In the year 1854, the Franz Xavier and Maria Barbara (Helbling) Helbling home was across from the Allegheny Cemetery and halfway between Sharpsburg and St. Philomena’s Roman Catholic Church. The Redemptionist Fathers of St. Philomena’s often stopped at the home of the devout Helbling family when traveling between the Church on Fourteenth St. and Sharpsburg. (The home was still standing in the 1930s, but 4807-4809 Butler St., Lawrenceville, PA, is now an empty lot.) German Catholics were very devoted to parochial schools- they felt their children should start their day with a Mass and that they should be schooled in a Catholic school. The Helblings had eleven children, and there were many more children of German Catholic families in the town of Lawrenceville, PA, near Pittsburgh which was rapidly becoming an important industrial city.
The Helbling children attended the English-speaking school at St. Philomena’s on 46th St., but it was quite a long way to travel. Father John Hotz, C.SS.R. visited the Helblings at their home in the fall of 1854, and asked if the Helblings would board a teacher who could instruct their children. A schoolroom was set up on the second floor of the double house, and the teacher arrived.
Nine of the Helbling children attended school with this teacher: Elizabeth Barbara, Francis X., William, Philomena Rosanna, Catherine Josephine, Mary Sophia, John Baptist, and Joseph Anthony Helbling; sometimes Bertha Louise, just 2 or 3, attended class. The teacher was very stern and strange, only left the house on Sundays to go to Mass, and wore a long black robe but was not actually a priest. (He may have been a Redemptorist lay brother but no information has confirmed this.) He prayed to a picture of Our Lady of Guadeloupe constantly. The story told is that when, one day, Mrs. Helbling sent little daughter Bertha Louise to get some corn cobs from the yard, the child returned with them and said, “I got them.” The teacher, not being very fluent in English, thought that the child had said a curse word, and said, “Bertha Louise is surely going to hell.”
The adults in the family soon began to question the eccentric behavior of this teacher that their children greatly disliked and feared. The family never even knew his name- he was always just addressed as “Teacher.” As a mother, Mary Theresa (Knipshield) Helbling feared for her children that the teacher was about to lose his mind, and asked Father Hotz to dismiss him from their school and home. Fr. Hotz transferred the teacher to a school in Sharpsburg, where he did in fact lose his mind and have to be removed. Nothing further is known of him.
To be continued…
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) St. Augustine’s Parish History 1863-1938. Personal copy from a cousin, but the entire history may be found online at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~njm1/StAugJub-TC.html, page 11. Accessed 1-22-2014.
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