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.