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Father John Vien, right, informed parishioner Polly Walsh that the parish would not be celebrating daily Mass at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Webster Groves on March 17. Walsh previously experienced quarantine as a child when her father contracted smallpox.
Father John Vien, right, informed parishioner Polly Walsh that the parish would not be celebrating daily Mass at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Webster Groves on March 17. Walsh previously experienced quarantine as a child when her father contracted smallpox.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Recalling a past quarantine

Polly Walsh has been through this before

Polly Walsh wasn’t surprised when she came to Mass at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Webster Groves March 17 only to find that Masses in the archdiocese are suspended through April 5.

It brought to mind a smallpox outbreak when the senior adult was a child. Her family was quarantined when her father contracted the disease. “Oh, I can remember the day they took that sign down,” she said. A great big yellow sign on the side of the house.”

A friend brought groceries during the three-week period. “She was the only outside person we saw,” Walsh said.

The family had a farm in Rockwell City, Iowa, and they continued with chores, taking care of the horses and cattle.

A state reformatory for women was nearby. “My dad always said they just wrote bad checks,” she said with a laugh.

They escaped sometimes. “They’d wait for the corn to get high.”

Her mother would wait on the porch with iced tea and would invite the women on the porch for a drink. Her brothers sometimes would catch them around the creek, turn them in and get a $25 reward. “At that time, it was a lot of money,” Walsh said.

The reformatory, or prison, had a chapel and the local priest celebrated Mass there.

After successful vaccination campaigns, the World Health Organization certified the global eradication of smallpox in December 1979.

Father John Vien, pastor of Mary Queen of Peace Parish, waited inside church the morning of March 17 to chat with church-goers who were unaware of the Mass suspension. He reminded Walsh to maintain good hand-washing and to stay home, if possible.

St. Louis Review photojournalist Lisa Johnston contributed to this story.

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