Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Once in a philosophy class we took a field trip to a graveyard. The markers were old – mostly sandstone – and starting to show their age. One of the things to which we paid attention was the dates on the markers. There was a short time period in which a great number of people died. They could be of just about any age from infant through adulthood but far too many for it to be just an unlucky year. Our guide told us of the great flu epidemic that swept the country at the time claiming sometimes entire families in a short period of time.

Now, not everyone who died during those trying days died of the flu. They could have just as easily been run over by a cart and horse. But there was a trend there that easily pointed to something significant happening.

We can surmise similar types of trends with the names of our parishes. They sometimes reflect what was occurring in the life of the Church when a particular church building was consecrated. When devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was particularly strong there sprung up all kinds of parishes who put themselves into the care of the Sacred Heart. That is not to say a more recent parish may not don that name, but not in the numbers that it once did. Shortly after Mary was recognized as the “Immaculate Conception,” any number of parishes were established with that name. There are a number of both of these names connected with parishes in the Diocese of Cleveland.

There was a spat of time (I think it may be waning but we will see) when parishes were taking on not-quite-so-blatantly-Catholic-sounding names so as to be more accepted in the largely Protestant neighborhoods in which they were establishing. Again, a trend, not a rule.

What might mark our day? Two things, one noticeable, one not so noticeable. The first is the hyphenated name. Two saints who may have little connection together save for the fact that they are both saints will share the marquee for a single parish. This is the result of two parishes coming together. In our own neighborhood we now have “Saint Bernard – Saint Mary.” Although it happened years ago and is not part of the current trend we also have in our neighborhood “Saint Vincent – Saint Mary High School.” The other interesting trend that may be lost to many people a generation or so down the line is the name of the parish and the name of the church having two different names. My home parish is like this. The Slovenian parish of Sacred Heart and the Polish of Saint Mary combined and took on the name of Prince of Peace instead of hyphenating. However they still meet in Sacred Heart Church. Therefore the community has one name and the building has another. Like the dates in the graveyard these names tell a vague story.

What might the future hold? When John Paul II is named a saint (there’s confidence for you) over the decade or two that follows there most likely be a sprinkling of parishes, schools, and other Church institutions that will bear the name. Perhaps too a similar thing will happen when Saint Theresa of Calcutta is thus named. This will probably happen in Florida where they can’t build quickly enough. And then, when people get tired of the heat and the crowded condition of Florida and yearn for the cooler, greener, wetter, wide open (due to their parents all moving south) spaces of the north and the population starts dropping in Florida, they will have to combine parishes and some place, mark my words (but it will be long after I am with the Lord I hope) there will be a parish called “Saint John Paul – Saint Mother Theresa” meeting in a church called Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.


Anonymous said...

Hi Father -

This is a fine post. I am a member of the newly-merged parish you mention, and I was a member of the naming committee. Personally, I favored a completely new name since we are starting over (my favorites were Our Lady of the Americas and Divine Mercy), but I think most of the parishioners from both parishes are happy with the hyphenated name.

Our first Mass on Sunday was absolutely beautiful, and I was so happy to see the church packed to the balconies with people from both parishes. In addition to all the graces we received from attending Mass, it felt like being with my most-loved family at Thanksgiving. I wouldn't wish a merger on any parish, but I am grateful Bishop Lennon put us together, and I will continue to pray for him and our new pastor, who seems to care for us all very much. We are very blessed!

Susan from Akron

Anonymous said...

The north is too cold for a mass exodus just yet. And right now, the temperatures in the South are milder than some states in the north. But who knows.. I still like combination than lay ecclesiastical ministers any day...any day.