In Diebus Illis… Progress Comes To St. Michael’s Monastery

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by Morgan P. Hanlon, C.P.

In my researches I frequently come across little nuggets of information which may be of interest or amusement to our readers, and I shall pass them on as they appear.

For instance, when did the first telephone make its appearance in one of our monasteries? Well, according to the Chronicles of St. Michael’s Monastery 1861-1937, we fmd on page 141, as the last entry for 1905, the following:

The Telephone was put up in this Retreat in November, and the first message sent to the old Telephone, cor. West & Stevens St., West Hoboken, NJ.

I interpret this to imply that there had once been a telephone at the corner of West and Stevens Streets which the brethren were accustomed to use. The first question might be: where is the former Stevens Street? The answer, from a 1911 map of the area in our records, shows that it is the present Monastery Place (20th Street in the numbering order of Union City’s streets). So the “old” phone was on the corner (N, E, S, W?) of today’s Monastery Place and West Street.

It also seems, from the note in the Chronicles, that as soon as the first phone was installed in the monastery itself, one of the monks was sent down to the “old” phone on the corner and a call was then placed to him from the “new” monastery phone to verify that the latter was really working!

Was this “old” phone a truly public telephone in the modern fashion? The existence of a public phone on the corner utilized by the community calls up all sorts of images. Imagine the Provincial or one of his Consultors hiking down to the corner after a Curia meeting and standing there, perhaps in a January blizzard, shouting into the mouthpiece of the apparatus attempting to communicate with the Rector of St. Mary’s in Dunkirk while the passersby gawked and eavesdropped! Those were the “good old days” all right!

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