Tuesday, June 30, 2009

St. James and the Keely Churches

Happy Tuesday to all. 

Yesterday I noted that I was the substitute musician for our music director at St. James here in Chicago. Our church steeple is pictured above. 

Many of you may remember the devastating fire that occurred at Chicago's Archdiocesan cathedral in early February. Holy Name Cathedral was heavily damaged in that fire:

The architect for Holy Name Cathedral was Patrick Keely, who designed scores of churches in the United States in the nineteenth century. I have been fortunate to play for Masses in some of these churches, including Holy Name Cathedral.

I played at several ordinations at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, Massachusetts, pictured here (from a postcard):

I also played at many ordinations, bishops' funerals, and other Masses at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, pictured here:

When I was a seminarian in Boston way back in the late 1970's, I played at another of Keely's churches, St. Peter's Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. The place was, in a word, magnificent. The organ, a four-manual Hook and Hastings, was a shear joy to play. While the organ was a joy to play at St. Peter's, the congregation's singing was lackluster at best. The church building itself was condemned because of structural problems in the 1980's. When the building was condemned, parishioners met for Mass in a large room in the parish school. In that room, I played an upright piano that was badly in need of a good tuning. I will never forget the first Mass I played in the school building. The people sang like they never had in the church building. I guessed that it was because they were in exile in that building. Somehow, the sense of displacement must have moved their hearts and voices. It was pretty amazing.

This brings me around to telling the recent history of my parish, St. James. After the fire at Holy Name Cathedral in the winter of this year, officials from the city of Chicago and the Archdiocese of Chicago decided to visit other churches designed by Patrick Keely, which brought them to St. James. They noticed some cracking in the ceiling and, shortly before Ash Wednesday, they closed our church building. We have been worshipping in the parish hall ever since. And the same thing that happened at St. Peter's in Lowell has occurred at St. James. Now, we have always been a strong singing community. But in the parish hall, our singing has become pretty incredible. It's amazing.

On Sunday, we had several visitors in attendance at both Masses. The organization, Teachers Across America, is sponsoring some kind of month-long event at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a school adjacent to St. James. The catholic young adults in this program came to the Masses at St. James on Sunday. At the 11:30 Mass, they made up about half of the congregation. Two of the pieces of music that were programmed for that Sunday were You Are the Voice and City of God. Neither of these are particular favorites of mine, but they were obviously very well known by these young adults. It was as if I had a strong choir in the room; their singing was splendid. It dawned on me that this genre of music has become very much a part of the fabric of these young adults' Catholic experience. Their jubilant singing was a real sign of hope for me. As we await changes in the English translation of the Missale Romanum, my hope is that these young adults will continue their dedication to singing the music of the Church, especially the chant settings of the Mass and new settings currently being revised composed. 

I hope you enjoyed this post. These churches brought back lots of good memories for me, and humorous one. One Sunday, during a particularly long homily at St. Peter's in Lowell, I decided to stretch out on the front choir pew in the lonely choir loft. It was a hot summer's day and all of the doors and windows of the church were open. I must have begun to dose as I lay there on that pew. The next thing I knew, in my half-sleep, I thought I felt hot breath on my face. I opened my eyes and I was staring squarely into the eyes of a dog that had wandered into the church and had ascended the stairs to the choir loft.

Needless to say, that was the last time I decided to take this kind of rest during a Mass at which I was the organist.

Hope you have a great day. 
Gotta sing. Gotta pray. 


Alan Hommerding said...

The dog just probably wanted to play "Wachet Arf" Jerry! (With apologies to PDQ Bach)

byte228 said...

It's interesting how the space in which the congregation is in can affect their singing, but I wonder if maybe part of it is that they're closer together and to some extent are getting a "mob mentality" which emboldens them to sing. The reason I say this is that in our parish we recently switched to a new Mass schedule with one less on Sunday morning. This has resulted in one of the other Masses having a much larger crowd that fills up more of our space. Since then I've noticed many more singers for some reason.