At 6 weeks old, baby Donny Howard and his family moved into the house next to us. For over 45 years, the Howards and our family shared a common wall. The Howards were the most Irish-Catholic family I have ever known, even with George Howard not being Irish and a Baptist to boot. They sang songs around the piano; there were wonderful smells of foods coming from Agnes Howard’s kitchen. But what I remember the most was the laughter that you could heard coming from their house. Even if there were only two of them together, you could hear the laughter and the love of life they shared.
Growing up on the upper part of Buchanan Street in Phoenixville, three people living in the six rowhouses there shared a birthday — me, Pauline Vasko Dolony and Don Howard — June 14 (all different years).
I was thrilled to have a baby so close at hand. He became my closest childhood playmate. He was a little younger, so I always tried to take the lead. Told that he and I could walk around the block if we held hands, I would hammer lock his hand in mine and drag him around the block.
Don attended St. Ann’s School (today Holy Family) on Third Avenue. Finishing the eight grade there, his direction took steps to what would become his life’s calling and work. At the young age of 14, he entered St. John’s Atonement Seminary in Montour Falls, N.Y. He began his spiritual training at St. Pius X Seminary, where he received a BA in philosophy. His education continued when he received his MA from the University of Notre Dame.
In June of 1972, he was ordained a priest with the Franciscan Friars of Atonement. My family, as well as the whole neighborhood were lucky enough to attend his first Mass at his home church, St. Ann’s. After the Mass, there was a dinner, followed by a large neighborhood party.
He recalls the old neighborhood — the water fights with garden hoses in the summer, as well as porch sitting, the banging of pots to bring in the New Year.
His work was in liturgy and spiritual ministries for the church and lay people as well. In 1988, he began 25 years at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Virginia, first as an assistant, then becoming the pastor.
In 2013, he said, he retired from full-time ministry. Retired may not be the correct term. Father Howard continues to work in the Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia area with his special interests, one being celebrating Mass with Spanish-speaking congregations.
Along with his real-life sisters (not the nuns) Marilyn Miller and Ellen Piaska, the decision of what recipe to share was debated. Memories of barbecued hamburger at St. Ann’s booth at the Dogwood Festival won out. The three prefer it to be served on a “snowflake roll,” but potato rolls are OK.
An Agnes Howard recipe
1 lb. ground beef
1 tbsp. butter
½ cup diced onions (2 onions)
½ cup ketchup
1 ½ cups Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. celery seeds
Parsley to taste
Dash of onion powder
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. Heinz chili sauce
Brown ground meat in butter. Combine remaining ingredients together. Add in browned meat. Simmer for about one hour. Spoon over “snowflake” rolls or rolls of preference. Oh, so good!
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