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.

1 comment:

JM said...

I just drove by all the parish's and schools that were part of West End Catholic. I had Natalie with me and it was nostalgic to reminisce about the not so long ago days gone by. She's only 9 but I can remember being nine and attending St. Casmir's school as if it were yesterday. I still recall the layout of the classroom and the floor plan of the school.And of course Sr. Angeline preparing us for the Christmas nativity skit. And the SRA kit filled with stories and getting tearful at the end of Charlotte's Web. My world 9 year old world was different than Natalie's. I showed her the street that was blocked off for recess and told her how we sat on the river wall or went in the church to say prayers at recess. Imagine the liability today....Now its just a ghost of a school and in another generation will be forgotten completely.