MY RECOLLECTIONS OF BOSTON COMMON by Bill Smith


Father Feeney in ColorFather Leonard Feeney, Boston Common (1957) By: Gerry Siegel (Honolulu) Equipment: Realist 3D Realist 1041, Kodak Kodachrome 25

My Recollections of Boston Common 

by Bill Smith

The Catholic Observer of Cambridge,

December 1951

Published by St. Benedict Center

23 Arrow Street, Cambridge 38, Mass

MEETINGS ON BOSTON COMMON

GAIN IN POPULARITY

Every Sunday afternoon at 3:45, rain or shine, summer or winter, Father Leonard Feeney and his students from St. Benedict Center hold an open air meeting on Boston Common. Several thousand listeners are usually in attendance, and, as might be expected, they represent every shade and variety of religion and non-religion, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Freethinkers, Atheists, and Communists are there in attendance.

Father Feeney and the other speakers in these talks never temper their message for any group. They preach fearlessly the unequivocal Catholic truth to all. A large number of silent Catholics listen most gratefully. Father Feeney and his boys insist on the ancient teaching that membership in the Catholic Church, love of the Blessed Virgin, and personal submission to Our Holy father the Pope are necessities for salvation. This message, needless to say, has jarred the smugness and bad consciences of many of the Boston Common listeners.

At these open-air meetings, the faithlessness of the average American is made all too apparent, and the bitter dislike of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Mother of God, becomes as clear as crystal. Father Feeney has always contended that underlying hostility will never show its true colors until we present again the Catholic Faith as a divine doctrine allowing of no evasion. Men’s sincerities in business, politics, bridge, or golf may be impeccable, but it is only when they are confronted with the personal challenge of Jesus and Mary that the impious nature of their religious beliefs becomes evident.

Father Feeney further maintains that the lack of faith in the United States is due to two factors which are mutually accountable for the blasphemy of unbelief. The cowardice of Catholics in professing the Faith, and the bad will of non-Catholics in refusing it. As regards the Catholic’s part in this apostasy, Father Feeney blames both the clergy and the laity. American priests neither know their faith, nor care to study it, he says. The laity, on the other hand, neither know it, nor care to be taught it. It has been this pitiful situation which has brought Father Feeney and his followers out on the Common to the simple people of Boston. By doing this the Saint Benedict Center members hope to fulfill Our Lord’s injunction to go into the highways and byways, and teach all nations.

[Note: Bill Smith, aka Br. Bernard, was one of the three MICM brothers who spoke publicly with Father Feeney almost every Sunday on Boston Common for seven years. Several thousand listeners were usually in attendance. He recounts how the Center trained him to speak about the Jews each Sunday, and some of the riots in which the brothers were involved with them.]

¶ Our Sunday afternoon visits to the Common began as a defense of the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was 1950 and Pope Pius XII had just defined the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, body and soul. We placed a large sign in front of our house declaring the defined doctrine. This house belonged to Professor Maluf who was to become Br. Francis. We called the house Sacred Heart Hall. It was on Putnam Avenue, a heavily traveled street running from Harvard Square to the Charles River Drive.

¶ Father was outraged that Rev. Ockenga, the minister at the Park Street Church, had taken out a full page ad in the Boston Globe attacking Our Lady’s Assumption. Father had conceived the idea of going to Boston Common to defend Our Lady. I remember being worried about how we would be received. Father saw it as an opportunity to rally Catholic support for our crusade. He always thought the Catholics were for us in their hearts. I never shared his optimism and always expected to be set upon at any moment for teaching “no salvation outside the Catholic Church.” I had just become a Slave of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in July. This was August 1950. I came into the Church in March 1947.

¶ We gathered on the Common around Father as he attacked Rev. Ockenga and extolled Our Lady. We were dressed as college students or as a family might dress on a Sunday afternoon. We had no habits or uniform dress. I recall saying prayers and singing a hymn to Mary.

¶ After that things moved rapidly. We began selling “The Loyolas and the Cabots,” the story of the Boston Heresy Case, door to door. In late autumn the men began wearing brown suits; all our other clothes were sold at the consignment stores. We began to organize the Common so that it became a religious procession. Our brown suits were comical. They were purchased at the South End second hand stores. My suit was a modified zoot suit of WWII vintage, pegged pants, pointed lapels and big shoulders. This did not help bookselling as we began selling our second book, entitled “Gate of Heaven.” Later on we wore black suits which were a great help to book selling and we all sighed a sigh of relief.

¶ Meanwhile, the Common became a well-organized ritual. By 1953 we had a used International pick-up truck which we used for going to Faneuil Hall market for produce. It replaced my 1929 “Model A” Ford with rumble seat (the Blue Bucket). We now could transport a large speaker’s box which Br. Joseph Maria made. The box had a large slot for the crucifix and another slot that held the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

¶ It was my job to deliver the box and the little steps plus the crucifix and the picture to the Common in the truck. Brothers rode in the back of the truck and when I pulled up to the curb on Charles Street they unloaded everything. I usually parked the truck on Boylston Street and hurried to join my brothers and sisters who by this time had gathered on Arlington Street. We processed through the Public Gardens and over the Swan Bridge to the Common.

¶ The first Sunday was sparsely attended but soon we had regular listeners. We always had our faithful supporters present like Marian Hardy and others who came to the Center even after the interdict. But we also had our regular hecklers who rarely missed a Sunday. Many of these were given names by Father. There was Ike the Kike, Sam from Saugus, Wacky Oscar, Horseface, and others I can’t remember.

¶ Father soon had other members of the Center try their hands at public speaking. Father settled on three speakers who would also regularly speak at the meetings. Speaking on the Common was a difficult task. A speaker had to be loud and not get ruffled. Heckling was constant so it was necessary to make the audience want to listen to what you were saying. From the number of brothers and sisters who had taken turns speaking Father chose Br. Hugh (Hugh McIssac), Br. Dominic Maria (Temple Morgan) and Br. Bernard (Bill Smith). Father took me aside and told me what a wonderful speaker I was and that I was to speak every Sunday. By that time I had spoken more than once, and although each time I dreaded it, once I ascended the little steps I felt quite calm and almost like I was in charge of the crowd, kind of like directing an orchestra. I certainty did not relish the idea of speaking every Sunday on Boston Common. It was my assignment. By that time the meetings were becoming quite lively. Word of the gatherings on the Common reached people of every belief and unbelief and many came to see for themselves this new phenomenon. The Brotherhood of Christians and Jews was just getting started and liberal Catholics joined with the Jews and Protestants in attacking Father and the other speakers.

¶ Brother Hugh started the meeting with prayers and usually gave a talk that was concerned with Boston and the local scene. He demonstrated clearly how the Jews and Masons were trying to take the city of Boston and the State House out of the hands of the Irish and Italians. He was humorous and spoke with great authority, having been brought up, as he said, “in the suburb superb, Roslindale.” His talks were sometimes devotional. During these years I thought of Br. Hugh as a hero of WWII awarded the Purple Heart, a football star and absolutely fearless, and he was my friend. This all changed shortly before the 1958 move to Still River. At that time Father appointed Br. Gabriel to be the prior of all the men. I thought that Br. Hugh would be appointed prior of the men’s community since he was a natural leader and had been prior of the couples’ community. I like to remember Brother Hugh back in those early days when the married couples were all together with their children in Blessed Sacrament Community. After the change in priors, Br. Hugh was no longer the gregarious outgoing person he had been. He came alive only on bookselling trips on which he was always prior. Several years later, in Still River, Father and Sr. Catherine expressed concern over Br. Hugh’s influence on the children as physical education teacher. He was subsequently replaced with me.

¶ Br. Dominic Maria was appointed the second speaker up on the box to address the crowd. Br. Dominic Maria always spoke with his rosary in his hand. As I recall, his themes were almost always devotional, especially concerned with Our Lady and the doctrine of “no salvation.” People knew who he was and they came to see and hear him speak. He was Father’s great “catch” as a fisherman of men. He was a Morgan, a blue blood, who renounced Harvard and all its worldly prestige. In the early days before all the trouble Father would take Temple Morgan with him as a special convert to see different friends in the Boston Brahmin world. He had refused his degree at Harvard and had challenged all his old friends with the Catholic faith and continued to do so on the Common. He had been a B-29 pilot in WWII. He was an outstanding athlete, rowing as the stroke oarsman on the varsity crew, in boxing he held the middleweight championship, and he was so strong he could do a handstand from a sitting position on the seat of the same chair he was sitting in.

¶ I never thought of the three of us as a cross-section of America because two were certainly unusual men. I think Father put me on the box as a typical American Protestant kid who came into the church. I was just Bill Smith from Lansdowne, PA. But the interesting thing, as I look back, was Father’s genius in having Br. Hugh, lifelong Catholic from Boston, Br. Dominic Maria, convert from High Church and high finance Protestant blue-blood, and Br. Bernard from Middle America.

¶ Sr. Catherine actually had a lot to do with my subject matter on the Common. She began by giving me articles and books to read which were not available to other members of the community. Certain periodicals such as “Common Sense”, put out by Conde Mc Ginley, and “The Cross and the Flag,” by Gerald L.K. Smith, were mine to read regularly. These all dealt with the Jewish place in the Zionist and Communist conspiracies. The community as a whole was familiar with “Philip the Second,” by William Thomas Walsh, “The French Revolution,” by Nesta Webster, “The Rulers of Russia,” by Father Fahey, and Father Cahill on Freemasonry, as part of our history class. I have to pause here and say that I am deeply indebted to Sr. Catherine for the great view of history as the battle between the forces of Our Lady and those of Satan. “Waters Flowing Eastward,” by Madam Deshishmerev was another favorite of Sr. Catherine’s. Madam actually came to see us at the Center. So did Conde McGinley, the publisher of the anti-Zionist paper, ”Common Sense.”

¶ Every Sunday I gave forth on the Jews and what they were up to, and also the traditional Catholic position on the Jewish problem, from Scripture and from history. I also used many of the Jews’ own statements. The Talmudic teachings about Jesus and Mary I often recounted because of my first hand conversations with my Jewish friend Maxwell Lazarus. We were both students at Brookline High School, a 90% Jewish Public High School in Massachusetts from which I graduated. I liked to give lists of the Jewish Communists ruling the countries behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s. I also kept the crowd up to date with the names of Jewish traitors and spies in our own country. I had memorized the dates on which every country in Europe had expelled the Jews to protect the Church and to return civil order.

¶ Another favorite subject was the final destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 363 under Julian the Apostate. I told how fire came up out of the earth to make rebuilding impossible. I had many quotes from Jewish authors concerning the continuing struggle between Rome and Jerusalem. The Jews proclaimed, “Rome must be destroyed before Jerusalem can be the center of a world religion and courts of justice.”

¶ I drew from history to demonstrate the unceasing efforts of the Jews to destroy the Mystical Body of Christ, the Catholic Church.

¶ I said everything I could find to back up one central theme, from St. Paul’s Epistle, I Thessalonians 2:15-16, “The Jews who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and have persecuted us, and please not God, and are enemies to all men prohibiting us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved.”

¶ I also spoke of my life as a Protestant and the episode of the plaster birthday cake, which was presented to the Sunday school student whose birthday it was. He or she blew the candles out and the cake went into the closet for the next birthday. The perfect symbol of counterfeit Christianity.

¶ I always dreaded Sunday on the Common but once I got on the box I enjoyed it. I was glad when we moved to Still River and the talks on Boston Common ended.

¶ Sunday afternoon visits to the CommonFather spoke last and faced the most hateful and most blasphemous hecklers. He never lacked courage but sometimes he lost his composure. At times it was so wild he would stop and we would say the Memorare to drown out the jeers. The hecklers would upset Father and he would try to argue with them, loosing his train of thought as he got angry. Father’s priesthood was a special target.

¶ In spite of our message which went so much against the grain, for liberal Catholics, Protestants and Jews, some people would come up at the end and wish us well or say, “God bless you!” One man would give me newspaper clippings at the end of every Sunday’s talks. They would be about something the Jews were doing. One Sunday Father spotted Festuchas in the crowd. He had pretended to be our friend and had actually come to the Center to spy. When the talks were over Father got down from the box and went after him, literally trying to kick him in the shins, while Joe McIssac was running after Father trying to protect him from harm.

¶ Brandeis University had reached an agreement with Archbishop Cushing to have a Catholic chapel at the University where the Blessed Sacrament would be reserved. The wildest scenes happened after we had gone through down town with the placards, with crucifixes on top of them, proclaiming “Catholics of Boston stop the Jews from desecrating the Blessed Sacrament at Brandeis University.” We were also passing out a special edition of the “The Point” attacking the Jews for what they were doing in the Holy Land.

¶ The first time out with the placards we went along our pre-planned route and onto Tremont Street. Some Brothers carried the placards and others were assigned to guard the placard carriers. We were forbidden to fight. I remember how helpless I felt because both my hands were around my placard pole and the Jews were trying to get it away from me. One Jew was attacking one of the guard brothers. A truck driver stopped his truck right in the middle of the street, got out of his truck and socked the Jew right in the face. This was down near Boston Garden. The Jews had come from everywhere to beat us up. It seemed like an eternity. The Police stopped us in front of The Parker House and took us all away in a Paddy wagon.

¶ Father sent us out for a second time. This time we were again forced out of our planned route and onto Stuart Street into the heart of the Jewish garment district. Bottles were thrown at us out of the upper floor windows. The guard brothers just kept bumping our attackers away with their forearms. Brother Dominic Maria was carrying a placard right alongside of me. I remember this so well. He was saying over and over to me, “Don’t worry, Brother Bernard.” I said to myself, is he kidding? Brother Jude was protecting us, God bless him. He kept bumping the Jews back, over and over, first on one side then on the other side. I think we reached Tremont Street before they really got us. I lost my placard in a crowd and I remember Brother Joseph Maria hitting some attacker over the head with the placard pole. Instinctively we were trying to stay on our feet but we were in a circle of Jews. Br. Gabriel was also there this time. Someone jumped on my back and I crouched and he went over my head. I decided to get out of the circle. After fighting my way out I felt cowardly and looked back to see others still there being pummeled so I went back and told them to come. I was pleased with myself and we all got away. A Jewish newspaper seller hit Brother Mark Colopy on the back of the head with a lead weight. He was bleeding. I remember being so thankful each time I got into the police wagon and was safe.

¶ At the time, I thought these things that we were doing were courageous but absolutely foolish. I did them because of my vow of obedience as a Slave of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We were putting on a show for Heaven but there was no thoughts of strategy behind Boston Common or that whole placard protest.

¶ We aroused the young Zionists with the placards. The Police had to start bringing the horses to keep order on Boston Common. The crowds were huge and a lot of Jews came. We passed out “The Point” at the end of the talks, mostly to Jews! Father was being escorted away and we, a few brothers, would stay to pass out anti-Semitic literature to Jews we had just told in no uncertain terms that they were cursed. And they still came to get “The Point!” I remember to this day, one young Jew coming up to me and threatening to do some terrible thing, and I, being surrounded by Jews, said, “Get out of here you little kike.” I must have been on an adrenalin high. He actually slunk off!

¶ What happened after that was a nightmare. They followed us to where our truck was parked. We couldn’t get in the truck, the police were nowhere in sight, and the bricks were flying but our Guardian Angels were protecting us. As soon as I got the truck door opened a brick bounced off the corner of the truck roof. I started the truck as Brother Gerard (Joe Roach) got in the back and the Jews were trying to get in the back, too. Joe was kicking them off as we drove away to pick up the other brothers who were waiting with the box.

¶ I don’t want to leave any unsung heroes out of my recollections. There was a little Italian lawyer named Jimmy Morelli who looked just like the legendary Mayor of New York, Fiorello Laguardia. Jimmy was called “the little flower” just like the mayor. Jimmy and his Mrs. were our friends. Jimmy’s clientele were an unsavory bunch; a lot of them were gangsters and one was the king of the Gypsies whom I met once in Jimmy’s office. Our friends were often like Jimmy, the salt of the earth. Real Publicans but they prayed and they loved Our Lady.

¶ When we were arrested for carrying placards against the Jews we ended up in court for disturbing the peace. Jimmy appeared for us right off the street or maybe in court for someone else, but he appeared before the judge, and his famous statement, never to be forgotten was, “Judge, your Honor, in times past these things were engraved on tablets of stone.” We got off. Another time on the Common there was a terrible heckler who shouted and carried on so no one could be heard. Jimmy turned to him and he shut right up. I found out later what Jimmy had done. Jimmy had a license to carry a small pistol. When he turned around to the man he was holding the gun in the palm of his hand so the man could see it.

¶ In spite of all of our efforts to arouse public indignation to the plan to have a Catholic chapel at Brandeis University where Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament would be reserved under the auspices of His enemies, the Jews, we failed.

¶ Brother Paschal (Bill Shea) was our resident legal expert. His brother had been a Federal Assistant Attorney General in Washington, DC and his family was prominent in Manchester, NH. Br. Paschal attended Harvard Law School and knew a lot of important people. He coached us on case law (mostly Jehovah Witness cases) and how to stay out of jail when book selling. He was always a good friend. He played with his cards so close to his vest that he would infuriate Father sometimes. Brother rarely gave a direct quotable answer to anything legal. I sometimes did not understand what he was talking about. He talked around the subject.

¶ But to get back to Boston. We really counted on our friends in the police department. During the week Br. Paschal, (Bill Shea) would take me as his companion to visit different policemen. There was one policeman, Sergeant Marshall, we would visit regularly. When he was on the Common, he would take very good care of us. The other officers there knew that and we were spared a lot of trouble. I saw him go up to a man in a car who was causing trouble by refusing to move on. He reached in and cuffed him and the man moved!

¶ Police Commissioner Fallon ran the show and he began to call Father, at least so we thought. This man on the phone would introduce himself as Commissioner Fallon and the Brother who answered the phone would hurry to get Father. The Commissioner would ask Father if he were satisfied with the protection he was getting and if he would like the horses the next Sunday? Father was never to call him; it would be too risky. One night Father sent us to the Commissioner’s home and he came to the door pretty drunk but sober enough to be astounded by the presence of three of Fr. Feeney’s brothers at 9 or 10 o’clock at night. His was not the voice on the phone and later there was much soul searching about what was said to the pseudo-Fallon that might hurt us. These calls had been a fishing expedition. We were never aware of any harm that resulted from the contact. We talked to him a few more times and after that we referred to him as the psuedo-Fallon.

¶ Going to the Common was never a routine thing. Sometimes cars would follow us home. We had thirty-nine small children to protect. We were a threat to a lot of sinister people. The Anti-Defamation League of Bnai’Brith was very interested in us. We had been featured in their publication. Br. Bernard had been named as the number one anti-Semite in the particular area they covered. Once three of us went to the offices of the lawyer for the A.D.L. and vociferously complained about their attacks. Years later we found out they were spying on us through Louis Romano. Mr. Romano was very smooth. He seemed very genuine when he called on us and offered to help financially with a $10,000.00 contribution. Each time he came or when we went to see him Father would say; “Did he bring the big bundle?” After awhile Br. Dominic Maria got on to him because he mentioned his war time intelligence experience in the Army and brother figured he was very likely still gathering information. Romano never gave Father the $10,000.

¶ Br. Hugh was great on those protest expeditions. He led us on our appeal to Archbishop Cicognani, the Apostolic delegate, the Notre Dame demonstration with “The Point”, the Cardinal Stritch appeal which ended in a Chicago court room scene where it seemed the judge was going to let us off when Br. Hugh started yelling at the top of his lungs. We all ended up in the Bridewell Prison refusing to pay the fine for disturbing the peace.

¶ This all started with a book selling trip to South Bend and a side excursion to Notre Dame to distribute “The Point”. Previous to this, in New England, we had started leaving “The Point” at different religious houses. One incident I remember in particular. We left “The Point” at each place setting in the refectory. When we did this at Notre Dame they picked us up and carried us bodily to our cars. They physically shoved us into our cars like trash in a bag. The next day the papers carried a story about “followers of the ex-priest Father Feeney.” Father told us to stay out there and get the story corrected. He was a priest forever according to the order of Melchesidech. We went to the paper but to no avail. It was decided that we see Cardinal Stritch as sons of our maligned father and since Cardinal Stritch was also our father he would listen to us. I remember driving around the huge grounds surrounded by a high wrought iron fence with points on it. We decided daytime was best and we would go up to the front door. We were in clerical garb. Who would suspect? Once the door was opened we ran in and up the stairs, a very grand and wide marble stairs. The six of us were chased up the stairs to the Cardinal’s office where Chancery employees started wrestling with us and throwing us on the floor. We identified ourselves and the nature of our business but the police soon arrived and we were arrested.

¶ I remember thinking how much violence I was doing to my own idea of how to go about getting results from people. The rest of the day was truly the “twilight zone.” We were delivered to the Bridewell Prison where we surrendered our clothes and possessions. We showered in a huge room with all the felons, mostly black, and we got canvas underwear and prison uniforms. It was hard to relate this to being persecuted for the Faith. We spent the first night in the prison hospital under observation because of our scuffle with the Chancery officials. It was still interesting and not frightening. The prison underground got newspapers telling about our escapade and we were minor celebrities.

¶ Morning came and we were shaved by the prison barber and interviewed about our skills so we could work in the prison. I was a farmer so I was assigned to the farm but when the other brothers said they had farm experience, the guard got nasty and they split us up. I ended up in a cellblock, the like of which I had only seen in movies. There were tiers of cells going up several flights with steel stairways. In the middle of the canyon made by the tiers of cells there was the eating area where there were long wooden tables and benches with tin plates on the tables. Suddenly I felt alone and helpless. Completely abandoned. I was given a job, which was something I couldn’t even comprehend. I was in shock. I was shown to my cell and my cellmate, a most depraved looking black youth, wanted to know what horrible thing I had done, naming off a few choice things that came into his mind. I started praying and thinking how I could escape spending the night with this thug. Suddenly I was called, just as lunch and my new job were starting. A lady had paid our fine and we were to be released.

¶ When we finally arrived home we were celebrities. A special edition of “The Point” was issued just on our adventure. Father had a mock-up made of the jail using broom handles for the bars so we could have our pictures taken “behind bars.”

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