Monday, August 1, 2011
sixty-seventh visit: July 31st 2011 Roman Catholicism
Saint Juan Diego Parish, at St. Mary Church
Penn & Garner Streets, Sharpsburg, PA 15215
Last week, while driving home from an errand, I turn off the main road for a moment of church chasing. This building dominates, hovers over the homes that surround it in a way that refuses to let me simply drive by without adding it to my list. I've been compelled to stop like this before, but this time it's a little different: I immediately feel that I HAVE to visit this church this weekend. I decide to (know that I need to) come here straight after Oakmont Presby, visiting both churches on the same Sunday. I question this, figuring it would have nothing to do with my theme of German travels. I am wrong.
My mother's side of the family claims some German heritage, some Irish, and my father's some Irish and English. And me? All I know for sure is that I have a sixth sense. I joke about this, but it's also very real. See, I am sure that I was drawn off the main road, drawn to stop at this building, compelled to make this my 67th visit, because—as I found out during internet research the night before my visit—it fits exactly into my theme. This parish began in 1845 as a combined German Catholic and Irish Catholic congregation ...until disputes arose between the two ethnic groups. The Irish then went elsewhere, and the Germans built their own church and got their own German-speaking Redemptorist priests.
Visually, this church is very special. There's a twelve-page pamphlet at the entrance on its design and artwork. Worth the trip.
What do I remember?
Emails from Father Frank Almade: I will be witnessing his last delivered service there. An invitation to read his blog. An invitation to stop by the sacristy before the service, to say hello to him.
In the sacristy, while waiting to meet Father Almade: A conversation with a church member. She has belonged to this church ever since she was born and her family has belonged for generations before that. She now lives on the hill behind the church in the home where her father grew up with his 7 siblings. (Yes, of German heritage.) She says to me that one thing you will notice about Pittsburgh is that people don't really leave their neighborhoods. I've heard of this phenomenon, this fear of bridges. I tell her that I suppose it has to do with the fact that everyone can simply find what they need in their immediate surroundings. She says, "No. It really has more to do with family. The family is usually right there, has been forever and so no one leaves. Except that I'm getting better, lately. My daughter moved to the South Side, and I go there to see her. I'm getting better about it."
And in the sanctuary, this is what I remember:
The ornate has hardly ever felt so solid.
Attached to the sanctuary, through an archway: the sweetest little chapel, just past the last pew. (Walk in the main entrance and turn left.) A tiny painted, weathered, wooden carved lamb in its Gothic cubby. Relics here, too. (Would I have recognized them as such, had I not been to St Anthony's?) And the most beautiful votive candles I've ever seen.
At the end of the service, Father Almade receives (in his words) "an Irish farewell blessing delivered by a Polish woman amongst an originally-German(/Irish) parish." He is leaving for his new parish, waiting for him in New Castle, PA.
And me? I leave today's visits, both in the near suburbs, drive over a bridge and re-enter Pittsburgh.