Father Koenig’s life lessons at St. Ludwig’s

Father Koenig put the gloves on me when I was ten years old and directed me toward the kid who was my same size but some two years older. That kid – Billy McLaughlin –  kicked my butt. But I never cried or gave up as I swung wildly at him in efforts to land my own punches.

I learned that I could take a punch and hang in there when things got tough. It was a great lesson to learn at such an early age. Despite the head banging I got.

The good priest had ushered us kids into the church auditorium and given us treats for attending church the first Friday of every month during the summer time. We’d have fun mixing it up with others from the old neighborhood who were being raised in the Catholic School called St. Ludwig’s, a German parish in the Brewerytown section of North Philadelphia.

There was a touch of the old country about the church, with its beautiful stained-glass windows, brought over from Innsbruck, Austria, at the turn of the century. I recently learned that up to 1958, sermons were given in German, and at one time German was spoken in the school. In 1975, attendance had declined to only 50 families and the Philadelphia Archdiocese had to close the church.

Father Joseph Koenig had also taught us that you didn’t have to be a saint to be close to God. You see, the parish priest had a short temper and it sometimes showed when he was saying Mass. The lid to the chalice wouldn’t unscrew properly no matter what he tried in the sacristy of the church. As an altar boy, I’d hear him struggle and then witness what some people would claim to be blasphemy.

He would curse.

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It wasn’t a nasty curse but a mild one that most men of that age would use when things were not going their way. The good pastor would eventually loosen the lid and get back into his priestly role. I learned that I too could curse a little in my working life and not feel the wrath of God hanging over me.

 

StLudwig.png

Dutch Louie’s” is the name we called the old church with loving affection

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Father Koenig would drink a little. I’m not talking about sacramental wine, but something much stronger. You’d smell alcohol on his breath when you’d show up for a social event mostly for adults at the church auditorium. It was grand to see such a religious man being so human.

He’d often go unshaven for days on end. You’d see the stubble as he got close to him wearing his black priestly suit and the white collar surrounding his neck. He looked cool!  He was the type of a guy who could let it all hang out and not try impose a strict way of life for us boys to follow.

Thanks, Father Koenig. You taught us how to live life without the fear of truly living it.

14 comments on “Father Koenig’s life lessons at St. Ludwig’s

  1. John rech says:

    I remember the name sister Josephine Frances but I don’t remember her. Sister Claire was my favorite. Sister Corrine and sister Irmina we’re mean. I also remember father Fox and father Oestreich.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marguerit Moore says:

    God rest his German Soul

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Hello Marguerit Moore,

      Did you know Father Koenig by any chance? Did you attend St. Ludwig’s Church or School?

      I have mostly fond memories of both and have written about some of them.

      — Playing hooky and getting caught.

      — Having a mystical experience while praying as an altar boy.

      — Getting hit by one of the nuns when speaking out in class.

      — And having at least one cute 8th-grade girl comment on hearing me speak on the WDAS radio station when Georgie Woods, “the man with the goods,” played the number one song requested by me and a bunch of pre-teenagers in the early 1960s.

      Like

  3. Dan Behl says:

    Fr. Koenig was stern to me. He’d surprise you now and then.With the stubble that he grew on his face, he would rub it against an older child’s face, like me. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing, but I do not think he knew just how unpleasant it was because he laughed after seeing the surprised look on your face.
    He was a product of his time. Those years, as a priest, must have been tough. I’d like to know his family’s history. Where did he grow up, where were his parents born, when did things happen.

    My family’s good friend was Fr. Bing. He came to our house for social visits. He drank a few beers with my father, but he was the greatest. He didn’t take things to an extreme.

    Do you remember Fr. Fox? I remember that he was a good looking dude. He married my parents. He left our parish before I was an alter boy (age 10) on my birthday in 1955.

    How about Fr. Sherf, the former chaplain? He wanted the alter boys to go real light on ringing the small bell we used at Consecration time during Mass.

    Good memories. We were saved from seeing hurt inflicted on so many kids by priests. We had role models that were close to center, maybe off a degree or two, but good people. Fr. Koenig was one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Who could ever forget Father Koenig rubbing his stubble of a beard against your soft and tender face? I forgot about it until you just mentioned it. It did hurt. A little. But, he seemed to get such a kick out of it!

      I don’t remember Father Bing or Father Fox that well. I do remember Father Sherf and am grateful to learn that he was a chaplain. I didn’t know it.

      He counseled me when Sister St. Claire had accosted me after learning I had played hooky in seventh grade. She kept pointing her finger at my chest, trying to get me to tell her who stayed out of class with me when she backed me up and I fell down the steps at the top of the second-floor landing which was just outside the seventh and eighth-grade classrooms.

      I wasn’t hurt, but she relented and didn’t push me anymore. She did tell Father Sherf how I refused to come clean about my partner in hooky crime. He simply smiled at me and called me a young Jimmy Cagney and kind of winked at me in a conspiratorial fashion. I’ll never forget that moment.

      I wrote about it a few years ago:

      https://contoveros.com/2010/08/12/i-confess-cut-school-with-franny-oneill/

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mike… I remember those stairs going down to the first level. The boys and girls bathrooms were at the bottom, and the back door to the auditorium. If you walked out the exit door by the bathrooms, you were on Newkirk Street and could walk directly across to my Grandmom Hamilton’s front steps. And, if memory still serves me, those stairs were where Sr. Josephine Francis doubled over from the pain of acute appendicitis and we had to join another class for a few weeks while she recovered from her surgery… but I can’t recall if it was 4th or 6th grade, since I had her for both.

        Liked by 1 person

        • contoveros says:

          Sister Josephine Francis was my all-time favorite teacher. I too had her for both fourth and sixth grades. She helped me to develop a love for history when explaining the ancient stories of Greece and the Roman Empire.

          She left a mark on mostly all of the kids who entered her classroom. I’ll never forget her and will always sing her praises!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Dan… I don’t remember Father Fox… but he was the priest at St. Ludwig’s who baptized me in January 1948 when I was 1 month old. There was a priest named Francis E. Fox at Cardinal Dougherty where I went to high school, and I often wondered if he was the same Father Fox… coincidentally, his picture in the 1965 Dougherty yearbook proves that he was “movie star” good looking.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. contoveros says:

    Facebook friends offered the following:

    Barbara Quinn Osborne
    Great article. I too have fond memories of Father Koenig as I attended school there and graduated in 1958!

    Contoveros
    You couldn’t ask for a better parish priest. Great with grown-ups and super with the kids.

    Kind of like a German Father O’Malley from “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby!
    ——————–
    Luba Schmid
    Love your story!

    Contoveros
    He was a helluva priest, a helluva man who affected nearly everyone he came into contact with on this earth.
    ——————–

    Frances Eberwine Holod
    LOVED IT MICHAEL.
    SO MANY GOOD MEMORIES OF ST LUDWIG’S!

    Contoveros
    “Dutch Louie’s” will always be the shining light in so many of our hearts. Except for a few of the nuns, but I won’t mention their names right here . . .

    Sister St. Clair. Oops. The devil made me do it!
    ——————-

    Jacob Woodrow Shelton
    That’s a great read, Mike! When I finally settle into book reading again I need to read your book through.

    Contoveros
    The taught you how to read at Bob’s Auto Parts? Good to see you on this site my young rascal friend!

    —————–

    Diane Hamilton Burrus Pomponi
    Oops . . . Am I the only one with a not-so-nice story about Father Koenig??? My mom and dad eloped to Elkton MD to marry. After about 9 years, they wanted to have their marriage blessed in the church. Father Koenig refused to marry them until my father went through instructions… despite the fact that he was a life-long Catholic who had even attended St. Ludwig’s as a child.

    Father Koenig was upset that my father had agreed to have my mother’s tubes tied while she was still unconscious following her second caesarian delivery… when her physician (Dr. Schneiderman) told him that my mother would die if she had another baby… and they already had three children. Luckily, the assistant pastor, Father Bing, became aware of their story and, kind man that he was, told my parents to come back to the church and HE would oversee their exchange of vows.

    I will always remember sitting in the front pew with my brother and sister and watching my parents renew their vows with Father Bing’s blessing in the downstairs church of St. Ludwig’s. Loved Father Bing.

    Contoveros:
    I’m sorry to hear that. Thank goodness a more compassionate outcome was reached despite the cruel teachings of the Catholic church for so many people in desperate situations.

    I believe it was Father Bing who said Mass at 10:30 am on Sundays. He was the quickest of the priests and you could always count on getting in there and getting out in a short period of time.

    Diane Hamilton Burrus Pomponi
    I think he went on to become the pastor at St. Henry’s at 5th and Hunting Park.

    Contoveros
    You really know your St. Ludwig’s history. Thanks!

    ——————-

    Jack Wilson
    I remember Sister Marie Paul she taught me about Holy Communion and was extra nice to me for I came from Robert Morris and lost two ears on the move.
    Still say prayers for her.

    Contoveros
    My favorite nun was Sister Josephine Frances. She taught us history and I appreciated a look at my heritage about Greece . . .
    She could also be a disciplinarian, but a good one, if you know what I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I went to Catholic School as well — I love how you interpreted his “human-ness” if I may say it that way. For me, it was the nuns — they would tell us one thing, but then do a complete other themselves. I always saw it as hypocritical. We’d get punished for cursing, but they’d be cursing up a storm. We’d be stuck doing Hail Mary’s for what seemed like days, but it was alright for the grown-ups to swear.

    I lost a lot of my faith in religion because of that. Not my faith in God. But in religion.

    I love how you saw this… Father Koenig seems like he was a cool guy!

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Yes, several of the nuns were hypocrites and really mean at times. I remember Sister St. Clair knocked me down a flight of steps when I wouldn’t tell her who I had played hookey with while in the seventh grade. One of the parish priests showed up later and smiled at my antics, calling me a little Jimmy Cagney who would never “rat out” his friends in the movies.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Great story about just being yourself. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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