Saturday, August 30, 2014

Windsor's historic Assumption Church slated to close.

This morning I read some devastating news regarding a place dear to my heart: Assumption Church in Windsor, Ontario is slated to close in November after the failure of a four-year effort to raise $10 million for needed structural repairs to the 169-year-old edifice. Churches close their doors all the time, including old ones, but this proposed closing is shocking on a number of fronts: Assumption Church is home to the oldest Catholic parish in Canada west of Montreal, founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1767, and the beauty of the current church building and its prominent location beside the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit made Assumption an iconic landmark and an internationally-recognized historic site. The closing of Assumption Church means something to me personally because, as I noted in a post from a few years ago, I used to attend Mass there regularly when I was a Jesuit novice living across the river in Metro Detroit.

As the Windsor Star's reporting of the story seems to make clear, the decision to close Assumption Church comes down to money. The parish itself remains vibrant, with consistently high attendance at weekend Masses and various forms of outreach to the surrounding community. From the time that it became clear that the church needed extensive repairs costing millions of dollars, the parish and the local diocese have made concerted efforts to raise the required funds by appealing to the broader public. Initial efforts to raise money for the project with the help of a professional fundraising firm hired by the diocese collapsed on account of apparent mismanagement and potential malfeasance by the firm in question, and a subsequent fundraising campaign coordinated by the parish was also mired in controversy. Both campaigns seem to have been ill-starred in different ways, but I also have to imagine that any effort to raise $10 million would have faced considerable challenges given the economic downturn of the last decade and the relatively tiny base of financial support available in a smaller manufacturing city like Windsor.

Though the situation seems rather dire, I noticed a small glimmer of hope in the Windsor Star report on the proposed closing of Assumption Church. According to the local ordinary, Bishop Ronald Fabbro, the decision to close the church could be reversed if the money needed for repairs can be raised in the next couple of months - an admittedly daunting prospect that apparently consoles some parishioners. From the Windsor Star:
Fabbro did leave the door ajar for the church to be saved if somehow huge donations come rolling in and the $10-million target gets reached in short order.

"We will work with the bishop to resolve this so that it can be used again as a Catholic parish," [parish council chairman Kevin] Alexander said.

. . .

. . . [T]he chairman of the parish's finance committee the last two years indicated despite any pledges [to the restoration fund], the only thing that matters is "cash in hand" and right now the account for the church's renovations sits at about $1.1 million.

"It's pretty simple at this point," said Jason Grech, a local accountant. "The only thing we can do to save the church is come up with $10 million in two months. That's really easy to say, but it will be hard to accomplish."

Grech expressed some relief Friday because at least Fabbro's decision provides "a line that can be drawn" on the church’s fate.

"The reality is the church really will close unless we come up with the money," he said. "Call it a miracle that is needed, but who knows what can happen if some prominent people support the endeavour."
Assumption needs a miracle, and I will certainly be praying that, against the odds, the decision to close the church can be reversed. If you are interested in knowing more - and if you are in a situation to make a donation, however small - I urge you to take a look at the parish website. AMDG.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ten years on.

I entered the Society of Jesus ten years ago today, on Saturday, August 21, 2004. As I noted in a post published last year on this date, much has changed over the last decade. I entered the novitiate in a class of fourteen, six of whom are still Jesuits today. Pope John Paul II still reigned as Supreme Pontiff when I entered the novitiate, the only pope that I and a majority of my novitiate classmates had ever known. Ten years ago, I would not have believed that Joseph Ratzinger would succeed Karol Wojtyła as pope - and if anyone had told me then that the pope who would follow Benedict XVI would be a Jesuit, I would have scoffed at the suggestion and offered various arguments seeking to explain why it would never happen.

As I wrote last year, the reasons that led me to become a Jesuit and the reasons why I remain one are essentially the same. I entered the Society of Jesus largely thanks to the example of particular Jesuits whom I knew as teachers and scholars as well as priests, men who impressed upon me the sense that this motley yet cosmopolitan group of "learned priests" was worth joining. Some of the Jesuits who did the most to inspire my vocation have gone home to God, as Father Tom King did five years ago, while others, like Father Jim Schall, are now retired from the classroom. I am grateful for those Jesuits, living and deceased, who helped to bring me into the Society, but on this tenth anniversary of my entrance into the novitiate I am just as grateful for my friends and companions in formation who give me hope and confidence that the future of this enterprise is in good hands.

The photo that illustrates this post merits an explanation; this is the chapel at my old novitiate, Loyola House, as it appeared while I was a novice. Bright and airy if also austere and rather plain, the chapel at Loyola House has a special place in my heart owing to its role in my novitiate experience; this is where I first learned how to pray the Divine Office, initially struggling to figure out the organization of the breviary, and this is where I preached for the first time in the form of practice homilies that all of the novices were required to periodically deliver during Mass. Many times in that chapel my classmates and I attended morning Mass celebrated by Father Walt Farrell; the early hour was less than kind for night owls like me, but Walt's quietly dignified way of saying Mass and his invariably excellent (and often impressively concise) homilies made a lasting impression. These memories are bit more poignant now that Loyola House is no longer a Jesuit novitiate: the building is currently occupied by an interfaith peace organization, and I don't know what has become of the old chapel furnishings such as the altar, tabernacle, and crucifix. I recently heard that the old novitiate is also being used for Sunday services by a Detroit-area Quaker meeting, so the building is once again a place of worship even though it is no longer a Jesuit residence.

As I did in my ninth-anniversary post last year, I would like to round off this post with an appropriate verse from the psalms. Psalm 119:116 is used in the Benedictine rite of monastic profession, and I think that it speaks to my Jesuit vocation equally well: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam; et non confundas me ab expectatione mea. "Receive me, O Lord, according to your word, and I shall live; and let me not be confounded in my hope." AMDG.