For the weekend of Oct. 16 and 17, I was asked to be an archdiocesan representative at one of the merging parishes identified by the strategic plan. Not as an expert, but as a representative, it would be my job to listen, relay information and refer people to where they would be able to find out more.
I found myself driving out to a country parish, St. Scholastica, just outside of New Prague. Having grown up just 10 miles from this church, I was familiar with it yet had never set foot in the building. In my youth I had attended services almost exclusively at St. Thomas, the Irish parish, as opposed to St. Scholastica, the German one.
As I approached the church, I could see the church steeple silhouetted by the sunset. I imagined farmers and families for miles around had only to look up and see the steeple, the roots of their community — the center of their worship.
A phrase from Thomas Merton’s book “Seven Storey Mountain” came to mind. As Merton describes the church that was the center of the village he grew up in, he says, “Even now the church dominated the town, and each noon and evening sent forth the Angelus bells . . . reminding people of the mother of God who watched over them.”
As I entered the church, the well-maintained sanctuary was decorated with fall colors and a picture of the Angelus as part of its fall decor. The picture of the farmer and his wife pausing midday to the sound of the Angelus bells tolling at their nearby parish only solidifying my image of the church and the surrounding parishioners being called to prayer.
What would happen when these parishioners heard the news that they would be merging?
As I continued driving to my ancestral home, where I would be staying that night, I noticed something else along the way. In the 30 years since I lived on the “family farm,” something was missing. In places where there once were homesteads, only a clump of trees now existed in the middle of a field. Many of the neighboring farms and neighbors that I grew up with had disappeared. Automation, better farm equipment and larger farm corporations have replaced many of the family farms that I remembered.
Still, the people came. They came to Mass that night and in the morning. Fewer families and fewer children were represented in the congregation, but a more diverse population both by geography and ethnicity gathered for Mass. Here people traditionally from the Irish, German or Czech parish, along with those newcomers to the expanding New Prague suburbs, came together to worship. Most came from much farther away than where my nostalgic idea of the angelus bell calling them to worship could have been heard.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Over 60 years ago, my great uncle, John L. O’Connell wrote a short biography of the churches in this area. Titled, “The Little Log Church of Derrynane,” the book retells the stories of the immigrant families that originally settled in the area.
Without a priest of their own or building for each of the nationalities represented, families of various immigrant populations worshiped together in a log church before they eventually separated and built separate churches representing their nationality. And now once again we are worshiping together.
It seems everything with Christ, God and the church cycles around again — sowing seeds, harvesting, cycling over again, season after season. A new season is upon us — ever changing, but ever the same. I am saddened by the changes to my ancestral parish, but I am comforted by the words in the letter to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Sharon Wilson is respect life coordinator for the archdiocesan Office for Marriage, Family and Life.
Category: Archdiocese Planning Process