On three successive days during the past month, thousands of Boston Catholics found themselves the object of a public appeal. It was not just another of the common billboard pleas, begging them to be generous with their money or their blood. The Catholics of Boston were asked, on the sixth, seventh, and eighth days of September, to protect the sanctity of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Catholic religious, of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, from Saint Benedict Center in Cambridge, had invaded Boston to distribute thousands of handbills and to carry several large placards through the downtown streets, urging Catholics to “Stop the Jews from Dishonoring and Desecrating the Blessed Sacrament at Brandeis University!”
Reaction to this electric message was, of course, immediate.
Catholics were sympathetically indignant at the very thought of the Blessed Sacrament’s being dishonored. Jews were beside themselves with rage that such “anti-Semitism” should be allowed in the streets of the city. Even Boston’s lethargic newsmen felt stirred into comment, although their evaluations of the total performance were considerably at variance.
Arthur Stratton of the Boston Herald thought the whole affair had served to strengthen the cause of local Interfaith and wrote for his paper that the public’s reaction to Saint Benedict Center’s “misguided” crusade was “more poignant than a hundred goodwill dinners.”
Donald Guy, of the Boston office of the Associated Press saw a different picture. He exploded in the following censored statement: “You [deleted] troublemakers have revived more race hatred in three days than we’ve seen around here in twenty years.”
By liberal promises of full-tuition scholarships, Jewish Brandeis University has managed, during its seven-year history, to lure a few Christian students to its suburban-Boston campus. Last year, the university announced that it had a “unique Interfaith plan” in the offing. Brandeis was going to construct three chapels, right on its own premises, one each for its Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish students. Architect Max Abramovitz would design the buildings in his finest Talmudic style and the three “conventicles of worship” would be ready in June of 1955.
The thought of a Catholic chapel on Jewish property, with the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the midst of Our Lord’s crucifiers, filled Saint Benedict Center with righteous horror. Immediately a campaign was launched to keep the Blessed Sacrament from being placed within the grasp of the Brandeis Jews. The issue of The Point for May, 1955, was devoted entirely to the matter — exposing, by direct quotation from Brandeis professors, the University’s unashamed anti-Christian program. Publication of these facts was followed by a Brandeis announcement that the June dedication had been called off — no chapel ceremonies until the Fall.
Saint Benedict Center relaxed a bit at that, and even more when the Jews announced in late August that the chapel dedications would not be held until the end of October. With two full months to go, it was decided to present the worry directly to the Catholics of Boston, confident that, although higher Church authorities had indicated that it would be suicide for them to refuse the Jews anything, the Catholic laity might have the courage to raise a voice of protest.
As the Jews assembled on Boston’s Tremont Street, the six Brothers from Saint Benedict Center who were carrying placards in that area recognized a number of them. They were from the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and from a local ghetto-gang called the “Hipsters” — groups which had often turned up as hecklers at Saint Benedict Center’s Sunday afternoon talks on Boston Common, where they sounded forth with remarks like the one by YMHA’s Bill Klein: “Bring on Christ again and we’ll crucify Him again.”
The gathering of Yiddish-shouting youths naturally attracted a curious crowd, and by the time the regiment of young Jews descended upon the six Tremont Street Brothers, more than two thousand people were on hand to view the excitement. Alert Boston police quickly pushed the Jews aside and transported the slightly bruised Brothers, and the remnants of their placards, across the Charles River and into Cambridge.
By late Tuesday afternoon, thirty other members of Saint Benedict Center had reported back from their day in Boston — lacking the glory of a ride home in a police car, but excited with tales of eager Catholics who wanted to know more about the Brandeis affair. The plan to reach the laity was beginning to look successful.
Overwhelming testimony of just how successsful it was came with the next morning’s newspapers. After one day of Saint Benedict Center’s downtown campaign. Brandeis University’s president had put in a nervous call to the newsmen and announced that he would not wait until October to dedicate the Catholic chapel. He would not even wait until the university reopened in mid-September. He would have the Archbishop of Boston come out and dedicate the place right away. A Mass would be said there at nine O’ Clock Friday morning!
This, of course, meant that Saint Benedict Center had lost its two-month opportunity. There were only forty-eight hours left in which to challenge Catholics with the imperative message of the handbills: “ ... You are thus being asked to approve a scheme whereby Our Lord will be turned over to that people which for 2,000 years has rejected, sneered at, reviled, and desecrated Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Catholics of Boston: In the name of the Immaculate Mother of God, this must not happen! Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament must not be betrayed again into the hands of that people who cried out, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him! ... His blood be upon us and upon our children.’ “
The Boston campaign continued during Wednesday and Thursday, which were, respectively, the vigil and the feast of Our Blessed Lady’s Nativity. Twice on Wednesday the now familiar hordes of young Jews assaulted the Brothers and their placards, succeeding, at one point, in tying up Boston’s downtown traffic for one hour. But at the end of the afternoon, thanks in no small part to the vigilance of the Boston police force, the placards were still intact. And young Israel’s blitzkrieg had been openly frustrated before hundreds of sympathetic bystanders.
On Thursday a record number of handbills were distributed. On Thursday night there was nothing to do but wait for Friday morning.
Shortly after 10 AM on Friday, the telephone rang at Saint Benedict Center. On the other end of the line a mockingly musical voice said, “We have your Jesus now!”
The dedication and Mass were apparently over.
The next few days brought contented cacklings from the Boston press, and gloating public statements by Brandeis officials. The following Sunday brought more than 300 young Jews to Boston Commons, where they attempted to break up the Center’s outdoor meeting, shouting foul obscenities in the midst of the prayers, spitting on the life-size crucifix and the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe — all of which served only to sharpen and sustain the bitter realization of that Friday (that day which was so fittingly Friday) when Our Lord was again placed within the grasp of His crucifiers.
In only one hour after the placards and handbills first appeared in downtown Boston. every Jewish organization in the city was alerted. Out of the welter of hastily-called conferences, anxious investigations, and frenzied reports, there emerged, by mid-afternoon of that first day, a statement, concocted by the New England office of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Around this statement, Boston Jewry was content to rally.
Relying on those broad-handed brush-offs which had served Jewish needs so well in the past, the Conference of Christians and Jews termed Saint Benedict Center’s appeal to Boston Catholics, “hate literature.” As though trying to convince itself, the Jew-founded committee offered assurances that “the majority of people who received the handbill know that its scurrilous and untrue statements in no way represent the Catholic Church.” What those “scurrilous and untrue statements” were, the Conference prudently declined to say.
Armed with the Conference statement, the Boston newspapers were ready to swing into action. These local specimens of our national “free press” promptly determined that there were two possible ways of handling the story of what had recently occurred in the streets of Boston. They could print (1) nothing; (2) what the National Conference of Christians and Jews had said.
Half the Boston dailies chose the former alternative, insisting that a series of events which involved, among other things, three major anti-Catholic demonstrations and an hour-long traffic tie-up in the heart of the city, just didn’t fit into the category of “news.” The rest of the papers told parts of the story, but always with one eye cocked on their sensitive Jewish advertisers. Not one of the newspapers gave any indication of what the placards or the handbills actually said. The word “Jew” was scarcely whispered in any of the accounts. The mobs of young Hebrews who had attacked the Brothers carrying placards were variously identified in Boston papers as “bystanders,” “pedestrians,” “angry crowds,” “indignant witnesses,” “untold thousands,” “God-fearing people,” “youths,” “a minority group,” and “others.”
Most loose-tongued of the Boston sheets was the enterprising Herald, which seemed to be worried that a simple news-story might not make its position sufficiently clear to its Jewish friends. The Herald, accordingly, gave one of its reporters a by-line and two columns in which to run on about how “Boston kept its head yesterday.”
Dizzy with the praise this journalistic coup won from the local Jewish community, the Herald next day had its evening version, the Traveler, blossom forth with a Brandeis-lauding editorial. This move proved disastrous. For in the course of acclaiming the Catholic-chapel-on-Jewish-campus idea, the editorial suddenly launched into some reminiscences — offered in the same pro-Judaic spirit — of the time when “it was the custom in most grade schools to begin the day with recitation of the Lord’s Prayer ...” “That custom certainly did a lot of good,” the editorial observed in Yankee summary, “and no harm worth mentioning.”
By virtue of these unfortunate remarks, the Herald Traveler ceased to be the object of Boston Jewry’s admiration and became the object of its contempt. The Jews considered it an unforgivable asininity that a newspaper, setting out to plead the Jewish cause, should be ignorant of the basic proposition that the Lord’s Prayer is no longer said in American public schools precisely because Jews demanded its withdrawal.
Ultimately, two newspapers did tell what Saint Benedict Center was saying on its signs and handbills. But they were not Gentile papers. They printed the messages purely to satisfy that universal Jewish urge to know every word ever uttered against the Jews. The two newspapers were the Jewish Advocate of Boston and The Daily Worker of New York [Communist Party USA’s newspaper].
The Jews, too, were well aware that to have the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament under their jurisdiction was an accomplishment which their forebears, living in Catholic Europe, would have considered a wild, impossible dream. To “stop the Jews” had been the Church’s vigilant concern throughout the centuries — and she had stopped them long before they were within reach of the sacred altar. Confining them in ghettos, depriving them of citizenship, forbidding them to move freely in Christian society, the Church had shown abundantly in practice and teaching that Jews were to be looked on as outcast, perfidious, and cursed.
If Catholic leaders were not now waging war as their predecessors had, the Jews regarded the change as merely a fortunate interval and not an abiding state of things. If there was a truce, it was a tenuous, uneasy, and half-hearted one. (Had not the Vatican recently condemned the English edition of the same National Conference of Christians and Jews which had been Jewry’s foremost champion in Boston?)
The Jews knew that those basic doctrines which had given rise to and sustained the Church’s anti-Jewish policies were still held, still taught. And they knew, consequently, that whatever surface cordiality might presently appear, at heart the Church believes as she believed in the time of Saint John Chrysostom, who is called “golden-mouthed” on account of the doctrinal purity of his preaching, and who said: “The Jews have crucified the Son and rejected the Holy Ghost, and their souls are the abode of the Devil ... It is not insignificant controversies which separate us, but the death of Christ.”
The placing of the Blessed Sacrament on the campus of Brandeis University was a victory which the Jews of Boston could not afford.