Thursday, April 30, 2015


How can we imagine the Catholic parish of tomorrow?

There is little doubt that many of the Catholic institutions of today will not be around for the next generation.  But that is to be expected.  We are not the same people we were 5 generations ago.  Can you keep offering what was vital to Catholics 5 generations ago to people in the next generation?  The Church has always adapted to its times.

Some things just will not change.  The Eucharist will be the source and center of our lives.  That won’t change.  Sacraments – Scriptures – worship - education – and all of the usual suspects.  But how do you present it?  How is it lived?  What will touch people’s hearts?  What is attractive while not sacrificing truth?


More recently I have been engaging people in a conversation on how to reimagine Catholic Akron.  What can we do now to prepare for the city as it will be in the near future?  It would be a mistake, I think, to wait until we have empty buildings and then say, “Okay, now we have an empty (school building – convent – what have you) what can we do with it?”  At that point you are already losing your audience (pardon the term.)  The risk that is being run is that you are dropping out of the greater public consciousness. 


Here is an example of what I am thinking:  There is a new paper about town called “The Devil Strip.”  (Akronites and Barbertonians will understand that term.)  There is an extremely interesting section where they ask a cradle Akronite and a new Akronite what they love about the city.  The arts always rate extremely high.  Now, there is a local neighborhood that is known for being “artsy.”  The Catholic Church has no presence there whatsoever.  As a matter of fact, in my collar when I am there one gets the distinct impression that there is an element of anti-Catholicism.  Of course there is.  When we don’t mix and mingle it is the rotten story that has a chance to germinate. 
Why aren’t we there?
So at St. Sebastian we are trying to be involved in the art scene.  Hopefully we are developing an arts friendly place that is attractive to those who shape our culture.  The Academy of Culture and Arts opened with the intent of being open to greater community at all age levels.  We are fortunate that we have a healthy school.  What if we didn’t?  We will already have an institution that could make use of the building and continue to be relevant to West Akron Catholic and non-Catholic residents alike.  (The champagne problem at the moment is that both institutions are healthy – I could actually use another building.)
That is one example.  There are a few other ideas in the pipeline that will slowly be rolled out as they seem feasible.  BUT what ideas do YOU have for the Catholic parish – the Catholic presence in the future?  Things that we can do that are within our control?  Not something like, “Start ordaining married men.”  That is quite out of our control as Pope Francis has reiterated.


If you have any ideas, I would be excited to hear them.


Chris P. said...

I don't know where I'm going with this, but I'm going to start typing and see how it plays out. Sorry if it's just a stream-of-consciousness instead of a more coherent point.

I heard an interview recently with Dana Gioia, the modern poet (and inventor of Jell-O Jigglers!!!!) - and he lamented the relative failure of Catholics in art. He spoke of hundreds of years of the very best artists in the world being Catholics, and not painting or writing about ecclesiastical things, but rather just painting and composing music and writing.

I took that to heart - not because I'm artistically inclined - I fear that my lot in life is to be a parasitic art consumer instead of an art producer - but because it switched on a light bulb for what my major theory is on why we seem to have trouble in the struggle for relevancy.

One of the things we work on here at my job is local education policy, and having the kind of workforce coming out of High Schools as well as 2 and 4 year colleges that would make businesses seek to add jobs locally. Over the last 20-50 years that pendulum has swung completely in the direction of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. And it's been sought to emphasize these subjects and de-emphasize humanities.

And it's working, we are developing those skills in our society. And it's wonderful. We have scientific literacy and precision and accuracy on things we never could dream of half a century ago.

But the price we're paying is steep. We're teaching the hard empirical truths of math and science (and they're all essential!) - but we're forgetting the truth that is within the beauty of the humanities. If you walk onto a college campus and declare your major in Philosophy or Music or Religion or Literature or Classics or Theater you'll be very politely accepted and nudged in the direction of more "useful" majors.

But when we give those up we lose that those are the necessary building blocks for properly working towards very real truths in different areas like Psychology or Law.

We completely forget that there is Truth there. As much as truth is in a math equation, truth is in the beauty of the brushstrokes of Cezanne or the string lines of Bach or the philosophy of Aristotle or the words of Yeats.

I've always thought the Church was the home of the solution to this. There's no turning back from STEM, nor should there be. But it's on us to be beautiful. To attract people with the truth that is beauty. Art is part of it. But community is the biggest part of it. We need to be part of the community in a way that doesn't just invite people in (because everyone is always invited) but that attracts them in a way they don't understand.

When we had the pipe organ concerts last Advent, I wished that it was sunny and 65 outside, our doors were open and that the church front doors opened to Highland Square so people walking on the street would poke their heads in and think "I don't really want to sit in a Catholic Church for 30 minutes, but holy crap that's beautiful. I think I will anyway."

I should stop here... my point is beauty is just as much truth as Science. We need to be a beacon for it.

Anonymous said...

Father, this is very interesting.

As an life-long Akronite (yes, I know what a devilstrip is!), what bothers me is that, with the exception of our sister parish's school, there is a lack of Catholic education and life skills education in the poorer inner-city parishes that remain.

Not every Catholic family is eligible for vouchers. Still fewer can afford to pay for their children to attend the parish school (if one exists).

How about some kind of informal "night school" for our children up to and including high school? It seems to me that St. Frances Cabrini set up something like this at her settlement houses during the late 1800's and early 1900s in Chicago and New York.

I know the PSR programs already overlap this. But from what I can see, few of the programs draw children once they are past the Sacrament of Confirmation.

How about not only catechism classes at our parishes, but tutoring and English-language classes for children who need help? It would not need to be a formal school with licensed teachers - just tutoring from talented parishioners.

And for the adults, other classes, such as personal finance, car repair, Spanish-language classes, etc.

Our Spanish-speaking and English-speaking parishioners seldom mix, and most of the reason is the language barrier.

I know this sounds pretty wild. But at my particular parish (St. Bernard), I know with some patience this would be a fine thing for our parishioners.

Just my two cents. Thanx for listening! - Sue

Pat said...

Everyone has needs, problems, worries (for themselves and for others). I've often wondered how to receive prayer intentions, and pray for, the "man on the street."

Opus Dei runs a bookstore in Washington DC called the Catholic Information Center. "The Catholic Information Center is committed to making the Catholic Church alive in the hearts and minds of those working in our nation's capital."

In general, Opus Dei establishes centers to create a Catholic presence in cities. They give their centers secular-sounding names like "Shellbourne."

How much would it cost to rent the theater and show an interesting film?

Anonymous said...

Well Father, I'll say this much: If more young Catholics had the chance to interact with priests as good as those at St Sebastian, we wouldn't have to ask tough questions like this.

God bless!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm all for promoting the Rosary Altar Society among the laity. Confraternities are one (among other) way to give the layperson something concrete to do in their religious life apart from going to Mass, etc.

Just a thought!

Redearth said...

That's why we're doing what we are. To be there, not just there to have a presence, but because we are good at art and they enjoy the presence we bring. I lament the shift to STEM not in the utility of it but the result is to making men tools rather then people. Granted that's over generalizing but the ethos underneath the push for those subjects is the end result of productivity. In one sense there's a great need for life outside utility, for leisure, and that's part of Sabbath.

Anonymous said...

If you want to be more visible in the "artsy" neighborhood--or any neighborhood--volunteer to help that neighborhood. Whether it is with the annual clean up day or the arts fest--just volunteering to help is always a good start.

Other ideas: participate in the parades in downtown Akron, whether it is the school marching band or the choir, etc.

Also, if there's a way to lower tuition, that would help families continue to raise their children as Catholics. There are many families who cannot afford Catholic education, yet are also unable to homeschool due to financial reasons. So the only option really left to those families is public school. And the public schools' educational policies do not always complement Catholic teaching.

And finally, stay true to Catholic Church teaching when you disseminate your message. You need to keep in mind that there are people (such as myself) who left the church for almost 20 years before returning. I didn't return because the Church changed its message. I returned because, after many years of attempting to prove that the Church was completely wrong, I finally acknowledged the fact that it was merely teaching truth. I attended other churches during that time away (UCC, Unitarian, non-denom, etc.), but none of them satisfied my yearning for truth. The fact that people have left does not mean that they will not return.

- Kathryn O.

Anonymous said...

I'm not familiar enough with the area to know how far Highland is from your church. Highland seems to be a cosmopolitan area like Coventry. I don't know if church music would be overly compelling there. And the reaction to the collar may not be so much a reaction to spirituality or religion but to something else. More like, "What are you trying to prove?" I don't know... Maybe they are reacting to elitism?

Anonymous said...

Continued ...

... I'm on a roll here ...

Just because the staff at Angel Fall or Mary Croyle dont' fawn or offer freebie because they see a collar doesn't necessarily mean they are anti-Catholic, or that they are reaction to things they have read or heard on the news about Catholic failings. Maybe they PERSONALLY have been wounded by the church.

Fr. V said...

Actually I've always been treated fantastically at both of those establishments. I'm not sure why you zeroed in on them (did you have a poor experience?)but you did help to exemplify something. We need to be together more as people and come to some mutual respect so that if someone is hurt personally, at least we as individual human beings might overcome it and work to make a better Akron and a better society. If I stay and lick my wounds in my little church and someone else stays in his, nothing good will grow out of it.

Anonymous said...

I would dare to say that the Highland Square area of Akron, or as you describe it - the "artsy" area - is certainly an eclectic area of the city, and probably best well known as an area where there are a lot of GLBT people that go to many of the establishments there. It s much like the Coventry area of Cleveland Heights, or the Hingetown area of Ohio City (w. 28th and Detroit) and the area near W. 117th and Clifton in Cleveland. I would also venture to say that among the population there - you will find plenty of Catholic's - but maybe those who don't feel welcome into the Church, or who have been wounded for whatever reason. I think showing up at these places in clerics would be a major turn off for some, maybe not for others. Who knows? If I was trying to evangelize or bring people in - I don't know that my roman collar would be of importance to wear or be seen in. I agree with the previous poster - too much elitism and (I am adding) - clericalism. There is more of a Catholic presence in Highland Square than you might think......

Fr. V said...

I'm sensing from your previous three posts that you are one of the persons who was personally hurt - likely by a person wearing a collar. For that I am sorry. You are in my prayers these evening.

Anonymous said...

Stan said...
You really need to think this through. I am a Catholic, but not a member of St. Sebastian. I moved to a house three blocks from the church in 1959, because my parents did.

The problem is to many non-members, Catholic or not, St. Sebastian is a problem, not an asset. Once a year you arbitrarily confine 300 households to their homes on a Saturday morning so the K of C can have a marathon. Your school mothers group decides when Halloween will be. Look at the parking every Sunday.

Maybe some things are more important than an Academy. At that point, there may be something. Still, highland Square is not your natural constituency. You almost sound like a missionary.

Fr. V said...

Good food for thought.

Thank you Stan.

Fr. V