Monday, April 28, 2008

Saint Aloysius Church...lives on!

Stained Glass at the now suppressed St.Aloysius Church, Philadelphia, Pa.

There is no such thing as “desanctification” within the Catholic Church. That is precisely the reason we need to develop good stewardship practices. The Church needs to reuse, restore and refurbish materials when new parishes are built, not loot the parishes that are closed and sell our religious patrimony to the high bidder, only to be reused and profaned in some secular setting.

Recently in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia dedicated the parish of Saint Mary Magdalen in Media, Pa. The new church incorporated stained glass and other liturgical pieces that were taken from parishes suppressed in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia a few years ago. Saint Aloysius Church formerly in South Philadelphia was the source for the stained glass windows that now grace Saint Mary Magdalen Parish in Media, Pa. The former St.Aloysius Church was a national parish, dedicated to the needs of immigrant German Catholics in the 19th and 20th centuries. The stained glass dates from the 1890’s was originally produced in Germany for the original parish church.

This is the type of architectural integration and design integrity we need to foster in our Catholic Churches in the United States…quality reintegration of well-executed artistic pieces.

When we are considering the construction of a new parish community, existing resources of materials, statues, altars and so on should be considered for inclusion in the new church building. Not only does the practice conserve parish financial resources, it incorporates the historical and artistic elements of former parishes into the living organic activities of the new parish community. An organic bridge of continuity is built between the faithful communities of the past and the members of the Church present. In the same manner, the theological continuity of the Body of Christ is realized as well.

Parish communities need to be taught that the worshiping Church is a compilation of past, present and future members of the Mystical Body. We are all uniquely joined with all of our brothers and sisters in faith from all ages when we celebrate our Eucharistic sacrifice and the mysteries of our Catholic faith.

Saint Mary Magdalen Parish seems to have gotten it right in even reusing the altar of sacrifice from another suppressed parish, St. Clement, formerly in Southwest Philadelphia. The entire understanding of what the concept of “sacred” invokes is signified by the reintegration of the sacred altar from an old place of worship into a new, sacred place of worship clearly indicates the transcendent nature of our religious beliefs as well as the chronological continuity that endures in our Catholic rites. An altar, consecrated a century ago still represents the sacred mysteries of our Eucharistic faith even when that altar has been transported to a new environment.

Part of the movement in the United States regarding our Catholic Churches is the reinforcement and the reiteration of our churches as sacred space. They are not multi-purpose buildings that have multiple functions…they are our Catholic Churches specifically for the ritual celebration of our most sacred and holy rites. When any Catholic group finds it necessary to build or renovate the parish church, the ritual and sacramental purpose for the new building should always be first in the minds of those responsible for the planning and implementation.

While the Church is indeed composed of living people, we need a temporal place to celebrate our faith. With this in mind, every attempt to preserve quality objects and materials of our historical Catholicism should be integrated with our new sites for Catholic worship. Perhaps the best solution would be to educate clergy, religious and parishioners on the history and symbolism of Catholic art and architecture so they might better comprehend the unique social, cultural and artistic responsibility we as Church are called to preserve. As a Church we are responsible for catechesis and evangelization, but also reflection and comprehension of our most ancient and prolific historical foundations. Between our Catholic past and our Catholic present, there is a theological continuity that exists and deserves fostering and preservation. Perhaps if we consider this organic continuity, understanding Pope Benedict’s rationalization in restoring the Mass of Blessed John XXIII is better understood in terms of a “bridge” rather than an alternative means of liturgical worship.

The Pope clearly understands and wants the entire Church to understand that our Catholic identity is a cumulative appreciation of our past and our present and is continuously growing and evolving as a living, dynamic expression of our faith. In most cases, especially in the United States we sometime forget to realize there is a constant connection between the dimensions of the past, present and future.

In a society that exists in the constant, NOW of our society, the critical heritage of our foundational past is often forgotten. Additionally, the instantaneous demands of immediacy forget to consider the future implications of our actions. As Catholics, we are called to a greater sense of personal and historical responsibility in our actions. Our identity as Catholics is integrated to our theological past and our eschatological future. When we design, plan and build places for our liturgical worship, we should always be aware of this transcendent reality of our mysterious faith.

We are being called in the 21st century to a new age of Catholicism. Namely, a Catholicism that transcends geopolitical and social boundaries, one that integrates our qualitative liturgical and artistic traditions and attempts to adapt our cumulative Catholic identity into a new evangelization and catechesis for the whole world. Perhaps just a simple start of recycling our sacred objects and artistic expressions into modern houses of prayer, we can send a strong message to the entire world regarding our seriousness to instill religious and ecological quality to the next generation of Catholic faithful.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. He writes daily at & “Nothing Left Unsaid!” is his daily column @ Comments are always welcome @


Coatesville Traditional Irish Music Series said...

Thanks so much for this piece on the stained glass window from my old parish, St. Aloysius ... it really put a lump in my throat. I'm planning to take my family to go and see the window at St Mary Magdalen's in Media. I'm out in Chester County now, near West Chester, but my sister is still on S. 26th Street, and my Aunt Anna's over at Newkirk & Tasker ... used to be St. Gabe's parish. Check out my own Irish web site if you have a chance (it's about traditional music). Take care and God bless yis!

"Franny" Dalton / 26th & Morris

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