Thursday, November 6, 2014


We’ve all heard it a thousand times so let’s all say it together: “The Church/parish is not a building, it’s the people.”  Yeah, yeah, I got it and intellectually believe it.  But you know what?  At night I still dream about my home parish.  Not the new building but the one in which I grew up in on Hopican Avenue.  Similarly I am mightily attached to West Akron and the building IN

WHICH the parish of St. Sebastian worships.


This Sunday we will be celebrating as a Universal Church the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the mother Church building of Church buildings.  I will grant you that if some crazed lunatic bombed the place to smithereens (thanks spell check, I don’t know that I ever spelled that word before) the Church will still exist fully intact though perhaps a little ticked off.  But the fact that we have this celebration means we are kind of blushing, shuffling our feet, head hanging a little with a smirk on our faces saying, “Well, yeah, buildings do kinda, sorta mean something to us even though theologically we could completely do without them.”
One of my favorite quotes:  “God does not need cathedrals.  But we do.”
So I took Sebastian on a walk through my home town the other day.  I wrote about doing this a couple of summers ago.  The point of this particular walk was to see God’s Magic City Church.  This was formally Sts. Cyril and Methodius Roman Catholic Church founded primarily for the Slovak community.  It was absolutely built in the WRONG place -  a flood plain and was regularly flooded.  But the building was a little gem though the renovations after Vatican II were less than stellar.  It is (was) a tiny Romanesque building and would have made some kind of great shrine or some other use if it weren’t built where Wolf Creek enjoys overflowing its banks.
Anyway, on our way there we passed the former-former Sacred Heart Church which is now a non-denominational church.  This is the building in which I cut my teeth.  It is mostly in pretty good shape (though they removed the tile roof and replaced it with a shingle roof which robbed it of much of its character.)  So the congregation there must be doing relatively alright.

I just found this video that showcases the organ from my home parish that I tried to obtain but at the time the current owners did not want to sell.  Now some church in Texas will have it.  Tears at my heart . . .


Next we passed the old St. Mary, formally the Polish parish in town.  Never a remarkable building it now looks pretty sad.  The non-denominational congregation there could use some paint and other general maintenance to keep the place looking good.  Who knows how long it will be viable without a huge influx of cash.
Then there is God’s Magic City Church.  There was a fire there recently.  The area where the sacristy was is completely gutted.  There is no roof or windows left, just a brick shell.  The nave of the main church is burnt through and the cross seems to stand miraculously though precariously on the charred main beam of the roof.  I know it’s just a building but something about it make me feel incredibly sad.  It’s more than it just having been a beautiful building worth keeping around.  It is sad to see a place that roofed so much good so savagely devastated.  Like spilled milk, seeing something that represents such goodness so utterly wasted is somehow disturbing. 
Is the “Church” less for having lost a building?  No.  But we have lost a symbol of our mission.  A touchstone that reminds us to keep on track.  Another relic resigned to the memory of the current generation. 


No big deal.


And huge deal.


Anonymous said...

I feel for you father. It is not nice to see our beautiful Catholic churches misused or unused.

I was on parish council when the Cleveland Diocese parish mergers and closings were announced. I remember sitting in a meeting when our administrator told us at one time, Barberton was 70% Catholic, but that now the figure was far less, and the ethnic people had moved to the suburbs.

My parish was merged, and we had a happy merger. The parish we merged with was reopened, and although I was happy for them, it hurt to see our fellow parishioners return to their old churches after we had gone to the trouble of bonding as a parish.

I wonder what those good people who built, went to school, and prayed at all these beautiful church would think to know their spiritual homes were closed. It is very painful.

Chris P. said...

This may seem inane, as I am a parishioner at St. Sebastian...

One really cool thing about Barberton is that if you stand on the front steps of St Augustine and walk from there, up 6th, to Hopocan, to Prince of Peace it takes about 25 minutes and you pass two other old Catholic Churches. It must really have been cool 'way back when.'

I wonder what we've lost sometimes when we lose these buildings. Were I Polish at St. Mary, and it closed.. I mean I can prayerfully worship at Sacred Heart, and it counts all the same - but technically I can do that at St. Nicholas Byzantine too. Or the Maronite church on Cle-Mass. The building stands for a lot more than just a Church (as if it can be "just a Church?") - but there's something about the community and the heritage that we lose every time we abandon one of these buildings. I can go to Holy Redeemer in Collinwood and remember an Italian festival 25 years ago, or go to Holy Rosary and remember the Feast (back when it was a parish festival in little Italy and not THE FEAST like it is now) when I was 10 and putting a quarter on the number 6 as they spun the giant wheel and winning another quarter.

It's silly and it's trite, but it's not. I have so many formative memories of the community around the churches I've been blessed enough to attend and it kills me sometimes to see a church just disappear. I pray for Fr. Marty at Holy Redeemer (my family's parish) a lot, and the job it requires there, and am regularly thankful for the health of St. Sebastian.

Anonymous said...

Here is another sad situation. It's over on Russell Avenue just off of East Avenue . . . . there sits another victim of urban flight . . . St Peter Church . . . a building which my father designed, a building in which my wife and I married (the first wedding after the the church was built). You wouldn't want to see it now. I went inside of it a couple months ago. There were dust covered broken pews, piles of dirt, all kinds of rubble laying on the nave floor. It broke my heart. It had lovely stained glass windows designed and fabricated by a talented young artist in the Hunt Stained Glass Studio in Pittsburgh . . . I wonder if those windows have been rescued.


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