Tag Archives: Holidays

The most important non-profit in our household

November 27, 2017

0 Comments

By Fr. Paul Jarvis

When we Jarvis kids grew up as exiled Minnesotans in early-60s Hartford City, Indiana – 3M exiled my father to Indiana, and the deal was we had to go with him – we discovered that Hoosiers in that part of Indiana celebrated holidays a little differently than Minnesotans then. And today.

Instead of going trick or treating once on Halloween, we went twice – including the day after. Ahem, we also soaped people’s window screens if we got Bible tracts from them.

Good Friday represented time off from school, public or parochial school. But it wasn’t exactly the kind of time off we kids wanted. We spent much of the day in church just sitting in silence.

4th of July wasn’t simply a time for fireworks. I remember going downtown the Blackford County Sourthouse to sit and be bored by a bewigged orator pretending to be Thomas Jefferson or another revolutionary. The worst, or the best, part of the event was guessing how long it would take the guy with the scratchy white wig, powdered cheeks, in layers of wool clothing in Indiana’s 90-something degree 100% humidity weather to pass out while reading the Declaration of Independence. While effecting an English accent in a Hoosier twang.

In pre-Beatles Indiana, Easter was just how a kid imagined Jesus celebrating it … with not just one hunt for treasure. But two. Like Mary and Joseph hiding around the house baskets of chocolate eggs, peeps, jellybeans, my parents hid the baskets in places a second grader could get his hands to.

Following the basket hunt was the one we Jarvis kids really looked forward to: an Easter egg hunt with real money taped to the candy eggs. Just like Jesus must’ve gone on.

Since I was the younger and dumber Jarvis brother, I would mindlessly follow after older brothers … surprisingly not finding any eggs. But just as Mary must’ve dropped an egg or two in front of Jesus so he could actually have some eggs to count afterwards, my mom surreptitiously dropped eggs around me. And like Jesus, I got the eggs with more valuable shekels.

We in Indiana also celebrated Christmas twice. On Christmas Eve, we – I mean my dad – would cut down our Christmas tree at the tree farm. And with “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Special” and “The Little Drummer Boy” playing, we’d all gleefully decorate it. Then we went off to eat at the only restaurant open in Hartford City … I believe it was a Chinese restaurant … where our dad would try to blind us with movie camera lights possessing the power of the sun. Christmas home movies only show us squinting.

Gorged and antsy, we returned home and opened the gifts we had given each other. Then came midnight Mass, where I pretended to be praying, with sleeping head held in my hands.

The following Christmas morning, we celebrated Christmas a second time. With Baby Jesus now safely in His crib, we kids scrambled to tear into gifts that St. Nicolas had brought us. The nuns at school always insisted on us calling the gift-giving Saint by his proper name. Not his nickname, “Santa Claus.” Sr. Mary Joseph Marie would rhetorically ask, “You wouldn’t call me “Sis” would you?” “No, Sister Mary Joseph Marie,” the class robotically responded. Of course, “Sis” is exactly what we would whisper when outside of wimple-range.

During Kennedy’s presidency, we Minnesota exiles did something that would seem very weird to today’s younger Minnesotans. We waited to go Christmas shopping until we saw the Christmas decorations and lights go up around town. And they wouldn’t go up until about a week or two before Jesus’ birthday. This was perhaps late for our Protestant friends, but way too soon for our Catholic nuns. It being still penitential Advent and all.

Looking around today, two weeks before Christmas is way, way, way too late. Holiday decorations start prompting Christmas buying aright around Halloween.

There was something wonderful in celebrating the holidays the Hoosier way though … besides getting twice as much candy on Halloween. For us kids, the shorter build up to Christmas helped intensify the excitement around Christmas gift-giving and gift-receiving.

The shorter period would also dramatically cut down the amount of junk mail Hartford City, Indiana households would receive at Thanksgiving and Christmasgiving time.

Then, as now, every household would receive heartfelt appeals to help this or that non-profit. The Jarvises certainly received a lot, but not two months’ worth …

… requests from the March of Dimes, Jerry Lewis’s MD effort, UNICEF, St. Jude’s, the Heart Association, the Red Cross, missions that allowed the give to name a pagan baby, the USO, Salvation Army, ad infinitum. But today, if you give to even just one charity, your address is sold to a baker’s dozen of other non-profits.

I have a friend today who gets roughly 10 requests a day to be generous. Multiply that times roughly 60 days … and that’s a lot of letters to recycle.

One day, Sr. Mary Joseph Marie called all of her classroom’s impressionable students into church, and brought out our patron saint’s statue, St. John. She silently handed out a simple holy card – this was back in the day when we Catholic kids collected them like our Protestant friends collected baseball cards.

Dramatically, she held up a huge stack of donation non-profit donation requests, and fanned herself as if weary from holding up so many.

With her other hand, she raised the holy card of St. John. She remained silent for a while, looking at us. One by one.

Then she asked – rhetorically – “Which of these non-profits (she probably said charity, now that I think about it) are organizations that help out a lot of folks outside our parish, and probably pay their presidents tens of thousands of dollars a year (remember, this is early 60s Indiana)? And which non-profit helps your family members from the moment they were born and baptized to the moment they have their funerals? With First Communions, with Confirmations, with Weddings, with Ordinations, with Sick Calls and weekly Sunday Masses in between? Which helps your school and catechism classes tuition?” To make a finer point of it, “And which non-profit is always there for your family – I mean, really there for your family? In fact, it IS your family?”

To not make too fine of a point, the good Sister helped us out by looking sideways at the holy card. The answer was obvious even to us second graders.

And the implication was just as obvious – we kids were to make the case for “our parish” at home during a time of giving and giving thanks.

She didn’t pick on any raised hands responding to her rhetorical question. But just to make sure the point got through, she had us kneel and pray before our parish’s patron saint’s statue. And if you looked closely, you could see a different set of Thanksgiving and Christmas contribution envelopes fanning out from a parish patron’s base.

As we left church, the class’s eraser-clapping, nerdy brown-noser asked Sister Mary Joseph Marie whether we could take an envelope home to mom and dad. Just like Ingrid Bergman in the “Bells of St. Mary,” she knowingly smiled at me and said, “No need to, Popo, I am very, very sure your parents already have some.”

We Indiana parishioners always considered our parish to be the most important non-profit in our household. It was there for us, like no other. Better still, we were simultaneously its charitable recipients.

The Salvation Army red kettle was nice for our – now remember these are pre-ecumenical days – fine for our Protestant friends. I’d even pray that they responded with St. Nick-level generosity to all the non-profit requests they no doubt got. But our Catholic parish was not only “our parish.” It was our non-profit.

Sister Mary Joseph Marie didn’t need to say it explicitly, but we understood that focusing our giving on our parish was the best use of the golden talents God had given us. (Matthew 25:14-30)

Early 1960s Indiana ways may seem very strange to us today. But as I see Catholics increasingly indebted by Happy Holidays commercialism, Halloween costumes become decidedly creepier and costlier than bedsheets with two holes cut out of them, and many a Catholic sending numerous checks to non-profits they know barely anything about and headed by million-dollar execs … they really, really, really make sense to this repatriated Minnesotan.

~ Fr. Paul Jarvis, Senior Associate Pastor of St. Bridget Parish Community, Minneapolis.

Continue reading...