Kicking Old Ladies to the Curb and Catholic Values

elderly woman

According to a news report today, a group of elderly women living in a residence for lower income seniors are being forced out of their homes to make way for younger, more affluent residents by the religious order that has owned the place since the 1940s.

Let’s stipulate that news reports don’t always get the whole story and that this particular one doesn’t have a response from the religious order in it. Here’s the deal: Our Lady’s Guild in Boston has been run by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, whose mother house is in New Britain, Connecticut, since 1947. Its founding charitable aim was to provide safe and affordable housing for single, working, retired, or student women. That last one is key here. And while the order now claims the housing was supposed to be temporary or transitional, they have allowed residents to stay for decades at a time.

In 2012, the order hired a new realty management firm, which began to raise the modest rents. In 2014, long-time residents were informed they would have to move out by the summer of 2018. The property management company also began to advertise higher rents aimed at younger women, prominently international students. The residents have filed a complaint with the city’s fair housing agency that the order is engaged in age discrimination, noting that an ad for renters said it was a residence for women 18 to 50. In 2011, three-quarters of the residents were over 50.

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Sacred Heart Church, Newton

We attended a baptism of some friends’ daughter at Sacred Heart Church in Newton on Saturday. It is a beautiful church built in an Italianate style. I’m no architect expert, but it had the feel of architecture around Assisi.

The church has a fascinating history. At the front, to the left of the sanctuary is a portrait and a bronze plaque with text of a letter from Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State, in the 1930s, thanking the parish for its hospitality in hosting him for a brief stay. Beside the plaque is a very large, very old paschal candle from the Vatican, which was obviously a thank-you gift. Cardinal Pacelli would go on to become Pope Paul VI Pius XII.

Speaking of bishops, the parish has a history of pastors who became bishops. Cardinal Spellman of New York was its pastor at the time he received his episcopal appointment and then Cardinal Cushing was pastor before becoming archbishop of Boston. He was followed by another pastor who became an auxiliary. How you’d like to be the guy who followed him and didn’t become bishop?

The Church should sell all her priceless art… Then what?

Fresco of the Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo Buonarroti, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Fresco of the Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo Buonarroti, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When I hear and read people write something like, “They should sell the paintings in the Sistine Chapel and give the money to the poor,” I wonder, Who are we supposed to sell them to? (Not to mention, they’re not paintings, but frescoes painted on the walls.)

Nevermind that these were painted for the Glory of God to inspire and elevate those who would worship in the chapel. Nevermind that the Church holds them in custody for the good of all humanity. No, what we should do is find someone–probably some billionaire private collector–to buy Michelangelo’s most famous work for millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. So he could put it in his private collection. Or maybe loan it to a museum. Because being in a museum is better than being in a chapel?

But of course then we’d say it was wrong for this billionaire to hold these priceless artworks so he should sell them and give the money to the poor. And then the next owner should do the same. And so on. In fact, who exactly is supposed to own these priceless artworks for the good of humanity and the Glory of God.

The kind of person who says we should sell the artwork in churches to support the poor don’t understand churches. Or the poor, having never visited the churches of poor people where the one spot of beauty and art in their lives is that artwork in their church. Certainly some of the most beautiful churches around Boston, themselves works of art, were built precisely by the poor, donating hours of free labor outside of their own grueling jobs, not to mention whatever meager pennies they had.

The Church is already the world’s leading charitable nongovernmental organization, doing more for the sick, the hungry, the poor and needy than any other.

Really is such drivel really motivated by anything other than contempt for the Church and based on anything other than age-old anti-Catholic canards?

My hope is that as the cardinals contemplate the election of our new Pope as they sit in the Sistine Chapel in the coming days, that the beautiful art of Michelangelo inspires them to greater discernment. I certainly don’t think that would happen if they were sitting in a bland, whitewashed box hung with felt banners.

New chapel dedicated for Boston archdiocese’s pastoral center

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Today, Cardinal Sean O’Malley dedicated the new Bethany Chapel in the new Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in the Archdiocese of Boston. We moved our offices to the new APC back in July, but construction of the chapel took a little longer and it was finally finished in time to be dedicated today on the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux.

It was a beautiful Mass with all the elaborate ceremonies of the dedication of a chapel, including the anointing of the altar, incensation of the chapel, lighting of the altar and chapel, depositing of the relics (don’t know yet which relics), and inauguration of the Eucharistic Pyx. (More on that in a bit.)

I love that the readings for the Mass of dedication includes the Gospel reading of Zaccheus the tax collector. It seems odd at first until you realize that the Church is reminding us that Christ agreed to enter into the home of the repentant sinner and dine with him, just as he enters into our house, our churches and chapels, to dine with us, sinners.

Regarding the name, Cardinal O’Malley said in his homily that it recalls Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and Martha’s invitation to Mary to go to the Lord: “The teacher is here, and He is calling you.” (John 11:28) He sees this an invitation to come to the chapel and to pray and contemplate what the Lord is calling us to. In fact, this verse is inscribed above the altar in Latin: “Magister adest et vocat te”.

Also above the altar is the Eucharistic Pyx, which replaces the traditional tabernacle. This was a particular choice by the Cardinal. It comes from Spain and is a type of tabernacle once used in the pre-medieval period of the Church, especially in the east. It is in the form of a dove, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and hangs directly above the altar. It is on a chain so that it can be pulled down to open the door in its chest to place in and remove the Eucharist. He said such pyxes are mentioned in the 6th century writings of St. Gregory of Tours.

Another feature of the chapel is that all the stained glass windows, including the enormous rose window, come from closed parishes around the archdiocese. The crucifix is the physical connection to the old chapel at the chancery in Brighton, brought over in a special ceremony when we moved.

Meanwhile, the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master are a religious order that has come to the APC to care for the chapel, to operate a small shop of devotionals and vestments next to it, to continue their communal work making vestments, and to pray in Eucharistic adoration every afternoon.

While it may not be the most traditional chapel in form, I think the folks at the archdiocese did a pretty good job of turning what was once a bland office space into a suitable location for worship and the celebration of the Mass. It will be nice to go there for Mass during the week.

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My parish’s religious art as it was in 1916

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Those who are interested in old Catholic church art might be interested in this set of scans I made of a 1916 booklet called Decorations of Immaculate Conception Church, Salem, Massachusetts 1916. The scans include photos of the high altar as well as details and descriptions of art which no longer exists. It has long been painted over, which is a tragedy.

Immaculate Conception, my parish, is the second-oldest parish in the Archdiocese of Boston, after the cathedral-parish, having been founded in 1826. It is also the oldest parish dedicated to Mary in New England, and this weekend we will also celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the current church, which makes it the oldest parish church in eastern Massachusetts. (Only St. Augustine chapel in the Catholic cemetery in South Boston is older.)

At my pastor’s request I wrote an uncredited article that appears in this week’s issue of The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper. We will be celebrating a special Mass at 11am in the church this Sunday with Cardinal O’Malley.

As for the artwork, I offer it for your consideration and for posterity.

And the following is an excerpt from Origin of the Catholic Church in Salem and Its Growth in St. Mary’s Parish and the Parish of the Immaculate Conception, written by then-Father Louis Walsh, a native son of Salem who would later become Bishop of Portland, Maine, in 1890, on the 100th anniversary of the first Catholic Mass in Salem.

The first Dedication of the Church of the Immaculate Conception took place on Sunday morning, January 10, 1858, and seems to have been accompanied with all possible solemnity, as it was the “greatest Catholic ceremony” yet seen in Salem or in Essex County.

The weather was remarkably fine for the season. Long before the hour fixed for the ceremony, the church, excepting the aisles and vestibule, was crowded, and a still larger number of persons remained outside. Many were present who had witnesses the Dedication of Old St. Mary’s in 1832, and a few of these are still living in our parish. Many Protestants came, and were treated with great courtesy and attention, the best seats in the church being cheerfully offered to them. The doors and aisles were guarded and kept open by a delegation from the “Father Mathew Temperance Society” and the “Irish Reading-Room Association,” whose members marched in procession to the church.

In a short preliminary instruction, Father McElroy, S.J., of Boston, explained to the very attentive hearers, the nature, order, and design of the Dedication Ceremonies, and thus rendered them more interesting and impressive. Then, from the sacristy, came the cross-bearer, between two acolytes; next in order several altar-boys, seven or eight priests, dressed in cassock and surplice, the Right Rev. Bishop Bacon, D.D., of Portland, and finally, accompanied by deacon and subdeacon, and arrayed in cope and mitre, Right Rev. Bishop Fitzpatrick, D.D., Bishop of Boston, “whose imposing presence” attracted the especial attention of the congregation. The procession moved down the middle aisle to the outside main door; and after a short prayer by the Bishop, continued around the entire edifice, while the Pontiff sprinkled the walls, and the clergy chanted the penitential psalm, “Misere.” The circuit being made, and a second prayer recited, the procession entered the church; and when all had reached the sanctuary, the clergy and choir chanted solemnly, in Latin, the “Litany of the Saints,” during which the Bishop invoked upon the church and altar “the special blessing” of God, and thereby dedicated it to His honor, under the title of the “Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” A third prayer was then chanted, and the procession moved around the outer aisles of the interior, while the Bishop sprinkled the walls with holy water, and the chant of “psalms of joy” resounded through the sacred edifice. When the sanctuary was reached, a last and beautiful prayer was chanted aloud by the Bishop, and the solemn Amen, closed the Benediction rite.

The doors of the church were then opened to the throng of people outside, and in a few minutes, every available spot was occupied by no less than three thousand persons.

The Solemn High Mass followed …

 

Cardinal coming to celebrate our church’s 150th anniversary 

This year marks the 150th anniversary of my parish’s church. While Immaculate Conception parish in Salem, Mass., was founded in 1826, the current church itself was built in 1857 and dedicated in January 1858. This makes it the oldest parish church in Massachusetts, with a Mass celebrated every Sunday for that century and a half. Only St. Augustine chapel in South Boston’s Catholic cemetery is older.

Next Sunday, Cardinal O’Malley will be coming to Salem to celebrate Mass with us at 11 am to mark the occasion. Here’s a description of the Dedication Mass in 1858, taken from Origin of the Catholic Church in Salem and Its Growth in St. Mary’s Parish and the Parish of the Immaculate Conception by Fr. (later Bishop) Louis S. Walsh, written in 1890. (Bishop Walsh was a native of Salem and later became bishop of Portland, Maine.)

The first Dedication of the Church of the Immaculate Conception took place on Sunday morning, January 10, 1858, and seems to have been accompanied with all possible solemnity, as it was the “greatest Catholic ceremony” yet seen in Salem or in Essex County.

The weather was remarkably fine for the season. Long before the hour fixed for the ceremony, the church, excepting the aisles and vestibule, was crowded, and a still larger number of persons remained outside. Many were present who had witnesses the Dedication of Old St. Mary’s in 1832, and a few of these are still living in our parish. Many Protestants came, and were treated with great courtesy and attention, the best seats in the church being cheerfully offered to them. The doors and aisles were guarded and kept open by a delegation from the “Father Mathew Temperance Society” and the “Irish Reading-Room Association,” whose members marched in procession to the church.

In a short preliminary instruction, Father McElroy, S.J., of Boston, explained to the very attentive hearers, the nature, order, and design of the Dedication Ceremonies, and thus rendered them more interesting and impressive. Then, from the sacristy, came the cross-bearer, between two acolytes; next in order several altar-boys, seven or eight priests, dressed in cassock and surplice, the Right Rev. Bishop Bacon, D.D., of Portland, and finally, accompanied by deacon and subdeacon, and arrayed in cope and mitre, Right Rev. Bishop Fitzpatrick, D.D., Bishop of Boston, “whose imposing presence” attracted the especial attention of the congregation. The procession moved down the middle aisle to the outside main door; and after a short prayer by the Bishop, continued around the entire edifice, while the Pontiff sprinkled the walls, and the clergy chanted the penitential psalm, “Misere.” The circuit being made, and a second prayer recited, the procession entered the church; and when all had reached the sanctuary, the clergy and choir chanted solemnly, in Latin, the “Litany of the Saints,” during which the Bishop invoked upon the church and altar “the special blessing” of God, and thereby dedicated it to His honor, under the title of the “Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” A third prayer was then chanted, and the procession moved around the outer aisles of the interior, while the Bishop sprinkled the walls with holy water, and the chant of “psalms of joy” resounded through the sacred edifice. When the sanctuary was reached, a last and beautiful prayer was chanted aloud by the Bishop, and the solemn Amen, closed the Benediction rite.

The doors of the church were then opened to the throng of people outside, and in a few minutes, every available spot was occupied by no less than three thousand persons.

The Solemn High Mass followed […]

Here is a photograph of the original high altar in the church, after it was finished in later years. This photo was taken about 1905 and was featured on a Confirmation certificate. The pastor at the time of the photo was Father Timothy J. Murphy. Ironically, the present pastor is also named Timothy J. Murphy!

oldimmacconcaltar.jpg

A big fan comes to the rescue of Our Lady of Refuge

bigassfan.jpg

What’s an old Catholic church in Flatbush, New York, to do when summer heat bakes the old stone, un-air-conditioned building? Of course, they turn to a Big Ass Fan. No, really that’s what it’s called.

A Kentucky company with a wicked name – Big Ass Fans – is putting one of its industrial-sized machines in an unlikely place: a Brooklyn Catholic church.

The nearly century-old Our Lady of Refuge Church in Flatbush, where the congregation dwindles every summer because of scorching heat, plans to install the 240-pound fan next weekend.

“Oh my gosh!” church business administrator Judy Agard said. “We might have to change the name. It’s a church!”

 

I also like the name of the parish: Our Lady of Refuge. Now with the B.A.F., that’s what this church will be: a refuge from the heat. The fan has a 24-foot diameter and 10 steel blades—now inscribed with the autographs of the donors who ponied up the $7,500 to install it.

“The name of the company isn’t something that you’d want to put in print, but I had to laugh – it is a big-ass fan,” said Ronald Holder, a parishioner since 1980 who helped spearhead a fund-raising bid that began last year.

Big Ass Fans director of sales Paul Lauritzen said that since 1999 the company has installed its large fans at about 50 churches nationwide, insisting the name has not yet offended the churchgoing public.

 

Frankly, I wish our parish had a B.A.F. in it. Here in New England, you don’t find many air-conditioned churches either and it can get stifling.

 

Follieri revisted again

Sodano.jpg

The FBI has arrested Raffaello Follieri and accused him of fraud for claiming Vatican connections in a scheme allegedly to buy mothballed properties from US Catholic dioceses and re-develop them. (Follieri was allegedly making false claims of close ties to then-Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, right.)

According to the FBI, Follieri claimed the Vatican had formally appointed him to manage its financial affairs and that he had met with the pope in person in Rome.

He is accused of keeping various ceremonial robes, including the robes of senior clergymen, in his Manhattan office, and of hiring two monsignors to accompany him during his business dealings.

Once, according to the complaint, he even asked a monsignor to change out of his robes and put on the robe of a more senior clergyman to create the false impression that Follieri had close ties to the Vatican.

Follieri, Follieri, why does that sound so familiar? Oh yeah! Because I wrote this back in January 2005:

This has at least the appearance of improriety. If [they’re] smart, they’ll keep the Follieri Group at arm’s length, and other dioceses should too.

 

And this in 2006:

Interesting. I just got an email this morning from a high-end private investigation firm looking for more information on the Follieri Group for a client. I wonder who’s doing the asking and why.

I wonder if it was really a private eye or if it was the FBI. If it was really a private eye, maybe they were representing “supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos.” who sued Follieri after accusing him of misappropriating more than $1 million.

Wow, it’s funny to be caught up in the middle of all this, especially since I really don’t know anything about it.

Photo of Cardinal Angelo Sodano is in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Voice of America quoting me on Steubenville church closings (sort of)

Funny, the places you find yourself being quoted. Ted Landphair does a weekly radio segment on Voice of America called “American Life.” This week he looks at the suppression of Catholic parishes in Steubenville, Ohio, home of Franciscan University of Steubenville, my alma mater. He discusses the sad decline of the city and the decrease in population from the steel mill heyday.

He also quotes one of my blog posts from back in May on the closing of Immaculate Conception Parish and the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston. I think he slightly missed the context. The way he quoted me changed the sense a little, I think. See if you agree. Here’s what I wrote:

Do we want churches that are merely monuments to artistic expression and museums of our cultural history? Or should our parishes be places where families gather in community to worship the Lord as a body of believers that image the whole Church and Christ Himself?

And here’s what he wrote:

As the Boston Globe wrote about a constriction of churches in that city, “Each church closing means an irreparable loss of history, continuity, and culture.” And tears for the hard-working families who, in many cases, paid money they could barely afford to make their home churches elegant.

Some Steubenville Catholics have stoically accepted a viewpoint, recently stated by Dominico [sic] Bettinelli Jr., a former editor of Catholic World [sic]magazine, in response to the Boston situation. Churches are not meant to be “monuments of artistic expression,” he writes on his Web log, but rather, in his words, “places where families gather to worship the Lord as a body of believers.”

St. Edmund’s Retreat Center

ChristKing_thumbnail.pngCardinal O’Malley of Boston in this week’s blog entry mentions that he was on retreat with his fellow bishops of the New England province at St. Edmund’s Retreat Center on Ender’s Island in Mystic, Connecticut.

I agree with him that it is a beautiful place. I’ve been on retreats there, twice, I think (or was it three times) including the most recent time in 2004 right after Melanie and I started dating. It was our first public event together with our crowd of friends. I have a photogallery of our trip up here.

Incidentally, the chapel has a wonderful Stations of the Cross. All of the stations incorporate locations around the small island that is the retreat center as well as local flora and fauna and of course the traditional Christian imagery, culminating in an additional station showing Christ the King, Resurrected, and St. Edmund on New Year’s Day.

They are quite beautiful. I’ve had them on my computer for a while and only just now uploaded them to a set on Flickr.com.

If you ever get a chance to go to Ender’s Island, leap at it.

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