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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Father Fealey: 1920

Father Fealey: 1920

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Father Fealey and family." Ignatius Fealey, post chaplain at Fort Myer and future pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5


This is definitely a family funeral photo. Most that I have seen were taken inside, often with a photo of the deceased displayed. All family members, and often a clergyman were included. To me, there is no question as to what it is.


Great detail in this shot. The man sitting on the left has two flies on his leg and the lady all the way on the right has one big one on her skirt. I wonder when was the last time they washed their clothes to draw in the flies?

I have to agree there is something unsettling about this picture. Maybe the lack of smiles that we are accustomed to in family portraits nowadays or that fact that all the men look very similar. I have to say that they all seem to have very dark eyes too. Not in terms of color but in the sense that there is no "light" in them. Cruel eyes almost.


Which one is the scariest?

Friar Fealey family

Finely frocked Fealeys fronting fenestration. For Friday fun? Forever forgotten.

There ain't no flies on me

and is there a possibility this group may be Irish?

The lady on the right

definitely seems rather perturbed at the man behind putting his hand on her shoulder. As myeki suggests there is something not quite right here. One wonders what might have been going on behind the scenes.


is the spitting image of his father.

What a difference a smile makes

The one woman in the front smiled and thus almost 100 years later her warmth still shines through -- the rest of the folks in this shot strike me as angry, morose or bored (and I know I wouldn't want to go down in posterity, or on the Shorpy website -- looking this awful!) And funny, I would have sworn this picture was taken in oh, 1905, tops because of the dress of the women. Weren't women by the 1920s wearing much more colorful and/or short and fashionable gear? And I would bet the boy and girl on the far right are brother and sister. Their looks match (both in facial features and crankiness!

Unfortunate name

for his profession if he were a priest in modern times

Hardly creepy

This is no better or worse than most people's family photos. Tell eight family members today that they MUST dress formally for a picture and you'd get similar reactions. And really, if you had an axe murderer (or two) in the family, wouldn't it be creepier if he/she were grinning broadly in the family picture?

Or is it because:
- a couple of the men have wider collars and potentially longer necks than Fr. Fealey?
- bad haircuts may have been the norm during this time?
- we think we hear the fly on the knee of the man in the front calling "Help meee! Help meee!"?

So many stories

Seems like it might be a funeral pic, with the dress of all the women. The men look like they're in a hurry to go and settle some scores. I will as a former altar boy resist the urge to comment on the name.

Re: Slighly Creepy

I was thinking the same thing. Maybe it was just a hot humid day and everyone was moody.

Something wicked this way comes

I agree with myeki---there's something sinister going on in this family===yikes!

A bunch of sourpusses

Some look bored instead of downright angry, but no one is happy to be here.

Perhaps cheese hadn't been invented yet.

The map of Ireland on every face

A fine collection of Celtic mugs, especially the presumably redheaded young woman on the right and the patriarch at the front left.

The (fictional) story behind this photo

I'm surprised that I haven't found any other regular Shorpyite doing this before; we've seen very good colorizations, and we've learned a lot of facts and modern day references through these photos, but, when have we seen a small story developed around one?

So, if you allow me, I will try to start a new "Shorpy Sport," describing what *could* have been happening when this picture was taken.


It's early Summer in 1919, and father Ignatius came visiting his folks after leaving the seminary, freshly ordained in the latest ceremonies. He stayed home for a few days, but now he has to go; he is on his way to a distant parish, perhaps even in other country. Catholic priests have to do that rather frequently. His parents were both sad to see him go, but also proud that one of their children had reached the goal they had always wanted for him: to become a priest. But that doesn't make good-byes any easier, so, before the young priest boarded the cab that was going to take him to the station, Father asked a neighbour, photographer by trade, to take a picture of his family.

Fortunately, the neighbour agreed, and soon the group was arranged in front of their small house. Seated up front are Mr and Mrs Fealey and her two daughters. The girl seated by Dad was the youngest, and is the only one who can still look at the future with enough hope as to crack a smile in this otherwise solemn moment. Behind them, standing, the Fealey boys, all six of them, stood behind their parents and sisters.

Father Ignatius stands in the middle of his family. He looks around, and smiles. His family was pretty much the average family of his day; you didn't try to avoid getting pregnant and having kids, on the contrary. The more kids you had, the better. Eight kid families were not a rare occurrence, and, if they had been living in Mexico, one of the sons would have been encouraged to embrace the priesthood (as it happened here), another would have been encouraged to follow a career in the military, and the others could have followed Dad in his business career.

Speaking of Mexico, perhaps that's where father Ignatius is headed to, and hence the reason for the gloomy faces on his family members. By the time this photo was taken, there was a growing tension between the new post-revolutionary government in Mexico and the catholic church authorities, and probably there were rumors about the imminent proscription of the Church and the persecution of priests, nuns, and devotees. But maybe that was just a wild rumor; besides, father Ignatius had received his orders, and he was confident his faith would see him through whatever conflicts he might face in the future.

The photographer adjusts the camera settings, giving instructions to the group. "a little to the left ... a bit more to the right ... now, smile!". Alas, that last instruction was lost in the air, since nobody, except younger sister, could hear it. The old camera makes its distinctive clicking sound, the flash powder burns in a brilliant streak of light, and the last family portrait the Fealeys would have for who knows how long is finally taken.

Just in time. Right by the curb awaits the cab. The driver has placed the trunk with the few belongings of father Ignatius on the rack over the back bumper of his Dodge car, and secured it firmly with leather straps. He's waiting; he knows the young priest will want to give his parents a good-bye kiss, and that the scene will become even more emotional. But the young priest better hurry; he has a train to catch. If only he could wait for this picture to develop and print ... but hopefully, his sweet mom will send him a copy to the parish where he'll be saying mass for the next years.

The taxi driver looks at his pocket watch. They'll have to hurry to get to the station in time.

Makes you wonder

All the men look self-satisfied and content. All the women look uneasy, if not downright miserable. The oldest woman might be posing after being locked in a prison for 30 years.

With a name like Fealey, is it safe to assume that this was a predominantly Irish-Catholic parish? There are volumes of personal history in that group.

Slightly Creepy

There's something a bit unsettling about this photo.

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