Whither the withering apostrophe? - Catholic Courier

Whither the withering apostrophe?

To the editor:

The outpouring, in the June issue of the Courier, of best wishes and congratulations from schools, institutions and 71 parishes to Bishop Matthew Clark on his 25th anniversary as bishop of Rochester is a deserving tribute to one who has served as a truly pastoral chief shepherd.

In reviewing the list of joyous parishes, does this fussy old English teacher detect a trend to eliminate the genitive case — popularly called the possessive case — in the titles of parishes dedicated, not to mysteries in the life of Our Lord or the Virgin Mary, but to individual saints?

Thus, in Father McNamara’s history of the diocese, what was once St. Anne’s Church in Rochester is now St. Anne; St. Salome’s in Irondequoit is now St. Salome; and St. Helen’s in Gates is now St. Helen. Only St. Patrick, so to speak, has held his own, with eight St. Patrick’s parishes and but one St. Patrick in Cato. There are other instances as well.

Not to introduce a foreign note, but when the Anglican bishop and grammarian Robert Lowth in 1762 called what had been the genitive case the “possessive,” he may have contributed to the erroneous belief that the only function of the possessive is to show ownership.

When I say, for example, that my parents’ parish was Corpus Christi, I do not mean that they “owned” it; it indicates, rather, a relationship that is descriptive, not possessive. And that is true, I believe, of patron saints.
It is local customs and traditions, and especially the sound of the saint’s name, that play a determining role. But whether the apostrophe, that wayward mark of punctuation, is present or absent in the title of a parish is far less meaningful than the presence or absence, in the community of the parish, of the love that “endures forever.”

E. Leo McMannus

Sail Point Circle

Venice, Fla.

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