Little Down Neckers Part 3 (circa 1909)

by Charles McGrath


Father John Preston was the pastor of Saint Aloysius Church from 1914 -1928. He was the fourth pastor of "St. Al's'. During his 14 years as pastor he was truly looked upon as a leader. Back then few people had more than a primary education. Many more had less and than like my Grandfather some had none.

The priest, doctor and teacher were the educated. The former being the one who you sought out in time of difficulty. The form of communication was that of a monologue rather than a dialogue. The solution or the answer to the problem he gave was thought to be gospel.

During the hot summers the children of Down Neck had few places other than the street for enjoyment.

True the city did have some respites to the shore for kids. But this was not workable with some kids not unlike my father. The one exception being the swimming at the Passaic River and the Morris Canal.

The Morris Canal was adjacent to the Passaic River and was a vestige of the past. It was no longer functional as a canal after 1915. Both bodies of waters were thought by some to be no more than sewers; however, it was water. I'm sure hundreds of kids enjoyed the unsupervised fun that it provided.

Many years back I visited my Uncle James in the hospital right before he died. We were talking about his experiences as a youth Down Neck. While over the years he and others had told me many, this one was exceptional.

He and his many friends were swimming in the Morris Canal for most of the day. As with most kids in water there is a lot of fooling around and horse play. No one is really looking after one another. When it was time to go home one little boy was missing. He didn't go home and there was no other place to go. When all the checks were made it was assumed that he may have drowned. A large number of people were assembled along the sides of the canal. There were a lot of would be rescuers in the water looking for him. The problem was that they weren't sure where he slipped under the water. As daylight was fading it emphasized that something had to be done quickly. Someone suggested getting the priest.

The tragedy was explained to Father Preston at the rectory. He hurriedly put some things together and left for the canal. When he arrived all eyes were upon him.

I wonder if he knew what he was going to do. Sometimes In leadership others look at you and little do they know you don't have a clue what to do.

I'm sure silence prevailed as he stood along the side of the canal. He had brought his Chalice with him.

In the silence he probably prayed in Latin. He then took a host from the Eucharist cup and dropped it in the water. The wafer floated on top of the water as expected. But what amazed everyone was that it moved in a circular motion. This went on for a while in the deathly silence. Then it stopped moving. Father Preston pointed to that spot in the canal and said check that area. Several jumped into the water and the boy's lifeless body was found within seconds.

My Uncle James said that was a sight he would never forget.


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