Monday, August 27, 2012

A Miracle on 29th and Wabash

Monday morning greetings from Chicago. What a weekend! On Saturday, I presented a keynote and two workshops to a group of about 80 initiation ministers in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The day went well; I find myself so energized by the people who do the work of welcoming new members into the church.

I returned to Chicago on Saturday evening. Yesterday morning, a colleague and I rode the "Four Star Bike Tour," a 35 mile trek through the city of Chicago and some of the closer suburbs. I did make it home in time to freshen up and grab a cab to my parish, Saint James. For those who read this blog regularly, you know the affection that I have for Saint James, the place that nurtures me week after week in so many ways.

Well, yesterday, between the 9:30 and 11:30 Masses, we held a "town meeting." Cardinal Francis George, our archbishop, facilitated the meeting. Our church hall, our "worship space," was packed with parishioners.

I got into the hall a little late (my cab driver actually blocked the entrance to the parking lot, effectively blocking the car carrying the Cardinal!) When the Cardinal did arrive, parishioners rose to their feet and offered him a sustained round of applause. As you probably know, Cardinal George recently learned of a return of cancer. It was a very touching moment as he stood before us; I could just feel the support and prayers for him as our community stood and applauded.

Well, I must say that what happened next was one of the most amazing and powerful moments in my Catholic life. We all sat there kind of stunned as the officials of the Archdiocese unfolded the plans for a new church for Saint James parish. There were pleminary drawings of the new site for our church (just a block or two away, but in a very busy and visible area, right on Michigan Avenue). When the Cardinal spoke, he told us of his early memories of "Old Saint James," a historic and important church and parish throughout the history of the Archdiocese. Cardinal George is a native Chicagoan. He told us that this area of the city needs to be served by the Archdiocese and Saint James will be the parish to continue to do so.

I think we were all in a state of shock; many of us thought that perhaps this meeting was to signal the end of our parish, or the merging of our parish, or something akin to it. The Cardinal entertained questions. The first person to come forward, a Christian Brother who has lived in the neighborhood for years, summed up the feelings of most of us in the building when he stood and thanked the Cardinal and the "powers that be" in the Archdiocese, for having faith and confidence in the parishioners of Saint James and in making the decision to give us a future. At that point, the place erupted in cheers and applause. I sat there clapping and weeping. An amazing feeling of being cared for by our shepherd came over me. I thought of the tens of thousands who had been parishioners at Saint James for over 150 years. I thought of those interned in the Civil War prison camp that abutted our parish in the 19th Century who were baptized while they were in prison, baptized by the priests of Saint James in its early years. I thought about the women who brought baskets of food to those prisoners of war. I thought about the fire that nearly consumed the church in the early 1970's and how, despite the fact that the then Cardinal (Cody) examined the property, looked around at the neighborhood and is reported to have said, "Just tear it down," the parishioners, mostly African-American, worked tirelessly to raise the funds necessary to move back into the church several years later. I thought of the (on average) 1700 families that are served by our food pantry every month. I thought of the women and men who faithfully visit and bring Holy Communion to those who have been forgotten or "thrown away" in the nursing homes on the near South Side. I thought about the way that our parish welcomes people. I thought about how we raise our voices in prayer and song week in and week out. I thought about how, despite the fact that the loud subway trains roar past our building (the elevated tracks are only a few feet beyond our buildings), our worship is prayerful and beautiful.

During a time when there is so much depressing news for the Church, yesterday was a real good news moment. I am still stunned by it all. I know that there is quite a bit of work ahead of us. Lots of planning and lots of fundraising need to occur.

I couldn't help but think of what a day of irony it was for our shepherd, Cardinal George. He spoke to us from the heart, telling us that his future is uncertain, given the recent medical diagnosis. For three years now, the parishioners of Saint James have felt that our future as a parish is uncertain. And here stood the man, facing perhaps the last days of his life, telling us that our parish is being given a future of many, many years.

Please, please join me in praying for Cardinal George. And, if you have moment today, please say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for what seems like a miracle for Saint James Parish.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray. 


Lou P said...

Kudos to a very pastoral cardinal! He also encouraged the "miracle on Iowa St.," the site of a tragedy that many of us 50+ Catholic school graduates remember. For Cardinal George, St. Anthony Claret and St. Peregrine are the great intercessors; they are patrons of the cure of cancer. Blessings upon St. James, Our Lady of the Angels, and a miracle upon the cardinal.

Alan Hommerding said...

To me, this is a beautiful and sacramental story. The importance of and the belief in the sign transcends all "common sense" measures by which we might first be tempted to look at it. But, like the water that can fuse a child to the mystical Body, the bread and wine that are the same Body, and the smear of oil which is the seal of the Spirit who enacts it all - - these, too, are all "non-sense" realities.
What a powerful and joyous day - a day that reveals life arising where most would only see death. This IS the day!

FJH 3rd said...

Excellent news for your parish, and my prayers are offered for his Eminence!

Chase M. Becker said...

So glad to hear that St. James will continue to faithfully serve the neighborhood as an active parish!

I'm sure there's still a lot of planning to do, but has there been any discussion of reusing the Roosevelt organ?

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello Chase,
We have another "town hall meeting" on September 9 to discuss these issues. All that was said yesterday was that the "treasures" contained in the current church would be preserved in some way. I have already volunteered to serve on a committee that might look at what to do with the mighty Roosevelt. It has the fattest eight foot diapason I have ever heard. Actually "felt" is a more accurate word to use to describe its power! I'll post soon about the Roosevelt; I have some interesting history about it in my own files.
Thanks for following the blog.

Geoff Duffy said...

What WONDERFUL news! I remember the Monday when Fr. Edward called me and home and began the conversation with, "Are you sitting down?" Then proceeded to tell me that St. James was being forced the close the church building. So, I guess I can now say that I was the last music director to serve in the old historic St. James Church...and possibly the last to play the Roosevelt! I also remember our last Sunday in that space. We have been given exactly one week to "move out." After the last Sunday Mass I, along with some of the college students, moved the tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament into the rectory chapel. It was such a surreal moment as we carried the sanctuary lamp out of the old church. There was no procession and not a lot of people around. Just about 6 or 7 of us. But we spent some time talking about reminiscent this was of God "moving" with the Israelites through the wilderness. We also talked about how, no matter where we would be worshiping in the future, God would surely be there. And, for the next few months that I led music in the "Church in the hall" I no that was the case. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for St. James...only good things I am sure! I think often and fondly about the time I was able to spend at St. James.