Mt. Adams, Cincinnati: 1930s
by Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P.
The Passionist Archives of Holy Cross Province is located in Chicago, Illinois. The Chronicles of Holy Cross Monastery (Sept 1920-1950) offers a glimpse into Passionist life inside the monastery and in the life of the people on Mt. Adams during the Depression.
Feed the Hungry:
Increased poverty was evident as seen by this entry written in the summer of 1930 by the Passionist scribe in the monastery: “All during the winter months food had been given to the needy who begged for it at the kitchen door. They numbered about three or four a day. But due to the prevailing labor conditions their numbers during the months of May, June & July have increased to forty or fifty, morning, noon & night. It is well to note that only a few of these unfortunates are real ‘tramps.’ The rest are honest men, unable to find employment.” In 1931 was written: “Bread line continues during summer months. Meals over one hundred and twenty each day.”
Another source from the Chicago archives shows that local Passionists living at Holy Cross Monastery decided the following at a “local chapter” community meeting on July 11, 1938: “Permission of the Chapter was asked to make a donation of $125.00 to the Good Samaritan Hospital in token appreciation for their kindness toward our community. The good Sisters of the hospital have exercised their charity toward our sick brethren in a superlative degree during the past six months! Seven of our community have been in the hospital-some for protracted periods. The fact was mentioned that the Hospital is now obliged to charge everybody; but the good Sisters have made an exception in favor of Holy Cross Monastery-charging it only ‘bare expenses.’ Because of the many patients of Holy Cross during the past six months it was suggested that the proposed donation of $250.00-and, after some discussion in favor of the larger donation-the chapter cast its vote eight to one in favor of giving the hospital $250.00.”
As was the custom, in August 1930 ten Passionist students were sent to continue studies in Detroit. In September eleven new students came from Louisville. During November 1930 some rooms were painted in the monastery and in February a new communion railing was installed in the monastery-a gift of Miss Ryan. Later on, a hired man washed the corridor. In October 1931 “four showers were put in the basement and four rooms partitioned on the third floor porch or ‘cloister’-for, and by, the students.”
During the autumn of 1932 “the property was beautified by the planting of many evergreens and some poplars around the Monastery and Church. The house was thoroughly cleaned and some pictures in [the] Refectory and secular rooms replaced. A notable improvement was the rebuilding of the stone walls from the front of Holy Cross Church and the corner of St. Paul Pl & Monastery St. The drain at the side of the property toward Celestial street was completed as the soil from the property was being washed down into the back yards along that boundary.”
December 1933: “During the fall months, due to the charity of our benefactors, the Cross on the tower was illuminated with Neon Light and can be seen for many miles. About the same time Misses Sally & Rose Toohey with some friends renovated the Lourdes Grotto completely-an excellent piece of work. They also repainted all the Statues in the Monastery.”
In January 1931 the chronicler noted that people on Mt. Adams began to use the new concrete bridge connecting Ida and Celestial Streets. The cost of the bridge was approximately $100,000.00. The Ida Street bridge was officially dedicated on September 12, 1931. That evening, “natives danced on the bridge till midnight.” There were loudspeakers for those on the platform which included the Mayor, city officials and three Passionsts. Fireworks concluded the evening.
On the afternoon of October 27, 1936 Brother Wendelin did not wish to disturb the local Passionists who were taking their “siesta.” With hopes of being quiet, he decided to enter the monastery through “a window in the laundry to get some tools for his outside work.” It proved to be a bad idea. “Miscalculating the position of certain water pipes he fell to the floor seriously injuring his back & reopening an old hernia.” This led to his being taken to Good Samaritan Hospital where it was found he had a bruised vertebra. He returned to the monastery after 24 days and was unable to “do any more real heavy work.” Sickness raised its head again in December 1936 when a flu epidemic hit the Passionist community.
The St. Gabriel Novena was held from September 13 to 21, 1931. Father Austin, C.P. preached. As usual there was a “procession with the Relics-about 800 people all bearing lighted candles and singing St. Gabriel[‘]s hymn-[Passionist] religious assisted.”
Making the Steps drew large crowds. Good Friday April 14, 1933 saw a large number of pilgrims make the steps. They represented “nationalities.” The writer noted: “It rained from noon on. The crowd was good nonetheless. Ten thousand bottles of Lourdes Water were given away. Pilgrims started coming shortly after mid-night Thursday. The last one was blessed in the Grotto at 11:30 P.M. Friday. He had come 200 miles, from somewhere in Indiana.” The attendance for the March 1934 steps was estimated to be 40,000 to 50,000 people. April 19, 1935 saw an estimated 40,000.
In 1937 Father Agatho wrote the following essay on how Holy Cross Monastery endured the Cincinnati Flood:
“Our situation atop Mt. Adams has, of course, saved us from any loss or inconveniences by actual situation. However, like all others in the city, we suffered from the effect of the flood in the loss of light, heat and water, and in general inconvenience.
Candles were used for illumination. All Masses had to be read by them. St. Gabriel’s novena was carried on, minus preaching, with the help of large candle-sticks arranged down the aisles and around the sanctuary. Throughout the house candles and vigil lights were the only source of light after sunset.
The shortage of water was a real privation. At first there were a few hours each evening when a supply could be had through usual channels. This quickly ceased as the river climbed to new heights. From then on water for sanitary purposes was hauled from the river. Large hogshead were loaned to us for this purpose by [benefactors].
The American Legion supplied us with drinking water which Fr. Luke hauled each day in the parish car. [Officials] of City Hall had a supply of water for toilet purposes delivered here each evening. To these kind benefactors the Monastery owes and returns grateful thanks. All drinking and cooking water had to be boiled for ten minutes, by order of the city authorities.
Under this visitation the brethren remained uniformly patient and cheerful, vieing [sic] with each other in generosity, especially in the labor involved in meeting the water problem. All have remained inexcellent [sic] health, a very signal blessing when we consider the scourge of sickness which recently visited us. Concerning this see the regular volume of the Platea.”
The above historical sample of information taken from the chronicles of The Passionists in Cincinnati speaks early on of the impact of the Depression. As the decade progresses, there is little discussion of the poor coming to the back door. Perhaps it became common place and novel no more. As was typical life inside the monastery was the primary concern. Overall, the Passionists had financial security. The decade also saw continued success of the Passionist-led devotions on Mt. Adams. This is especially the case in that the chronicles have numerous newspaper articles included as part of the historical story.