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1957: Doctor’s Stained-Glass Struggle Against Daughter’s Marriage

On August 30th, 1957, a respected family physician from Pleasantville, NY, Dr. Joseph A. Porcello, made a bold move in protest against the Catholic Church’s refusal to block the wedding of his daughter, Claire Frances Porcello. In a shocking display, Dr. Porcello threw four rocks at a stained-glass window on the 50th Street side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, more than an hour after his daughter had already gotten married to her former high school English teacher, Frank Peters, inside the same cathedral.

St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1885, prior to the two spires being added in 1888.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1885, prior to the two spires being added in 1888. From the front cover of Harper’s Weekly, October 10, 1885.

Despite being unaware of the ceremony, Dr. Porcello was quickly grabbed by others inside the cathedral, just after the noon Mass, and held for police. He was then arrested for disorderly conduct and pleaded guilty in Upper Manhattan Court. He was released on parole until his sentencing on September 13th.

Fortunately, none of the four rocks that Dr. Porcello had pulled out of his medical bag managed to hit the window.

“I tried hard—I was angry,” he said, “but I am glad that I did not hit a window. It was the hand of God that prevented that.”

The physician, who had no personal objections to Peters, a Princeton graduate student, simply wanted his daughter to wait until she was older and had written to the Pope and Cardinal Spellman to enlist their aid but received no reply.

Dr. Porcello’s wife, Frances, learned of the marriage from a reporter and expressed her disappointment, saying that they had asked for the couple to wait another ten months, which she considered reasonable. However, a spokesman from the New York Archdiocese explained that while parental consent is customary for marriages of those under 21, it is not an absolute requirement.

On October 1, 1957, Dr. Porcello sought to change his plea in Probation Court.  His lawyer, Harry Hasselman, explained that Porcello was under intense mental stress at the time of his original guilty plea and wished to plead not guilty. The Magistrate assigned to the case, Larry Vetrano, directed Hasselman to see Magistrate Vincent Rao, who had previously received Dr. Porcello’s original plea and had granted him parole on August 30th.

According to Claire Frances Porcello Davis’s obituary, she would go on to earn a B.A. from SUNY New Paltz and a Master’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She worked as a Teaching Assistant in Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School and later as a teacher in the Troy City School District. She passed away on December 30, 2021, and was survived by her son Peter Peters and daughter Laura Caceres, 6 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.

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