Church Ladies on Steroids Part One: So Many Churches and so Few People

Stephen Arch     sparch@comcast.net   www.sparch@facebook.com

Please click on title above to leave comments. thank you

This is the introduction to my book entitled Growing Up Catholic. Please follow upcoming posts for passages from various chapters within the text. Please understand that these are my personal musings.  They appear as I saw/see them.  The accuracy of what follows may or may not be exactly in step with historical facts.  This is my reality based on the way I grew up in my town.  Please know that this is NOT an non-fiction work or historical document. It is me.

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian nor a biblical scholar. My stories are as I experienced them first hand growing up in a strict Catholic family and attending Catholic Grade School in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The are my memories as they occurred.  These are neither teachings nor are they anti-religion, anti-Catholicism in any way. Just a viewpoint.

Growing up in a small, mill town meant one thing - you HAD to be Catholic - it defined you - whether you liked it or not

Italians, Germans, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Greek - it didn't matter.  And, just as there were at least three bars on every street, there was at least one Catholic church on every block - this is not a stretch. Please read on to understand.  The church itself didn't necessarily have to be "generic" ROMAN Catholic, as long as it was Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Orthodox Catholic, Irish Catholic, German Catholic, Polish Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic, Byzantine Catholic.  (I know why it is called Roman Catholic, but I just don't get the idea of calling a sect by the name of those who tortured and killed so many of its believers. You know the story - Romans killing Christians: Romans helping to crucify Christ, Romans overseeing the politics and policing places like Jerusalem, Bethlehem - Tiberius, Caesar Augustus. This is a stretch, but I can't see the Jewish Church being called the "Nazi" Jewish Church - doesn't make sense whatsoever).

  St. Mary's Help of Christian Church was modeled after the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany

St. Mary's Help of Christian Church was modeled after the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany

  Cathedral in Cologne (Koln) Germany

Cathedral in Cologne (Koln) Germany

  St. Mary's Help of Christian Church - replica of Cathedral in Cologne, Germany with St. Francis DeSalles in foreground

St. Mary's Help of Christian Church - replica of Cathedral in Cologne, Germany with St. Francis DeSalles in foreground

Anyway, I was one of the fortunate ones.  My great grandparents immigrated from Germany and Slovenia, and somewhere in the mid 1800's, they, along with their fellow newcomers, decided to build a monstrously large church that was a very close replica of the Catholic cathedral in Cologne, Germany. At this time in Pittsburgh, obviously, the entire region was accepting Germans, Italians, Polish, Greek, etc., assimilating into their culture. See images relating to this article.

A interesting site to visit that explains the enormous cultural influx of members of all nationalities that took place in Pittsburgh and the surrounding regions was immense:


As is the case, places of worship had to be built, and thus they were - and, in my hometown, they had to be built everywhere. Note:  since Slovenia and Germany were so close in culture and proximity in Europe, and there were a number of Slovenian/German marriages; so, the Slovenes (not Slovaks - according to my grandmother - they despised one another.  I remembered so often being scolded by my grandmother who constantly told me "WE ARE NOT SLOVAKS.  Remember, you are SLOVENIAN, and don't ever forget that) and Germans built this massive "cathedral-like" neighborhood church. My family sort of "owned" a church just by being who they were nationally, culturally, and relatively close.  That sounds great in theory, but to me, and you will see in future essays, became quite a burden. Indeed, my grandparents had brass nameplates on "their" seats and pews in their church.

Twenty-twenty hindsight would say that all of these nationalities should have put aside differences and built one huge church for all the immigrants, but, as you read on, that wasn't going to happen.  Refer to following historical references to the size, the dates, and the actual construction of St. Mary's Help of Christian Church in the following:


Obviously, language barriers, cultural significance, stood in the way of this occurring.  In addition, these hard workers had little time to "organize" with other cultures and "waste" time planning something that might seem to be the "right" thing to do simply because they were working so hard in the mills and factories built by the Carnegie's and their kind. Simply getting together after work and having a drink, dinner, spending time with their families, getting some sleep, and, in many cases "dying" from overwork that probably someone saying "let's all get together, have a huge meeting, and plan a church" wasn't going to happen - hence - they built their own churches in their own "territories" and own culturally significant to their beliefs and the cultures.  

What is a bit amusing regarding this exclusion of each other's culture and practices, at that time, ALL of the Catholic masses were said in Latin and not German or Lithuanian.  

Please see history of the German Catholic Church dating back to the mid 1800's at the following site:


To build a church the size of St. Mary's was a HUGE undertaking by any stretch of the imagination, by any standards past and present.  I have tried in vain to research the cost of such a church but to no avail (please see the first few photos on the IMAGE page to see how large St. Mary's is). And, to make my point even more bizarre, the Irish Catholic Church, built around the same period (also very large but nowhere near this size) was one block away.  The orthodox denominations had their own special part of the town, as did the Italians, Ukrainians, Russians, and Greeks, most all built around the same time.

I have this picture in my mind of all of these nationalities scurrying to build churches, a competition to see who could build the biggest, most ornamental, most significant.  A race for the ages.

My great-grandparents and grandparents had a hand in building this monolith, and, like good Catholics, since they were part of the first parishioners, they even had their own seats with name tags. Everyone had "their place" in this church that held at least 800 people - and, believe it or not, it was always crowded!   


On the image page of this blog, you can see the many churches in my neighborhood; including St. Mary's, there are thirteen in all (that also includes St. Vincent DePaul Church that wasn't actually in McKees Rocks). It bordered the borough, and was only one half mile from St. Mary's and where I was born. 

  St. Vincent de Paul Church, Esplen, Pittsburgh (church where my wonderful wife and I were married)

St. Vincent de Paul Church, Esplen, Pittsburgh (church where my wonderful wife and I were married)

Writer's note:  I needed to mention St. Vincent's Church because 1) it actually appears to be in the same town and only the locals would know that it wasn't, and 2) the love of my life and I were married there in 1983.  St. Vincent was the Lithuanian Catholic church. The church my wife's family attended.  As you can see in the image page, it looks more like a school (which it is) but the church was sort of in the basement.  The original church burned down some time ago.  In addition, on the image page, two churches, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church looked more like a school (which it was) than a church.  And St. Andrew the Apostle Romanian Orthodox Catholic Church looks more like a small banquet hall than a church.  I would save this for later, but before St. Andrew the Apostle became St. Andrew the Apostle Church, it was a "worship" site when, as you might guess, four of the Roman Catholic churches merged in the 1980's to form on church - St. John of God - but that has no bearing on my story.

In 1960, McKees Rocks, my home town, had 11 (yes ELEVEN) Catholic or Catholic denominations churches (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Byzantine Orthodox) churches ALL WITHIN A TWO MILE RADIUS OF EACH OTHER - in one area of town - referred to "the Bottoms," five catholic churches consisting of five different catholic denominations all occupied one city block!

  St. Francis DeSalles Irish Church McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

St. Francis DeSalles Irish Church McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

  Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

  St. Marks Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

St. Marks Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

  St. John the Baptist Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania

St. John the Baptist Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania

  Mother of Sorrows "Italian" Church , Norwood, Stowe Township, Pennsylvania

Mother of Sorrows "Italian" Church , Norwood, Stowe Township, Pennsylvania

  Old Mother of Sorrows Church, Norwood, Stowe Township, Pennsylvania

Old Mother of Sorrows Church, Norwood, Stowe Township, Pennsylvania

  St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania

St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania

  St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church, The Bottoms, McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

  St. Ceclia Church McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

St. Ceclia Church McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

  Inside of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Island Avenue McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

Inside of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Island Avenue McKees Rocks Pennsylvania

Pay attention closely:  this is certainly information you need to know in order for me to set up my "story."  I really need you to understand the importance of being Catholic growing up in my town - what it meant and what it symbolized. It gets to the "root" of the issue.

I realized later in life that most of the church ladies with their husbands in tow (in my early childhood, husbands were always in tow) on Sundays probably went to the 7:00 am mass, the 9:00 am mass, the 10:30 am mass, and the noon mass, as well as the Sunday evening Vigil Mass held each week at 7:00 pm. All masses crowded all of the time (except for the 7:00 am mass).  The population of McKees Rocks at the time of my adolescence was roughly 13,000 (according to the 1960 census).  It wasn't as though our town was huge by any stretch of the imagination, but how in the world could one Roman German Catholic church hold that many people for every mass?  

The Irish, Polish, Greeks, Italians were all celebrating this feast or that feast in their own churches.  No, don't say that they probably went to different masses based on the time - ALL THE MASSES WERE AT THE SAME TIME. Plus, back then, no self respecting German would set foot in an Irish church, just like no self important Italian would ever have the gall to attend mass in a German or Greek church (Important note:  this point will become a major theme in this story.)  It was important that all supported their heritage (Watch the movie Gangs of New York and you can have a better picture of what I am building). 

You not only had to be Catholic, but it was expected, insisted on, actually, beat into you, attending church on Sundays and every last one of the holy days, including the entire Easter vigil, midnight mass (lasting for hours), Stations of the Cross, this holy day, that holy day.  I don't need to remind anyone reading this is that the Catholic Church has a HUGE AMOUNT OF SAINTS. And, I do not have to remind you that every day seemed to be the celebration of this saint or that saint.  What that meant was that, including the 7:00 am mass, the church remained open all day because some saint was being celebrated that day.  I sort of lucked out on this because my name is Stephen (no, not STEVEN or even Steve - Stephen), and yes, for all of you Catholics out there, St. Stephen's "Feast" Day occurs the day after Christmas - yep, December 26.  I even feel the adults tired of all the church ceremonies after the long Advent season, and that meant I kind of skated out of going to church on December 26th.  I was the only Stephen in my group of friends. Heaven help you if your name was Mary, Joseph, John, David, or even Stanislaus (STAN - but I assumed you got that one), or any other Catholic name than Stephen. There is only one St. Stephen in the Catholic dictionary - so I happily only had one day, and that day was actually a day I either never mentioned, hid, or was nowhere to be found. By the way, as this story grows, for your information, St. Stephen was the FIRST, YES, THE VERY FIRST, saint to be MARTYRED. That was always a source of pride for me - heck, who else could make that claim. However, it also became a bane, as you read on, because I often felt as if I was martyred every day of my life - but we'll save that for later.

I can hear my mother now on Christmas, "Don't forget tomorrow is St. Stephen's Feast Day. Don't forget about getting up early to go to church for St. Stephen's Feast day" time and time again.

  St. Stephen - The First Martyr of the Roman Catholic Church

St. Stephen - The First Martyr of the Roman Catholic Church

FEAST DAY?  Where in the world did the Catholics come up with the word "feast" - we weren't eating the saints, at least that was what I thought. Yes, I know there is a reason for calling it a feast day just as there is a reason for calling anything any name. But I won't research that because I like to believe my own feelings that come to mind when hearing the Catholic term "feast."  (There will be more to come on these issues).

Back to my point, obviously, in my young life, church was THE happening event of the week. This was soon to change.  The Church Ladies would be put to the test and their solemnity put in question for all to see.  

No, I am not in the least doubting their theology, their commitment to God, their commitment to their religion and ideology. But the tides of "church going" would soon change, and going to church would take on another turn, which, in its turn, allowed us to see exactly how committed our local church goers were to their cause. This extremely pious group of women (and some men) would, in my mind, challenge this piety with some of their actions.  This too shall come later.

I know I have rambled about the beginnings of my church, and what, you ask, has this to do with the title of this piece "Church Ladies on Steroids" - but it will all come together as you read future blogs. Please be patient with this history that is so important to framing my present.

Next installation:  THE SATURDAY NIGHT MASS!!!!!