Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Requiem for a Parish

After 9am Mass at my parish of St. Anthony's, I made the drive back home to North Tonawanda to attend yet another Mass. This time, I was not going to fulfill my Sunday obligation, which I prefer to do at St. Anthony's where I can attend the more ancient Liturgical form of the Mass, but in order to say good bye to the parish I grew up in.

As I had mentioned earlier in this blog, the Church where I went to school, made most of the sacraments, and grew up within is now closing. Today was the final Mass before locking the doors.

I arrived two minutes before the Mass began, and walked into a standing room only. There were so many cars that people were parking all up and down Payne Avenue. I spotted my friend Anne in the congregation, and snagged the seat in her pew which she was saving for me. This was to be the second Mass for both of us today, though as we agreed, we are probably still going to Hell none the less.

It was a very sad day for many of us, and by the time the Mass was over, most people had tears streaming down their faces. So much in that building brought back memories of my youth. Even the smell of the incense that was being used (yes, there are multiple scents and types), reminded me of happy moments of days gone by.

At the end of the Mass, the pastor removed the altar stone from the altar, so as to deconsecrate the altar. He processed with it down the isle to the front doors of the Church where we all followed in procession. Once outside, we all gathered around as Father offered one more final blessing upon those gathered, and with eyes filled with tears, closed and locked the doors to St. Joseph's one last time.

About 600 of us gathered for a bbq in the back, where multiple tents had been assembled. There were people there I hadn't seen in years, and the event became a sort of reunion for me, as well as a parting. We all sat around talking, laughing, and sharing our memories of living within the parish community all these years as well as what was going on in our lives currently.

There was a sister there whom I recognized from the Franciscan Sister of St. Joseph, who staffed the parish school until 1990. I went up to her, and as it turned out, my memory was right. It was Sr. Conrad whom I had met when my mom took me to register for Kindergarten at St. Joe's back in 1986 (I think). She was then principal at St. Joe's, but later transferred to another school. It was nice to talk with her, and the other sisters who were there from the Mother house in Hamburg. I found out that my first grade teacher, Sr. Dorothy is not doing well physically, so I am trying to find a day when I can go up to the Mother house to see her in the near future.

I had so much fun laughing and remeniscing with everyone there. Some of my first students from when I began teaching Religious Ed back in the 90's were there. I started out teaching Kindergarten, and then moved to third grade where I had to pleasure to teach some of the same students again. One of the boys whom I taught my first year is now a Junior in High School!! After talking with his mother, we both agreed that we felt old!

It was a wonderful celebration, but in our hearts, it was also a type of funeral. After 61 years, that parish community is no more. I over heard one woman, who was there for the dedication of the parish back in 1947 say: "You imagine that these houses of God will serve as our spiritual home until the end of time. You never imagine they will close." It's so true.

Catholic Churches are not the only denomination that have had to scale down their parishes, merge, and close doors. People of real faith are becoming an endangered species. There are some who would argue that religion is becoming irrelevant in our society, but I feel we need it now most of all. People need to learn that THEY as the individual are not the beginning and end in this life. Just look around and see how well we've done as a people without faith in something greater than ourselves.. without trusting in God.

Though it is just brick and mortar, it was my spiritual home for so long... and nourished the beginning of my journey of faith which continues on. Though it is hard to see it close, the faith I have gained from my years there, and the love I felt from so many wonderful friends, teachers and clergy will carry with me in my heart always... and I hope, I can touch other people's lives and hearts by following the examples of charity and love that I was so fortunate to have in my life from such an early age.

In Memoriam: St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church - North Tonawanda - 1947-2008

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