‘Catacombs’ in White Bear Lake an encounter with the saints

| October 30, 2015 | 0 Comments
Students in faith formation at St. Pius X in White Bear Lake dress like saints Oct. 28 for the parish's catacomb tour event. Courtesy St. Pius X

Students in faith formation at St. Pius X in White Bear Lake dress like saints Oct. 28 for the parish’s catacomb tour event. Courtesy St. Pius X

As a landscape designer, Jack Dorcey typically creates outdoor spaces with a sense of peace and tranquility. An annual Halloween event at St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, however, tests his ability to foster tension, mystery — and the miraculous.

He’s the mastermind behind the “catacomb” tour organized by the parish’s high school faith formation program, which he directs as a volunteer. With the help of students, Dorcey, 35, transforms one of the church’s gathering spaces into a labyrinth where explorers led by lanterns encounter Catholic saints.

“It’s all about creating feeling and creating spaces when you design this stuff,” he said.

Dorcey loves Halloween and conceived the catacomb idea while at eucharistic adoration in 2012 when Halloween fell on a Wednesday, faith formation night. Knowing fewer students would be in class, he wanted to find a fun way to teach about the saints.

He’s done it every year since on the Wednesday before Halloween. Ever a designer, he first maps out his plan on the computer. He loves crafting the set — which includes suspending plastic sheet cloth from the community room’s ceiling to make the labyrinth’s “walls” — and building the “gags” — the portrayals of saints’ miracles or martyrdoms.

This year, those “gags” include the levitation of St. Christina the Astonishing, a holy Belgian woman said to have levitated at her funeral in the 13th century before returning to life, and mystical light emanating from the tomb of St. Sharbel, a Lebanese monk who died in 1898 whose relics will coincidently be visiting two Twin Cities Maronite-rite Catholic parishes next week.

High-schoolers act as guides and portray the saints in the “catacomb,” Dorcey said. Robed with lanterns in hand, the guides lead groups of younger kids, parents and parishioners through the dark catacomb caverns from one saint to the next, stopping to hear the saint tell their story.

He tries to mix obscure saints with those who are better known. Other saints featured this year are St. Juan Diego, to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531; St. Denis, a third-century bishop of Paris who, according to legend, carried his head a distance after he was martyred by decapitation; St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, a 19-century Carmelite canonized earlier this year; Blessed Miguel Pro, a Jesuit martyred in Mexico in 1927; and St. Raphael the archangel.

Though technically not saints in the proper sense because they’re angels, not humans, Dorsey said he likes to include archangels.

Halloween as it’s now observed evolved from All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saint’s Day, when the Church celebrates all the saints, known and unknown.

St. Pius X parish added a saint costume contest to the catacombs event. Dorsey hopes the costumes and tour prompt the estimated 100 participants to explore the lives of the saints and their place in the Church.

“They’re good role models,” Dorsey said of saints. “There’s always an interesting saint that you can really relate to.”

Many have fascinating stories, Dorsey added, pointing to the legend of St. George, said to have slain a dragon to save a princess.

“Christianity isn’t boring at all — it’s really interesting, the deeper you dig into your faith,” he said. “Here they can find all of these cool stories. It’s not just some monk that sat and wrote in a monastery in Europe and wrote 500 years ago that’s a saint. It’s all these really cool people, and some are really relevant and current people.”

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