Wednesday, January 18, 2017


This is the story of two mansions in neighboring cities.  Both are nationally acclaimed, both beautiful, both deeply tied to the community’s history and identity.

One still exists.

One has gone met the kiss of the recking ball.

The first is Stan Hywet Hall in Akron.  It is a major generator of traffic to West Akron both to see the mansion and to attend one of the events often held there.

The other is the O. C. Barber mansion in Barberton, Ohio.  It was torn down in order to make way for a Zayer’s store.  Do you remember Zayer’s?  Nobody does.

I remember my mother telling me that one day she was walking in downtown Barberton and man in a cowboy hat came out of the bank (also no longer in existence) when a strong wind blew papers out his hand.  My mother trapped the bolting paper under her foot.  The city cowboy gentleman lassoed his errant document and said, “Good work little lady!  You just saved the future of Barberton!”  As it turns out, it was (supposedly) the deed to the Barber mansion.  “If I had known what it was I would have let it fly away,” Mom used to say with a twinge of sadness.

Neither mansion has to exist.  Although I do realize that the history here is complicated, what comes down to is leadership and the interest of the community.  No mysterious force is going to come to the rescue.  If the will of the community is not as strong as the forces of decay or other interests, it will pass the way of history.

It is much the same with a Catholic parish.  It does not have to exist - at least the building does not have to exist.  Epic ecclesial edifices in Cleveland (long before the current closings) have ceased to exist.  St. Agnes on Cleveland’s east side is one of these casualties.  The long and short of the story is that Catholics moved away and now all that is left is a tower.  Once a proud, thriving parish, now the tower stands as a memorial to itself.  Societal pressures and preferences outweighed the desire to keep neighborhood and parish a thriving Catholic area.

Conversely there are other parishes that were closed more recently and the reason was perceived lack of persons, funds, and vitality.  But for some of them, the desire to keep them open was strong and the parishes re-opened.  (This is not an evaluation of either decision, just a demonstration.)

It is not enough to “tsk” the pothole in the parish parking lot, or the leaking roof, or think someone should do something about the poor sound system.  There is no mysterious force out there that is going to come to rescue.  Despite the illusion that people have that the Church is wealthy beyond measure, there is no magic pot of money anywhere waiting to save a beautiful piece of architecture.  The only secret source of resources is in the generosity of the people who love their parish and in the end it is largely up to them if their parish building is going to be a Stan Hywet or an O. C. Barber mansion.


Anonymous said...

Father, supporting a parish is a two-way street. It also requires the support of the priests and staff of the parish, and cordial, Christian, communication.

My husband and I are currently supporting two parishes here in Akron.

First, we support the parish we have always considered home. Our pastor harbors a great dislike for both of us, after we questioned a decision he made (we were both involved in parish organizations). No matter how polite and respectful we are to him, nothing seems to help. He is cherishing his grudge.

Since then (5 years ago), he has refused on most occasions to respond when we have asked for help or had questions, whether in person, by phone, email, or US mail. He has told me that I may not ask him for any spiritual help. In fact, we are shocked on the rare times when he does speak to us or answers a question. At one point he told us to look for a new parish, and pointed out repeatedly that we do not live within the boundaries.

After considerable prayer and thought, my husband and I realize that a priest cannot excommunicate us, so how can he tell us to leave our own parish? Another priest told us that the Cleveland Diocese, per Bishop Pilla, did away with boundaries back in the 1990s, and they are no longer enforced. As long as we contribute and attend, no matter how far away we live, we can belong.

The staff of the parish has also been hostile, to the point of calling names and making personal judgments. When I emailed to ask for clarification about Adoration details printed in the bulletin, I was told by the a person on staff that because she finds me "caustic, dramatic, and disrespectful", that I could expect to either get no response in future, or to wait a very long time for assistance. I understand other parishioners have had similar problems with the staff as well. It has been very unpleasant.

After parish shopping, we do not feel at home anywhere else. God wants us at our home parish. So we forgave Father and his minions in person and in our hearts, and we remain. He and his staff is still openly hostile, but we are living with it. It hurts to be so disliked, but God outranks us and Father and the staff, and this is what He wants.

My husband drives from Akron to the Cleveland suburbs every day, an hour+ each way. I am also on the road every day. No one knows when an accident may happen, or some unforeseen trouble or health catastrophe. We need to know that a priest will come to us if there is an emergency, who will hear our Confessions and prepare us for death, and pray a funeral Mass for us. In those circumstances, we do not want a delayed response or risk being ignored.

So we quietly explained our situation to a local pastor. He told us we are always welcome, that he would come if we need him, and not to worry about supporting his parish. We registered and offer weekly support to his parish out of gratitude, as well as supporting our home parish.

So there you are. I know you are a good, kind pastor with a fine parish. But that is not how it is for all of us. If we do not have caring priests, the laity cannot carry the parish into the future alone. I hope I do not offend you, but this is how it is for some of us. It takes all of us lovingly working together for the glory of God to keep a parish going, not just the parishioners.

Fr. V said...

Yes. I agree. I slipped that in with "leadership and interest."

Anonymous said...

You are so right, Father. It is amazing how easily the devil can distract us from building the places we want. Unconsciously we want to _find_ those places not make them. Once we think about it rationally we understand that is not how the world works and it is rare you just walk into a perfect situation.

I think my generation really struggles with this. We grew up in (or out) of Churches and felt ignored. There were plenty of people to feed that idea that we were being neglected by our own Church. There were some problems, but we have to acknowledge there were very real people who wanted to separate us from our Church at any cost. They didn't have our best interest at heart. As a result, you have a number of bitter adults who have a pie-in-the-sky idea of what the Catholic Church needs to do to get them back.

What has helped me, is realizing that if I continue on this path I will be doing to my children and their friends exactly I (rightly or wrongly) believed was done to my generation. It was also helpful to learn all of the massive amount of changes that happened in the Church during the 60s, 70s and 80s. The bewildered adults of my childhood make a lot more sense now.

Honestly, I'm trying to get my family to attend St. Sebastian. I think it would be a good thing for us. But I am working slowly against all the little roadblocks that keep coming up. Roadblocks a few years ago, I would have been putting up myself.

Kevin Hammer said...

Just FYI, there's a booklet about St. Agnes church with photos, details, etc. from 1920. Full copy here:;view=1up;seq=28