Thursday, May 20, 2010

What parish are ya from?

Memories shall not parish - Philadelphia Daily News

By Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Daily News

Daily News Columnist

WHEN the Philadelphia Archdiocese announced that Cardinal Dougherty and North Catholic high schools would be closed at the end of this school year, I immediately thought of football.

I attended another archdiocesan high school - Bishop McDevitt, in Wyncote, class of '76 (Go, Lancers!). Before every football game, the pep squad would plaster the hallways with handmade posters boasting how our team was gonna kick the cleats off whichever opponent had the stupidity to think it'd survive the trounce of shame we'd inflict on the field.

Dougherty and North were particularly detested rivals. Their schools were almost twice our size, and their teams evinced a swagger that let us know, even if we crushed them on the field, that we were still the chumps.

I loathed those teams with a harmless hatred preserved ever since in the soft-focus part of my brain where memories are always current and untouched.

In that place, the Archdiocese has dozens of teeming parishes and schools, each so identified with its community that thousands of Catholics thought in terms of parishes, not towns or neighborhoods, when we envisioned the region's geography.

You weren't from Mount Airy; you were from St. Raymond. You weren't from Norristown; you were from Holy Saviour. Fox Chase? St. Cecilia. Cobbs Creek? St. Cyprian. South Philly? Well, for God's sake, which part? St. Monica? St. Rita? Stella Maris?

Me, I was from Holy Martyrs, which non-Catholics might know as tiny Oreland, Pa.

Many of the parishes were founded in the postwar, golden age of Philadelphia Catholicism, when families were so big - my parents had nine of us - we jammed the pews on Sunday.

But it's not our parents' Archdiocese anymore. It hasn't been for a very long time.

The region's Catholic families are smaller. Many have moved far beyond the city's borders, leaving behind crumbling buildings - some that were once magnificent. Others, horrified by the Archdiocese's handling of the sex-abuse scandal within its own house, have abandoned the church altogether.

Without enough families to support them - with dollars, religious fervor or both - the Archdiocese is sort of rightsizing itself. Some parishes are closing or merging, and their schools doing the same. In some cases, the changes appear to make sense. Others - like the shuttering of Dougherty and North Catholic, which I've covered in this column - are a betrayal.

The closings are tough for Catholics still attached to their parishes. For anyone else, it's downright disorienting to think that a certain neighborhood may no longer be associated with the school that once anchored it.

Take Queen of Peace, in Ardsley, and St. John of the Cross, in Roslyn. The parishes will merge their schools at the Queen of Peace site this fall. So, will Roslyn still be "St. John of the Cross," once there's no longer a St. John's school to anchor the town in anyone's mental geography? Or is it now just "Roslyn"?

It's a silly question. But at least I know that other born-and-bred Philly Catholics might be sensing the same seismic shift of the region's landscape and asking themselves the same thing.

Next month, my alma mater, Holy Martyrs grade school, will be among the newest handful of Catholic schools that will shut their doors forever.

(click on title for the entire article)

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