First Communion, 1941 Style

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the month of May is usually the time of “First Communion.”  On Saturdays and Sundays in early May, you can still see processions of children dressed in white as they enter church to receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time.  The age for this event varies, but it usually occurs in the second or third grade.  In the past, as you will see in the “vintage” photos below, First Communion occurred in first grade.  In celebration of May and First Communions everywhere, here are some photos of my father’s First Communion Day – May 11, 1941.  Today boys don’t usually wear shorts and knee socks!

James A. Pointkouski's First Communion Day, May 11, 1941

James A. Pointkouski's First Communion Day, May 11, 1941

There are several photos of the procession of children into the church, St. Peter’s, located at 5th & Girard Avenues (today the church is also the national shrine of St. John Neumann).  In the first photo below, you can see my father as the fourth child from the left in the row closest to the nun.  He appears to have noticed the photographer!  The photo that follows shows him walking out of the photo’s range.  The final photo shows the girls in the procession – and since I’m sure that the rules did not change by the time I made my communion in 1975, the children are likely lined up in alphabetical order.  Therefore, one of those gals is likely my dad’s first cousin, Rita Bergmeister.

Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, PA

Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, PA




5 thoughts on “First Communion, 1941 Style

  1. Hi Donna,
    Your post was especially interesting to me as my youngest grandson just had his First Communion May 2nd. Not being Catholic I have not attended but a few services in the Catholic Church, but the 150 plus boys and girls looked beautiful in their various dress. The girls all wore bridal veils and white dresses; however, the boys wore dress suits with white dress shirts. Your father was such a beautiful child. Thank you so much for this post. I’m trying to learn more about my daughter-in-law’s faith and find it be very rewarding.

    I enjoy your blog and all of your posts, so I’ve left you the One Lovely Blog Award! You can pick it up at my blog, Genealogy Traces. See you there.

  2. I lived in Philadelphia in the 50’s and went to Catholic School. The Procession in the pictures may have been a May procession in which the children dressed in white and marched to an outdoor statue of Mary singing hymns about Mary. Then the statue was crowned with a wreath of flowers. May was Mary’s month and this was a way to honor her.

  3. As an alum of St. Peter’s School who attended from 1964 through 1972, I can point out that these photos show the 5th Street side of the school building. Several row houses on the far side of the telephone pole in the last photo were demolished in 1957 or 1958 in order to build the convent that is still there today. You can just make out an iron gate on the school side of those houses. One of the main exits from the school building was off the alleyway accessed through that gate. Classes would line up inside the school in the hallway leading to that exit, make a right out of the door and another right past the gate. They would then parade north along 5th Street to get to the church building, whose main entrance was on the same street just before Girard Avenue. Typical class size was 30 or so (which is about what most of the classrooms would hold comfortably), so this appears to be either two classes of the same grade, or else one class each of grade 2 and grade 3. There also appears to be a second nun stationed near the point at which the girls and boys divided, mostly hidden behind the banner and possibly carrying it. We only had a single class of each grade in the 60’s, but there might have been enough students in the 40’s to fill two classes of some grades.

    I think these photos are likely to show a First Communion. A May procession would involve the whole school and I seem to remember that we assembled for those in the schoolyard behind the school building, headed out north along Lawrence Street, west on Girard and turned south on 5th to get to the church. We went the long way around for May processions because the line was much longer than the one shown in these photos. Also, the banner would have had a Marian theme, not the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

    They had ditched the white shorts and knee socks by the time I got there. I don’t think the girls outfits had changed all that much, though. Of course we did not wear anything near this fancy or this prone to getting dirty on regular school days – this would only have been for special occasions like a First Communion, a Confirmation (which these kids look a bit young for) or a May procession.

  4. Another thing, for such parades we were more likely to line up in order of height than alphabetically, and it appears that is the case in these photos. Rita may only have been toward the front if she were shorter than most of the other girls.

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