Friday, October 26, 2007

St. John Cantius in Detroit, MI.

Today the Detroit News/Free Press did a very sad story about the closing of St. John Cantius parish in Detroit, MI. While this parish is not unique in that it is but one of a number of Archdiocese of Detroit parishes that are being closed or clustered, it is unique because of its great beauty. Below is the Detroit News/Free Press article in its entirety, with my commentary in red (Fr. Z style). This is an excellent article and I want you to notice one theme: the effect of the aesthetic beauty of the Church on the "sense of the sacred" experienced by the faithful (all photos from St. John Cantius parish).

Worshippers bid a fond farewell as parish holds last Mass

Mark Hicks / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- At Christmas some six decades ago, the beauty and sanctity of St. John Cantius Catholic Church awed a young Helen Fujawa. During a midnight Mass at the reddish-brown brick mainstay on South Harbaugh, the soprano stood in the choir loft, above rows packed with families, singing a solemn Polish hymn alongside the choir. Before her was an array of arresting images: a decorative manger scene; opulently painted wooden altar statues; and warm candlelight illuminating the pews, accentuating the rich blue, red, emerald and gold hues of soaring stained-glass windows [ isn't this a great point? The "beauty and sanctity" of the old church, the "solemn" hymn, the "opulent" decorations and the candles all served to make the worshipper "awed." This church apparently succeeded in helping the worshipper ascend to the contemplation of the Divine].

"If you ever think of a church, that's the way it would look," [amen] said Fujawa, 75, now of Sterling Heights, who lived a block away and was baptized at the church. "It was always beautiful" [beauty has something that draws people to it]. That's why the past year has been bittersweet for the remaining congregants at the Delray neighborhood parish on Detroit's southwest side. Although it was identified last year for closure, the church was allowed to remain open to celebrate its 105th anniversary on Sunday with a final Mass. It will be the church's last event in a string of countless weddings, baptisms and celebrations.

"You go there for so many years, everything about it you miss," said Roman Matey, a Wyandotte retiree who began attending with his wife more than 50 years ago. "They don't make churches like that anymore" [notice the sadness in this man's statement: "They don't make churches like that anymore." It begs the question: why not?].The closure was forced by declining membership and rising utility costs, said Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman Ned McGrath. St. John Cantius is down to about 200 members from an estimated 2,000 families at its peak, said the Rev. Edward Zaorski, the church's pastor.

"It's very hard to keep a building like that open with just a handful of parishioners," McGrath said. "It's a very pretty church. It's just unfortunate that it can't go on." It's the sixth parish to close under the archdiocese's Together in Faith Plan [isn't it funny that the plans for closing and shrinking Catholic parishes always have these deceptively optimistic names? Just like Ford Motor Company's plan "The Way Forward", which was actually a plan to lay off a ton of people and move to Mexico] launched in 2006, a reorganization reflecting a shifting Catholic population and the loss of priests. Several more churches could close, cluster or merge through 2011. Last fall, the St. John Cantius parish council requested that it remain open to mark its anniversary this month, Zaorski said. "It brought a good closure -- allowed people to recall their contributions. "It's not easy, but we have to move on."

There are no plans to sell the building, Zaorski said, but some relics will be donated to other parishes. Officials also hope to establish an endowment after the building's eventual sale to fund religious education so its "life will continue," Zaorski said.

Although the past year has been dedicated to memories -- tracing the founders' history, delighting in traditions such as an annual Polish festival -- and activities, that only softens the blow of losing a beloved church that shaped, comforted and rejuvenated generations.

"It's in my mind all of the time," said Evelyn Glowiak of Sterling Heights, who was baptized and married there and has visited often this year. "I wanted to see the church as often as I could before it's gone."

The first incarnation of the church -- a wood-frame structure built by some 40 families and established as a Polish parish -- opened in 1902 where the parking lot now stands. A second church was inside the school building that was constructed in 1910. The school, which once enrolled more than 1,000 students, closed in 1969. The twin-steepled Romanesque-style church, which seats about 1,200, was built in 1923 for $160,000 and named for a theologian and a professor at the Catholic college in the old Polish capital of Krakow. Some of the church's ornate stained-glass windows bear the names of founding Polish families, who contributed to construction [if poor Polish émigrés could scrape together enough to build a church like this, don't tell me that wealthy American middle-class Catholics couldn't today! The fact is, they just don't want to].

Drawn by the concord of the forming congregation, Polish émigrés Kanty and Frances Halat saved earnestly to help erect the church and later attended with their nine children. "What they had, they gave," said daughter Loretta Prohownik, 85, of Allen Park, who was baptized and wed there. "It made you feel close to the church." For many who flooded the area early last century, St. John Cantius "was their root -- the main part of the community," said Laurie Gomulka Palazzolo, vice president and executive director of the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society. "There was nothing without the church. They knew they couldn't be here without God's help" [this parish was everything a good Catholic parish should be: "the main part of the community"].
Years passed in cavalcades of convention: Church bells reverberating for blocks. A priest bearing a tabernacle during Corpus Christi processions. Early morning Easter services bolstered by lily decorations and, the day before, the blessing of baskets brimming with items such as bread, butter lambs and painted hard-boiled eggs. Parishioners fondly recall when yearly tuition for the church school cost less than a dollar; dances and kielbasa dinners thrived in a basement social hall; and attendance so burgeoned that wooden pew seats were assigned [what a beautiful recollection of old Catholic traditions! And why was tuition so low? Because the school was run by religious who worked for free. Average cost for one year of private Catholic school today: $6,000 per child] .

The murmurs of multigenerational members filling rows each Mass were a constant for attendees such as Eugene Drabczyk, whose grandparents both attended shortly after emigrating from Poland. His parents were both baptized there, as were he and his brother. Drabczyk and his wife, Patricia, wed in the church on Aug. 21, 1965. Their daughters, still members, were baptized there. So were two grandsons. Reassured by the familiar faces, Polish hymns and other customs, mother Mary Drabczyk insisted on returning years after she moved to Lincoln Park. In late 2004, her funeral was held at the church -- concluding an uninterrupted, nearly 90-year membership. "My mom said she would never go to another church," said Eugene Drabczyk, 71, a retired banker from Southgate. "She liked the church so much. It always drew you there."

Members reminisce about the church school, which was taught by Felician Sisters. There, students learned to volunteer for convent cleaning, respect elders and humbly utter, "Praised be Jesus Christ." The school leaders "really did model good behavior," said Madonna University President Sister Rose Marie Kujawa, the third St. John Cantius member to hold that post. "It did create a spiritual atmosphere an uplifting one. They made you want to come to school" [contrary to the stereotypical portrayal of the mean nun with the ruler]. Kujawa's parents were baptized in the church and once lived across the street. Her mother, Anna, continued attending after leaving Delray to bask in "a family community," Kujawa said. "The church was a spiritual home."

Membership dwindled as the neighborhood -- between West Jefferson and West Ford, near Zug Island -- gave way to industrial expansion. Interstate 75 entered in the 1960s. To comply with the U.S. Clean Water Act the next decade, the city expanded its sewage treatment plant after purchasing and demolishing nearby homes, groceries and other structures. It now surrounds the church on two sides. "It destroyed the neighborhood," Zaorski said. St. John Cantius also was slated to be removed, but parishioners, the then-Rev. Edwin Szczygiel and City Council allies such as Jack Kelley and former Detroit Tiger Billy Rogell prevailed.

Still, the church was affected. As homes vanished and industry sandwiched St. John Cantius between wire fences and train tracks, families relocated to suburbs and other areas. Despite the distance, some continue to return to the church. "They came back to their roots," said Patricia Drabczyk, 68, who with her husband travels some 20 minutes weekly from Southgate for services. "No matter how far we had to travel, it didn't matter. You feel at home."

Edward Pilch, 31, a police officer from White Lake Township, traveled several times yearly to the church where he was baptized. Last month, Pilch celebrated his wedding -- the church's last, more than 50 years after his grandparents. In the darkened church, his bride, Erin, stood flanked by flowers, near sunlight passing through the stained glass in kaleidoscopic streaks. "It was unbelievable the perfect setting," Pilch said [again, aesthetic beauty renders the soul more disposed to contemplate the divine, and thus helps the worshipper to receive more grace ex opere operantis from the sacraments, as this fellow apparently recalls about his wedding].

For organist Steven Frayer, 37, of Westland, crossing the threshold and passing statues instantly imparted a "sense of the sacred," he said. "You really felt like you were in a holy place" [this is the most telling phrase in the whole article: the beauty of the church created a "sense of the sacred" and made you feel that you were in a truly "holy" place. Does our modern church architecture do this?] . Prohownik, a lifetime member of the church, calls the closure "heartbreaking."

"It's all coming to an end," she said. "It's not just losing a church, but losing family."

You can reach Mark Hicks at (313) 222-2117 or

This is an excellent article, and I encourage you all to email Mark Hicks and tell him your thoughts on it. Seeing what everybody said about how the great beauty of the Church and all of the wonderful Catholic traditions that were celebrated there helped imbibe people with a sense of sacredness and holiness that kept them devoted to their church in a way few people are today, we must ask the question: they why deviate from a model which has proven so successful in the past? Will any congregants, fifty years from now, recall such fond memories about their whitewashed, ampitheatrical iconoclastic churches they now meet in? I seriously doubt it.

Many liturgists care more about maintaining the validity of their iconoclastic ideology than of assisting the Catholic to better worship God. If they did care about worship of God, they would get the message and pay attention to what the people say, as in this article. They would get the point when the man in the article sadly recalls, "They don't make churches like this anymore." But the fact is, they don't care. They don't care about what is best for the laity. They just care about vindicating the insane liturgical experimentation they have been carrying on for the past forty years. And so for them, perhaps it is better that St. John Cantius does close. It is one less high altar to give them nightmares, and every parish like this that is destroyed or closed is one more link with the past obliterated.

No comments: