Splitsville: bowling alleys and churches part company

For the life of me, I can’t remember ever attending a church that had a bowling alley, but evidently it was a big deal for a while in some parts of the country.

But that’s changing.  This, from USA TODAY:

When Max Carson watched his bride Nancy walk down the aisle at St. Ann Catholic Church at their 1974 wedding, organ music was accompanied by the unmistakable sound of balls crashing into bowling pins.

“I said ‘I do’ and bowling balls were flying,” says Carson, 62, who didn’t know then that the St. Boniface Bowling Alley, built in 1945, was in the church basement. Now he plays in the Has-Beens League every Wednesday morning in the four-lane alley.

“I always joke that if I preach too long, people go downstairs and start bowling,” Pastor Terry Cassidy says.

St. Ann’s little bowling alley is almost as popular now as it was after parishioners created the hideaway, which has a bar and dining room. It was rebuilt after a fire in the 1960s. Two leagues, one for men and another for women, play on Wednesdays, and parties are booked for almost every Friday and Saturday night, manager Jim Seppelt says.

Church bowling alleys are disappearing fast. There are probably fewer than 200 left , says Neil Stremmel, of the U.S. Bowling Congress.

Doug Schmidt, author of the 2007 book They Came to Bowl: How Milwaukee Became America’s Tenpin Capital, says that city once had at least 13 church bowling alleys. “They came with German immigrants in the 1860s,” Schmidt says. “Most closed in the 1980s or ’90s.”

Read more.


  1. Ken Maleck says:

    The parish I grew up in had a 4 lane bowling alley under the sanctuary. Youth group took turns working as pin boy (or girl) while others kegled!
    They had a couple of weeknight leagues, too, complete with stocked bar!

  2. Sean Gallagher says:

    My home parish in Shelbyville, IN had a two lane alley in the basement of the school. My dad worked as a pin setter at it. I think they were indicative of the perceived (and often real) need of the Church to establish a whole culture and society within itself for the faithful.

    The alley at St. Joe would have been established fairly close to the time when the KKK burned down a Catholic church about 5 miles from my home parish. So we really didn’t always feel welcomed in the broader community.

  3. While not a bowling alley, there was a beautiful old Rathskeller in the basement of my old church in Chicago. It must have been one heck of a social club. The ladies of the parish had their own separate social room decorated in similar manner.

  4. Who knew? I’ve never heard of such a thing…and I wasn’t born yesterday! Guess that gives the term “holy rollers” a new meaning! Must have just been in a certain area of the country.

  5. WOW!! How cool! I never knew.

    More evidence of how rich and textured our Church is. :-)

  6. ron chandonia says:

    As Sean Gallagher suggests, these something-for-everyone facilities were created so that Catholics could be protected from the often-hostile communities where they lived. In the northern cities, especially, immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries could seek out not only religious but ethnic compatriots in their parish gyms and social clubs. As their members prospered, these parishes added increasingly elaborate amenities, including bowling alleys.

    Something similar has occurred in the African American Protestant mega-churches that flourish in urban environments like Atlanta. They are not just religious but also social centers, offering a wide range of activities (sometimes around the clock) in environments far safer and more wholesome than the communities in which many of their members live.

  7. It wasn’t only Catholics who were part of the facilities. It was a neighborhood place. The Shanahan Catholic Club in West Philadelphia was founded by the pastor of Our Mother of Sorrows parish in 1895. (Why? because he said: “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”) They had renowned track and field and basketball teams.They even had a spirit song, “Shanhan, O Shanahan.” A Jewish friend of my father used to say that he played sports at Shanahan and was therefore a member of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish. The club closed in 1967.

  8. pagansister says:

    Guess they helped keep the kids “off the streets”.

  9. Sean Gallagher says:

    At the archdiocesan newspaper I write for in Indianapolis, I did a fun article a few years back on the centennial of a parish that, at its founding anyway, was a Slovenian national parish (it didn’t have boundaries so that Slovenes, wherever they lived, could be members of it–at that time, parish boundaries meant something).

    Well, in the late 40s or early 50s, they built a roller rink on the parish campus. I found a great photo of the pastor of the parish at the time with a big smile on his face and with scissors in his hand getting ready to cut the ribbon for the rink. And surrounding him were a group of boys and girls all wearing their roller skates and ready to go.

    The building where the rink was at was later torn down and was replaced a few years ago with a gleaming new archdiocesan-run shelter for homeless families–the only one of its kind in Indianapolis.

  10. USAToday ? really?

  11. Did anyone else notice that the Bowling Alley got top billing over the Adoration Chapel? Hmm.

  12. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    Really. Someone once asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. He replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” I link to places like USA TODAY and the NY TIMES because that’s where the story is.

    I also link to items from Catholics News Service, the National Catholic Register, a variety of local Catholic newspapers and magazines, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Fox, and a wide range of blogs.

    Depends on where the story is.

    Dcn. G.

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