A Community Shares Tears and Grace

community in wordsBad things happen to very good people. I had seen this story on the news, one of too many. As I have been talking to our parishioners this week, a Dad told me that his two sons went to school with the victim of this latestes senseless murder, Don Green, and they were “feeling the shock, so senseless” an act. If you’re unaware of what happened Friday night, you can read about it here – “Two Suspects Sought After Juniata Man Gunned Down”. The name, “Don” stuck in my mind and I checked Facebook and realized that I had talked to Don’s Dad, also Don, when we were distributing our information to our fellow parishioners at Holy Innocents. Don had stood outside on a dark, cold, windy Saturday night and listened to me as I explained our desire and need for a weekly Mass in Frankford. His son had gone ahead to the car (I bet to warm it up!!) and waited patiently while Don took the time to listen. A true act of kindness! Don is very involved in Holy Innocents and his community. I shared the story with my brother-in-law because he works at Naval Support Activity on Oxford Ave with Don. He knew Don and had volunteered in a tutoring program that Don ran at Carnell Elementary School. Our prayers, hearts and thoughts go out to the Green family and to all whose lives young Don already touched or would have touched in the future. We are all one community – one in Christ. I am respectful of all that must be happening at Holy Innocents as they prepare to say good-bye to Don, a young man taken much too soon. Lord, may you bless, in particular, the Green family, with all the love and support that they need, during this most difficult time and may the community also surround them with all that they will need.

I have been calling our St. Joachim and Mater Dolorosa parishioners regarding a petition to reopen St. Joachim – to get a weekly Mass in Frankford. I realized that Frankford is the community that has kept us going since St. Joachim closed in June 2013. Community is the most often mentioned word encountered when I talk to people and their experiences since both Catholic Churches closed in Frankford. That’s what we miss and that’s what we try to hold on to and it’s what we look for at the many parishes we visit trying to find that “Frankford style of community”! It’s rare. It’s a community where you can speak the truth and people will listen and let you have your say. We may not always agree but we try to work it out. We try to find that common ground – which is our faith – which is ourselves!! 

Father Higgins announced over the weekend at Mass that the St. Joachim convent had been sold for $200,000 to the Capuchins. I called Father Higgins this morning and left a message hoping to learn more about the purchase. I also told the secretary that we are sorry for the grief the Green family are experiencing and that all are in our prayers. We are respectful of all that must be happening and that learning more will just have to wait for the appropriate time.

Well, we do know that Archbishop Chaput is a Capuchin. We know that the Capuchins run St. John the Evangelist Church on 13th St. But we don’t know what plans they have for Frankford yet.  Until, we know more, we must keep working to reopen St. Joachim and doing what we think (with God’s help) will bring that about. 

As for our Frankford community, we do know what has been said up until now. The Archbishop tells us that Father Higgins makes all the decisions for the Worship Site. We know that Father Higgins has told us nothing would change as long as he is Pastor. We know that he did not even acknowledge our requests for a Mass for the Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Joachim on December 13, 2015. Our experience tells us that for over 2 years and 7 months, the community of Frankford, the community of St. Joachim, the community of Mater Dolorosa and the community of St. Joan of Arc have not received  compassion or a willingness to honor or value our communities.

We do know that at St. Joachim, Father Steve had us say a prayer to Padre Pio before Mass during the time of the Area Pastoral Planning Process. We know that Padre Pio was a Capuchin. We know that we’ve had the Blessed Mother’s ear, the love of her Son, and the watchful presence of His grandfather, St. Joachim. We know “by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

We know that we are steadfast in our hope and belief in the need for a Catholic Church in Frankford. We know we are Keep(ing) the Faith in Frankford and beyond.

 

Can We Be People of La Mancha?

Man of La ManchaGod never asks us to do anything easy and neither does the Pope with his belief of mercy for all. Every time I want to get angry and ask for God’s wrath and mighty justice, I struggle with having compassion and mercy towards Archbishop Chaput and Father Higgins for their actions in closing our two Churches in Frankford. Their ease in refusing to see the hurt, the damage done to the faith and to the faithful, not just in Frankford, but throughout the Archdiocese truly boggles my mind. I choose God always so I choose mercy. Whether your Church remained open, was closed and merged, or now, partnered with another parish, we are all affected as we are all members of the “One Body of Christ”.

I seek forgiveness from all those whose parishes started closing in the struggling urban areas of our city starting in back in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. I’m sure I felt sadness as my Mother’s beloved parish, Our Lady of Holy Souls, went through many transitions, but is still alive as Our Lady of Hope. Where was my voice in outcry at the beginning of the abandonment of our city? If you haven’t read this post, “Dooming Us To Repeat History” by David Harris, please take the time and inform yourselves that this effort, especially closing Churches within city boundaries, began long ago. So many people that I’ve met have told me they’ve attended Churches throughout our metropolitan area that were closed, merged and closed again. The sadness is real and did this have to be?

Well, that’s why we need to be the people of La Mancha? Who are the people of La Mancha? You and I should consider ourselves people of La Mancha! We are very real – we believe that we can affect change – and those of us who opposed the severely-flawed Area Parish Pastoral Planning Process can take heart today that we did, ultimately, affect change for those parishes undergoing the process after us. There’s a new model the Archdiocese is using, “Partner Parishes” where a Church is not closed but partnered with another nearby. The “Partner Parishes” share a Pastor, staff and combine their Parish Councils. However, since each Church remains a Parish, they each have their own Finance Council. It seems this model has already been used in other Dioceses – why was Philadelphia so slow to adopt it?

David Harris shared with me earlier this week, the January 10, 2016 Weekly Bulletin from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary regarding the outcome for the five Port Richmond parishes in PPA 570. You may remember they were granted additional time last year to more fully come to a consensus on their futures. (I checked the other parish websites but the weekly bulletin for this week was not yet posted as of this writing.) You can read their decisions that have been submitted to the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and the Archbishop and the explanation of how they arrived at them pictured below here on page 3.Nativity BVM January 10 2016 bulletin page 3

We pray with the parishioners of Our Lady Help of Christians, which will become a Worship Site of Nativity BVM that their Pastor has the mercy to see to it that they have a Weekly Mass celebrated there at the Worship Site. That was all we wanted in Frankford – a weekly Mass. As many have said, “What’s so hard about that?”

What has Archbishop Chaput, the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and, hopefully, the Pastors learned about this PPA Process? A lot and it shows. Here are some changes to the process since we underwent it in 2012-2013:

  • Meetings were held to “reach agreement”. For PPA 560 (the faithful in Harrowgate, Frankford and Juniata), the meetings were simply to get it done.
  • When “the Committee was unable to reach consensus”, they were given more time.PPA 570’s experience reflects a real process with invested members treated respectfully and “had the opportunity to contribute and present his or her viewpoints throughout the discussions”. The antithesis of what happened in our process. In PPA 560, we had two Committee meetings and then it was between the Pastors. Father Higgins and the Archdiocese ultimately decided.
  • “Every member of the PPA 570 Committee stated that he/she would accept and support the restructuring decision made by the ASPC, regardless of what it ultimately would be.” The committee members also had to state this later “publicly”. Someone didn’t want trouble after the decisions were made. I went to our archives to see what I was doing when St. Joachim first closed. Take a look here – Keep the Faith in Frankford. As a member of the Transition Team, I “walked the walk” and gave the “new” parish of Holy Innocents the openness they deserved. I attend Holy Innocents but fervently believe that we in Frankford need and are worthy of a weekly Mass.
  • As already explained there is a new,  to Philadelphia, “Parish Partnership” model. Who has the courage to “right the unrightable wrongs” to parishes that didn’t have this opportunity for consideration? It only leads us to believe that once the Archdiocese took the assets of the 46 plus Churches closed/merged, they had “righted their financial ship” and didn’t have to take such drastic measures. We believe those drastic measures were never needed had the Archbishop and our hierarchy been straightforward, honest and transparent with us rather than using the guise of the PPA process. Real estate, you’re money is in real estate was the rallying cry of those advising our Archbishop!
  • Keeping the finances separate is a good idea and there must have been some trouble or feedback about combining financials earlier. We estimate, and have proof from financial information shared by Father Thomas Higgins, Pastor, Holy Innocents, that rental income from St. Joachim School was $364,505 and Mater Dolorosa $231,952 for two years totaling $1,190,914 plus Mater Dolorosa had over $900,000 in the bank thus the assets of Holy Innocents gained over $2 million dollar when we both closed. Father Higgins, at the time was Dean, and we believe there was a real conflict of interest. Nevertheless, in spite of our contributions, Father Higgins reports as of this coming fiscal year (2016), Holy Innocents is projecting a loss of $776,871.00
  • Partnering allows “each parish in the partnership (to) remain a parish”. The parish of St. Joachim was suppressed; we’re appealing and believe no decree can suppress a parish community. It doesn’t work that way. We have had a parish in Frankford for over 170 years when 23 men and women first asked for one. We will not let our forebears down.
  • “Pastors and representatives all agree that the success of the process will ultimately depend on members of all parishes embracing the new communities…” Here, we can give you all real advice. Don’t fire people from the Transition Team simply because they used their rights as members of the laity to file a Vatican appeal. Don’t say “the decision is already made and we are not considering any changes.” “Don’t tell your new parishioners that “As long as I’m the Pastor of this parish, nothing is going to change”. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies!

Father Higgins has refused to allow us to use St. Joachim for either private or public worship except for the occasional funeral, wedding and annual Feast Day Mass. The Congregation of the Clergy in January, 2015 established a precedent in the Diocese of Greensburg in Western Pennsylvania that every Worship Site also have a Mass on their Dedication Day. We wrote and emailed Father Higgins and he ignored us. We have looked to Archbishop Chaput to help us gain justice for Frankford as we have been totally ignored within Holy Innocents. St. Joan of Arc, a Worship Site, has a weekly Mass.

We celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Port Richmond and keep all those, especially those of Our Lady Help of Christians in our hearts and prayers. Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us! The people of La Mancha are with you all as we continue our efforts (to reopen St. Joachim and once again and to have a weekly Mass in our community) and as you await the final decisions of the Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Committee and the Archbishop in late January or early February. We’re very much aware that such recommendations have not always been so easily accepted. St. Joachim was supposed to stay open, too! The Holy Spirit is with us and our faith is strong! The people of La Mancha still believe that for us things “are impossible but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Here’s a soulful rendition by Luther Vandross of “The Impossible Dream”! Thank you for reading and enjoy!

“Humility Rocks” – Jack Hohenstein

This past Saturday, July 25, 2015, we celebrated the Third Annual Feast Day Mass at St. Joachim in Frankford, Phila., PA since we merged with Holy Innocents Parish, Juniata. Mater Dolorosa in Frankford and St. Joan of Arc in Harrowgate also merged with Holy Innocents Parish. Ascension Parish merged the year before. Yes, you are correct, that’s quite a few churches. These mergers left Frankford without a Catholic Church. St. Joachim’s beginnings date back to 1843. No Catholic Church in Frankford.

World Meeting of Families icon

World Meeting of Families icon

I have been blessed with many gifts from the Lord. Humility is one I really have to work at and, if you know me, you understand that. But God has certainly humbled me over these past two years – every time we need to demonstrate the level of faith that the members of St. Joachim Parish and Mater Dolorosa Parish still have, I am in awe. Saturday was another occasion when I felt so grateful for those who continue to support and believe that Frankford needs and deserves a Catholic Church.

You may remember that we wrote to Archbishop Chaput after the unveiling of the World Families’ icon to say that we felt that St. Joachim, Jesus’ grandfather, was too much in the shadows and grandfathers and grandmothers play a very active role in family life these days for many reasons. Well, the Archbishop thought we were just looking for things to get upset at and as, is his way, the icon is perfect and will not be changed. Take a look and what do you think? I remember my grandfather, James, as a larger than life person. He had one gold tooth. I can still see myself looking up at him and my Mother being devastated when he passed rather early. One of our grandfathers, Jack Hohenstein, wrote a haiku:

Holy Family Icon
“Where is Grandfather?”
“He’s hidden in the shadows.”
Humility rocks!

St. Joachim and St. Ann are the patron saints of grandparents. Father Thomas Higgins, Pastor of Holy Innocents, had our grandparents stand during MassBlessing for Grandparents and gave them a blessing. St. Joachim also accomplished and delivered a surprise gift. At the end of Mass, over 100 people were in attendance, he offered to “continue the conversation” after we had our pretzels and water ice outside, supplied of course, by Keep the Faith in Frankford. We would have had even more people at Mass but we knew the air conditioning was not working. Relive our celebration of St. Joachim and our community with us.

At this point, 20-25 people returned to talk with Father Higgins. I admired his willingness to listen to the frustration and pain of the people since St. Joachim closed. This was never about a building; our efforts were aimed at the Archdiocese whom we felt abandoned Frankford and we would not allow that to happen.

Father wanted to talk about how we could be a more active part of Holy Innocents. He started out by telling us that Joyce Evans of Fox 29 here in Philadelphia interviewed him for a piece next month. He said if he could fill Holy Innocents, he would think about what he could do for us/other worship sites?

Father Higgins listened – Bob said it was for the “first time” and heard the people say:

  1. We’ve lost respect for the clergy;
  2. Take our money and then tell us that rental income can’t be counted on for support though you used it to support Holy Innocents;
  3. Wanted at least a monthly Mass in Frankford (overwhelming majority favored this but I said what would the people we are fighting for – the disenfranchised, the marginal, do the other 3 weeks?);
  4. 11 year old, Morgen, told Father Higgins, she wanted to worship in her own church because of her important memories and she wants to pass these experiences on to her own children;
  5. Are the two priests of the House of Mercy in Kensington assigned to Holy Innocents? They will be going to assist in other parishes saying Masses. Since they have to say Masses why can’t they come here to Frankford who has nothing?
  6. Hardly anybody would have been here today had it not been for the efforts of Keep the Faith in Frankford and our Vatican appeal. (Why was this Mass “missing” from the parish bulletin. It was never advertised but announced at Mass. Did Father Higgins just want to see who would come after all this time?)
  7. We knew that he was the “poster boy” for the Archdiocesan megalopolis church because he has 22 properties – now, he said he is down to 17
  8. We rehashed the PPA process and the flaws, etc.
  9. Why is it that whenever the laity ask questions, we are labeled as “disloyal Catholics”?

Why, now? Why is Father Higgins talking to us? We listened to:

  1. Reasons why Father can’t give us a Mass – maybe down to 2 priests in 9 months?
  2. If we come over to Holy Innocents to fill it, to contribute…(the two rentals of our closed schools is over $50,000 per month and the tenants moved out. Holy Innocents is feeling the pinch. Is it just for the money?)
  3. Did they know we were planning a future action at Holy Innocent by distributing information to their parishioners why we can’t abandon Frankford?
  4. It was obvious he wanted our passion and energy but what is he willing to give in return?

Many reasons, still, why we can’t have something in Frankford. Not yet a discussion on how to make it happen. We’ll have to see if this “conversation” bears any fruit. Again, Father Higgins, we bless you for being willing to be humble yourself, too. Luke 14:11 tells us all, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted”.

Food for Thought – “People Long for Spiritual Home….

SaintJoachimRomanCatholicChurch_1 copy 2I have been researching the Archdiocese’s Parish Pastoral Process which failed the faithful in Frankford – miserably. It has taken a little over a month to put the pieces of this puzzle together. We will tell the story. We also want to save future parishes from this obviously flawed process. I came across this post on CatholicPhilly.com and found Franciscan Sister Katerina Shuth’s explanation of changes in parish life pertinent. In her lecture, “Shaping Parish Life: Ongoing Influences of Vatican II and the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, Sister used the life of Monsignor Phillip J. Murnion to illustrate how parish life has changed from 1963 to now. Monsignor was the founding director of the National Pastoral Life Center in New York and this later became the home of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. What hasn’t changed is what the best pastors know:

Msgr. Murnion’s efforts to envision and support vibrant parishes relied on a deep understanding of the Incarnation and a commitment to dialogue, partnership and collaboration among all levels of the church, Sister Schuth said.

Monsignor passed away in 2003. Monsignor Murnion, pray for us, as we try to find the “common ground” here in Philadelphia. Read all of the story at People Long for a Spiritual Home, an Inviting Parish, Says Franciscan Nun