So Saturday was the big ol' seven churches tour (“Sevenchurchtour.com” as Fr. W plugged early and often). Off to big bus at St. Brendan's, which rolled towards our first stop at Holy Cross. Our priest-tour guide was quite a card, wearing a goofy hat with large bear ears.
I think he removed his hat for the Rosary we said on the way down, the Sorrowful mysteries for Lent. The tour was roughly in chronological order and so we started at the 1833 church Holy Cross. He gave an interesting history and we said a relevant prayer at this and all the subsequent churches.
The church was not overly impressive as far as art or architecture but explained this was an immigrant generation without much money and that you could see how much more ornate the second generation churches became. Second generation immigrants are among the wealthiest generation, he said, because they are bilingual.
He also talked about the Irish and German splitting, the Irish from Holy Cross heading off to St. Patrick's. He handled that intriguing subject of Irish/German relations straightforwardly, explaining people simply like to be with people similar to them. He illustrated this by saying in Rome, where he lived for four years, he could immediately tell the Americans from their clothes, shoes, and cockiness. He said he naturally fell in with fellow Americans even though he thinks he probably wouldn't have been chums if they'd been in the U.S.
Fr. W is a good self-promoter and not shy about expounding on his language skills (speaks fluent Italian) or time management skills. Definitely has some Bill O'Reilly in him, which my father noticed as well.
After Holy Cross we headed into a driving chill rain towards St. Patrick's, a rain that would accompany us everywhere in various manifestations of intensity and windiness. Later churches toured included St. Mary's in German Village, St. Joseph's Cathedral, Holy Family, St. John the Baptist in Italian Village and then St. John the Evangelist – where a smashed vodka bottle rested by the side of the road and our bus driver helpfully kicked the glass out of the way. Rough part of town where “you don't want to be skipping at midnight” as Fr. W put it.
We had lunch near Holy Family, in the archdiocese Jubilee Museum where they “feed the body downstairs in the soup kitchen and the soul upstairs in the museum”. We arrived late to the auditorium since we had sat in the back of the bus and it looked like standing room but for a collection of ornate leather chairs around an oval glass table. It looked off-limit-y, but a lady who looked in charge said we could sit there and so we did and so we ended up with quick access to the box lunches and later the best tour guide, an opinionated and self-assured padre wearing old-style traditional clerical attire. Lunches were tasty if low on protein: ceasar chicken sandwiches, heavy on the bread, with potato chips, an apple and a cookie; later someone would end up with low glucose. Fr. W sat next to me; he wasn't overly talkative but I asked him why he didn't become a Dominican and he said he only briefly considered them and then added that he considered more seriously the Jesuit order due to liking St. Ignatius.
The tour of the museum was fabulous. I'd looked around at the dumpy auditorium where we ate and it looked like a forlorn junk store saddled with Catholic kitsch. I thought the museum would be similar, or at the very least small, but it was capacious as the day is long and filled with striking rooms full of books and art. (One was a “nun room”!?) The priest guide was entertaining and well-spoken and gave a spicy defense of Catholicism against Jewish and Protestant naysayers. He also mentioned something I should've realized: that there is no such thing as a “traditional Gaelic Mass” as the Irishfest advertises given that the Mass was in Latin for practically a millennium.
In the beginning he made a plea for funds that was off-putting and overly pushy, going so far as to make fun of a guy who placed a ten dollar bill in his hands as if he was doing the good padre a favor. But the museum itself won me over, as well as his enthusiastic tour talk. He spoke surprisingly emotionally about St. Peter's, a church on Fifth Avenue that had met its demise around 1970 when a lot of parishioner houses were swept away by the installation of Interstate 71. His long defense against those who said the church was demolished due to I-70 seemed curiously eccentric and overkill, yet he had gigantic visual aids showing the church property before and after I-71.
Much too soon that part was over and we headed into the cruel rain towards an Italian church I'd never seen before. Very colorful, with a bright blue-sky ceiling. Then off to Fr. W's home church, St. John the Evangelist, a handsome one modeled after many a church in Germany. Fr. W then said Mass for our group using the homily to tell us about the church and his role in it but also inspirational in how the destruction of the main stained glass window in the back led to the church's eventual restoration and how God does similarly with our souls.
On the way home we picked up Outback and then a generous happy hour followed by downer of a movie starring Matthew McCaughney titled “The Dallas Buyer's Club”. The 94% favorable rating swayed me too much. As someone wrote in a major publication, we are living in the golden age of television, not movies, and I for one would much rather see Justify or Nashville than anything at the local movie joint.
Was buoyed by the surprising news that my wife's niece is becoming a Catholic this Easter. Am reminded of the Flannery O'Connor's words about a voluntary conversion being a miracle and indeed with all the gloom and doom of the state of the world it's just always an amazing thing to see anybody converting. I'm curious at what brought her to this point, especially given that you can't convert without “supreme effort”, i.e. going to RCIA classes for a long, long time. That would seem to make converting to the Catholic Church a far more impressive thing than, say, getting married, since you can do that on a whim, in Vegas, in ten minutes. No barrier to entry to marriage and I wonder if the Catholic Church is the only non-educational institution that requires a barrier to entry with no financial reward. My workplace, for example, has a barrier to entry - usually a college degree of some sort - but they pay you. Clubs and organizations offer free or very cheap membership dues.
My wife was invited to the Easter Vigil; she doesn't want to stay for the whole thing but I do; the Easter Vigil is a bit long and brutal unless someone you know is being initiated into the Church (such as my sister-in-law a year or two ago) and then it's inspiring.
I wonder what impact, if any, my own wedding had on my wife's niece. Was it her first Catholic Mass? She would've been maybe 16 then. I think she might've been the one who received Communion illicitly but I can't recall. I wonder if Fr. G had planted a tiny, tiny seed in his dramatic, idiosyncratic narration of the Words of Institution. Stranger things have happened!
Later went for the obligatory run even though legs and lungs were DOA. A forced march, as it were. Went so slow that confused dogs were unsure, for barking purposes, whether I was running or walking....