|This picture was taken before the beautiful lateral devotional shrines were finished. I think I need a new picture.|
(This is a creative writing project that I was assigned to do for Writing Creative Non-Fiction. I was supposed to give a sense of a place: to describe it, but not in static terms. What do you think? Did I do St. Patrick Church justice?)
I am sitting in my favorite spot in this building, right in front of the statue of Our Lady, just finishing up my morning prayers. Every Tuesday, when the priest in my home parish has his day off, I am here. St. Patrick Church is a respite from the daily grind. From the moment I set foot in the church I am immersed in a pool of incense-scented, candle-lit silence. The calm settles over me like a warm blanket. We are told that God speaks in a still, small voice of calm and we have to be quiet to hear Him speaking. The silence in the Church is so vast that it has an energy all its own. It penetrates my ears and my chest and I feel, not cold and alone, but warm and embraced.
The church is very old as is the rectory at the southeast corner of the block. Both were built in the 1860’s, but the Parish Center is relatively new, built in 2000. Together, the buildings fill an entire city block. And every square inch of space available is used. This neighborhood used to house all of the Irish immigrants who followed the railroads out west from the East Coast and finally stopped here in Columbus. All the houses are gone, now, and no one actually lives within the parish boundaries. The church is nestled into a street of warehouses and now almost completely surrounded by the campus of Columbus State Community College. Its well-manicured side lawn and overflowing container gardens and window boxes bring life and color to the harsh and unyielding concrete and asphalt that surrounds it. It truly is an oasis of life and light in the heart of the city.
I look up as the lights come up at 6:54 AM and illuminate the high altar. It is a gothic-style altar, and was added sometime in the 1920’s after a fire gutted the church. It destroyed the interior of the building, but the firemen, many of whom were parishioners, managed to save the brand-new windows. I turn to look at the still darkened stained glass windows. I cannot see the images on them right now, but I have them memorized: The Wedding at Cana, The Annunciation, The Conversion of Brian Boru, The Death of St. Joseph and many others. It is a miracle that they are still here. If you look at the ceiling, you realize that while the outside roof is hipped, the inside ceiling is curved. That is because it covers the braces that maintain the structural integrity of the building because the original trusses were destroyed by the fire.
At 6:55, I hear the huge compressors in the crawlspace under the church start up, breaking the silence of the 50 or so people praying in the semi-darkness. These compressors drive the bells that begin to toll the Angelus. First the lowest tone of the Bells:
Bong – Bong – Bong
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary…
Bong – Bong – Bong
Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word. Hail Mary…
Bong - Bong – Bong
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Hail Mary…
Pour forth, we beseech thee, thy grace into our hearts…
At this point all three bells peal in concert for a full minute. As the silence penetrated my ears and chest, the bells penetrate my heart. From inside the church, I can feel my body rattle with each strike. My nose and eyes begin to sting. The joy communicated in the pealing of the bells as they celebrate the mystery of God becoming man sometimes moves me to tears. Today is one of those days. But they are tears of joy, not sadness.
The prayers of the day have begun, and I turn my thoughts toward God again and silence my wandering thoughts to prepare for Mass.
This church is really unlike any other Downtown church because the people who attend this church are not just the businessmen looking for something close or old families whose ancestors founded the parish. This church is full of life, as it teems with people on Sunday mornings. Families with 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 children, are all stuffed in a pew for Mass; Mom on one side, Dad on the other, with older siblings interspersed to keep the peace among the little ones. The parking lot is full of huge vans that these families use to commute their broods to Mass each week. Chances are if you see a 15-passenger van on the road with a “Pray the Rosary” bumper sticker, on a Sunday morning, they’re headed for St. Patrick Church. On the weekend it’s a lively, noisy place, where families come from all over the Central Ohio area, from Newark, Sunbury and Circleville, and even further, to hear the Word of God and be fed by the Body of Christ.
But, St. Patrick Church is more than just a place to gather to worship God. There are support groups for those suffering from Mental Illness. There are classes in Irish and Latin, right alongside the religious instruction that you might expect to be present. There is a library. There is even a sewing group that will teach you how to sew and help a less experienced seamstress power through even the toughest tailoring challenge.
What draws people to this place, so far from their homes? There are Catholic Churches in much closer proximity to their homes, yet, some families drive for an hour to get here. There are people who would say it’s the plaster. No doubt, St. Pat’s is a beautiful church, but that’s not the sum total of its charm. Some say it’s the music. Truly, the traditional music used at the Mass is beautifully chosen and sung to uplift and draw the listener closer to God in prayer, but it seems to be more than that, too.
There is warmth and genuineness in the prayer during Mass. Whether or not it is quiet, like it is today, or noisy, like it is on Sunday morning, with babies crying and small children asking burning questions that can’t wait, there is a peace that pervades these spaces. It is a peace that is palpable. You can feel it as soon as you enter the doors, but the best part is that it stays with you when you leave.
As morning mass wraps up, I genuflect and leave my pew. As I turn I see Lucy and Doug and their 10 kids finishing up their prayers and heading off to start another day of work and homeschooling. They are here every morning to start their day together in prayer before they head off their separate ways. Lucy is one my very dearest friends. She and I embrace each other in the nave and whisper “Good Morning!” to each other with beaming smiles. I wave to Doug as he hurries off to work. One by one, her little ones line up to hug me, too.
This is why people come to St. Patrick’s: Peace, Love and Joy – the kind that only comes from
close contact with Christ.