Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The End Of An Era

It seems not even churches are safe in this economy, and my childhood parish has unfortunately been one of the casualties.

The church in which I made my first communion, confirmation, got married and had my daughter baptized closed its doors last month, along with several others in my hometown. St. Casimir's Roman Catholic Church is no more.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania has been a depressed area for over 30 years since the decline of the U.S. steel industry. The area has never recovered, and young people who cannot find work in Johsntown simply do not stay. With no influx of young blood, membership in these churches has declined for years. West End Catholic, my elementary school which was a conglomerate of many of these churches, closed several years ago. Now most of the churches have also been forced out of existence.

These churches were built in the early part of the 20th century and were not the stark, modern houses of woship you see today. Elaborate marble columns, intricate statues and altars, and elegant stained glass windows defined their architecture.

The most amazing aspect is that they were built free of debt, mainly by the hands of the parishioners themselves. How these simple immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or Slovakia (as each ethnic group then had their own church) were able to construct something so magnificent when many of them could barely support their families is astounding.

What will happen to these beautiful structures remains a mystery. The memories held within their walls--thousands of celebrations of birth and marriage, and commemorations of a life well-lived after death--make them more than just stone structures.

They are the entire history of families. They deserve to be more than a pile of bricks.