Friday, August 14, 2015


Rather belatedly, I'd like to keep a promise I made a few months ago to post more photos and narrative from a Southern road trip that my friend and confrere Matt Dunch and I took in late April and early May. I've already written about the start of our trip in New Orleans, and today's post covers our time in Alabama. Here is St. Joseph's Chapel at Spring Hill College in Mobile, seen on a lovely April morning.

The Jesuit cemetery at Spring Hill, with the old Sodality Chapel in the distance. Built in 1850, the Sodality Chapel is the oldest surviving building on the Spring Hill campus, and Mass is still celebrated there each morning.

Buried at Spring Hill College, Father James H. McCown, S.J. was a friend and correspondent of Flannery O'Connor. Some of O'Connor's letters to Father McCown are included in The Habit of Being, and the two Jesuit characters in O'Connor's short story "The Enduring Chill" were apparently inspired by Father McCown and one of his confreres.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama earned an iconic place in American history on Sunday, March 7, 1965, when a group of unarmed civil rights activists were violently repelled by state and local police as they sought to cross the bridge as part of a planned march from Selma to Montgomery in support of equal voting rights. The "Bloody Sunday" attack drew national media attention and helped to galvanize popular support for civil rights, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in August 1965.

"It's Nice to Have You in Birmingham," a slogan used to promote the eponymous Alabama city since the 1950s and regarded by some as unintentionally ironic when the city became a flashpoint for resistance to integration in the 1960s. "It's Nice to Have You in Birmingham" has made something of a comeback during the last decade, with local boosters commissioning new murals featuring the old slogan and producing t-shirts and other wares bearing the same message.

Another site significant in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, Kelly Ingram Park features a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. gazing towards 16th Street Baptist Church, which served as an important organizing point in the Birmingham Campaign led by King and others in the spring of 1963. In the midst of the campaign, on April 12, 1963 - Good Friday that year - King was arrested and spent Easter in the Birmingham City Jail, where he wrote a particularly famous letter. Early on the morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church achieved lasting and tragic notoriety when a group of civil rights opponents planted a bomb under the church steps which subsequently exploded during Sunday School classes, killing four young African-American women and injuring many others. Meant to intimidate supporters of integration, the bombing instead helped to generate greater sympathy for the Civil Rights Movement.

While making the rounds of historic sites in downtown Birmingham, Matt and I had lunch at Urban Standard. A recent Yelp review by a visitor from Seattle described Urban Standard this way: "The name is entirely accurate as it's your stereotypical fresh-out-of-a-tumblr-blog café run by every hipster in every major city... but this is one of the best I've been to. This place is the real deal and worth stopping by." I'd say that's about right: Urban Standard is the sort of downtown hipster hangout one finds in many North American cities, but it also offers great food and a neat atmosphere, and I'd rate lunch there as one of the highlights of our time in Birmingham.

To give you more of a sense of the place, here is another view of the interior of Urban Standard. If this post leads at least one visitor to Birmingham to check the place out, I will be content - and I'm sure the proprietors will be happy as well.

This poster was seen near the pickup counter at Urban Standard; I'd never heard of the Dead Milkmen before, but one report in the Birmingham media describes them as "satirical punk rock legends, walking a line between punk’s roots and its poppier days of the 1990s." Saturn is apparently Birmingham's newest venue for alternative music; I didn't go there, but I was pleased to learn of Saturn's existence.

Spending a few days in Birmingham also gave me an opportunity to serve as a deacon at the televised daily Mass on EWTN, with Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J. as celebrant. Mitch graciously hosted Matt and me in Birmingham, and some may recall that he later concelebrated at my first Mass as a priest.

Sixty miles north of Birmingham, the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville is home to a community of cloistered Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration and a place of pilgrimage. Built in the late 1990s at the behest of EWTN's founder Mother Angelica, the Shrine's Italianate architecture is meant to evoke the founding era of the Franciscans; nestled in the rolling hills of northern Alabama, the Shrine is also a sort of Catholic bulwark in the heart of the Bible Belt - a sort of missionary outpost, one might say, much as EWTN itself was in its early years.

The interior of the Shrine - a peaceful place to pray, and a reminder that it's still possible to build beautiful Neo-Gothic churches in America.

Further posts completing the saga of the Southern road trip will hopefully be forthcoming in the next few days - I recognize that I made a similar promise in the spring, but this time I might actually be able to follow through. Good wishes to all in late summer. AMDG.


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