Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Still much to be said about historical preservation.

  This article is a reprint of my Sept. 2010 comments regarding the state of Assumption Church. Recently, events have changed and a demolition permit has been issues. Perhaps there is nothing left to say regarding this particular Catholic parish. However, there are volumes to be written and said regarding the need to develop a responsible plan of historical conservation among all of the various architecturally significant churches of all denominations in Philadelphia. We need to no preserve for our future, not the best examples of the worst architectural achievements. Rather we need to objectively preserve, restore and reuse, "the Best of the Best!"


Opportunity for Philadelphia to honor John Neumann & Katharine Drexel...Philadelphia Citizens.

Last week the Historical Commission of the City of Philadelphia voted to permit demolition of the former Assumption Parish on Spring Garden Street. Seemingly this is the end of a long struggle to preserve the historically significant structure that has languished for many years waiting for the final rendering to come. There are many levels of culpability and many individual groups and individuals that have contributed to the demise of this architecturally significant piece of Philadelphia’s long legacy. My point is not to lay blame or to indicate what could have been, should have been or might have been in regards to the proper administration of the former parish.
The facts concerning Assumption are simple and clear. The parish holds historical significance for the people of Philadelphia because of two individuals that were part of the life of the historical parish of the 19th and 20th centuries; John Neumann and Katharine Drexel. As Bishop of Philadelphia, John Neumann assisted in the solemn consecration of the newly constructed church. As a newborn child, Katharine Drexel was baptized at the church, entering the Catholic faith destined for a life in excess of ninety years. Remarkably, if not for the events that happened in the years after both Neumann’s and Drexel’s common association with Assumption Church, the events would have disappeared into history.
We know however, that the lives of these two Philadelphians, one a priest and bishop, the other an heiress to a large financial legacy and later the foundress of a community of sisters would transform life for not only Philadelphia, but individuals throughout the world.
Bishop Neumann, as Bishop of Philadelphia, deserves recognition not just because he participated in the consecration of Assumption Church, but because he was one of the most influential Philadelphians of the 19th century. His pastoral initiatives encompassed the entire State of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern New Jersey. He was the principle driving force behind the foundation of the Catholic educational system in Philadelphia and subsequently the entire United States. He worked as a priest and bishop to zealously unite the multicultural tapestry of 19th century Philadelphia into a cohesive city that lived up to the ideals of Penn’s vision of a City of Brotherly Love.
Katharine Drexel as a citizen of Philadelphia nurtured a vision of charity that extended to peoples of all races, especially African-American and Native American peoples. Coupled with her love of the Catholic Eucharist, a perspective on the unity of all peoples, courage in addressing social inequities among minorities and total distribution of her personal inheritance to victims of poverty and racial injustices; Katharine Drexel’s legacy straddles the 19th & 20th centuries in Philadelphia and the entire United States.
The period of Katharine Drexel’s life was one that witnessed an incredible amount of racial inequality between African Americans and Caucasian peoples. In Philadelphia, Katharine Drexel provided the bedrock foundation of the American Civil Rights Movement, long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had a dream of racial equality in America. Mother Katharine Drexel established a religious community of sisters that exclusively ministered to the needs of what was then called, Black and Indian Peoples.
Over the course of her lifetime the Sisters of the Most Blessed Sacrament distributed more than 39 million dollars to the needs of African Americans and Native Americans in order to insure that these minorities were properly educated and received proper care and nutrition.
Both Bishop Neumann & Mother Katharine Drexel have been the victims of recognition and oversight on the part of the Philadelphia Historical Society in relationship to their participation in the life of Assumption Parish on Spring Garden Street.
The purpose of historical preservation is to preserve, restore and conserve significant places in Philadelphia not simply because of their architectural importance. The mission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission is to accomplish these points because a historical person or event took place at or in the place that has received a historical designation from the commission.
In addition to the exceptional architectural heritage with the connection to the prolific ecclesiastical architect of the period, Patrick Charles Keely; the Church provides the historical structure for two of the most significant citizens of Philadelphia’s life and history since Benjamin Franklin.
The City of Philadelphia has been especially generous in honoring Benjamin Franklin. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Franklin Institute, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and so on. However, there are no streets, parks or sites named to commemorate the lives and accomplishments of Saints John Neumann and Katharine Drexel.
The most significant acknowledgement of both Neumann & Drexel is of course the Catholic Church’s elevation of both of these exceptional individuals to the altars and designations of Sainthood. However, both Neumann & Drexel deserve recognition from a civil perspective in recognition of their lives and accomplishments in making Philadelphia a city of racial and religious tolerance in the 19th & 20th centuries.
Most notably, the battle to preserve Assumption Parish on Spring Garden Street is now lost. The shifting demographics of Catholics in addition to other factors contributed to its elongated process of death. However, Philadelphia Catholics and quite frankly all Philadelphians need to learn a lesson from this parish and the need to preserve our historical treasures that transcend points of architectural significance but point to a significance of the promotion of religious and ethnic harmony between peoples of all races, creeds and colors.
The Philadelphia Historical Committee needs to step back after this insensitive oversight against not only Philadelphia’s Catholics, but all Philadelphians of good will and recognize Saints John Neumann & Katharine Drexel with a park, a street and yes perhaps even statues on the illustrious Benjamin Franklin Parkway, not because they were and are Catholic Saints, but because they were illustrious Philadelphians that transformed Philadelphia and the world towards peace, harmony and racial tolerance.
The Sisters Cities Plaza that is directly in front of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul would especially benefit from a new designation in honor of Bishop Neumann & Katharine Drexel. Without diminishing the importance of “Sister Cities”, both Neumann & Drexel as Philadelphia Catholics participated in events at the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. What an appropriate place to honor and recognize their contributions than the development of a commemorative park dedicated to the principles of religious and racial tolerance for all peoples of Philadelphia and the nation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Unbridled Grace...a book to read this Memorial Day weekend!

Recently I had the pleasure to read, Unbridled Grace: A True Story about the Power of Choice by Dr. Michael Norman. The book recounts the choices made by Dr. Norman as he begins his chiropractic medical career and the many twists and turns that unfortunately threaten to derail his career, his marriage and family and ultimately his moral convictions.
Dr. Norman recounts the events of his first part -time chiropractic position with an organization that seemingly is too good to be true and after happily working for the medical group it is revealed they are a clandestine front for Russian organized crime. The Russian crime fa├žade is in reality an elaborate operation to launder money, encourage insurance fraud and engage in many other acts of criminal deception and covert acts of conspiracy on an international scale.
The book then recounts the author’s many unfortunate encounters with the criminal justice system as he endures Federal indictment, raids on his home and office by Federal agents and the ever developing risk of incarceration and deprivation of contact with his wife, daughter and closest friends and colleagues.  Forced with the difficult decision to either remain silent or serve prison time for criminal felonies he did not commit, the author recounts the long journey both he and his wife encounter in order to vindicate his personal and professional integrity and restore his shattered life and career.
Despite the threat of Dr. Norman’s judicial demise, the author keenly recounts his conscious choice to invoke God’s power as assistance in the struggle against the forces maligned against him and his family. At this point the book really becomes a didactic primer that shows the great power of grace and conversion one experiences when entrusting the destination of personal struggles and difficulties to the miraculous power of God’s power and love.
Without any manifestation of God’s presence through any extraordinary means the author recounts the way God’s presence evolves in his life through prayer, reflection and meditation that brings consolation and finally delivery from Dr. Norman’s multilevel  battle between good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral actions.
The book shows the reader clearly that all of us can benefit from the power of God’s presence in our lives, and how much we truly need God’s assistance and grace in both difficult times and good ones. While reading Dr. Norman’s book, I was frequently reminded of the biblical stories of Job in the Old Testament; despite every sort of persecution and trial, Job remained faithful to God’s restorative grace and power. Dr. Norman’s experiences recount trials and great tribulations in a manner similar to the great woes of the Prophet Job, and again reveal the ongoing process of conversion to which God calls all of us.
Dr. Norman’s book is well written and very personal. His redaction of the unfortunate events that afflicted his life is intimately connected with examples of prayer and meditation that counter balance the narrative exposition of the unfortunate felonious events that are the center focus of this book. What is most refreshing however from a Christian perspective is the manner I which Dr. Norman develops and shows us his alternative method of dealing with his struggle…through the power of prayer and hope for God’s assistance that is unlimited and unbridled.
Dr. Norman’s book is published by Dog Ear Publishing and is available at their website: www.dogearpublishing.net . Additionally, the book is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and booksellers throughout the United States.
Dr. Norman’s book is a great personal recounting of how all Christians struggle with the power of evil on a daily basis, and how sometimes things are not as they first appear to be in our first observations. However, just as Dr. Norman experienced unfortunate series of choices, there is always the hope of conversion towards the power of God’s love and grace, despite whatever offenses we have committed either intentionally or through duped choices.
When reading this book, one realizes the great power of God’s grace and the only thing we need to do as human beings is simply ask for His grace and assistance. Dr. Norman’s book keenly shows all of us that struggle that divine assistance is simply a prayer away….

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that comments on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Philadelphia’s Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. He is currently in an advanced theology degree program at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. He writes daily at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com , http://catholicsacredarts.blogspot.com . Hugh writes on his Irish Catholic parochial experiences at  http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com.
He also contributes writings to The Irish Catholic, Dublin, British Broadcasting Company, and provides Catholic book reviews for multiple Catholic periodicals and publishers, including Vatican Publishing House.
Hugh lives in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley with his wife and daughter.
Hugh welcomes your comments via hugh.mcnichol@verizon.net.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday...makes me shiver!

Good Friday...makes me shiver!

Good Friday always make me shiver. When I think of the interior of my Catholic parish on this day, the cold realization of Jesus' suffering and death surrounds me. The Altar is stripped, the sanctuary is bare and the Eucharistic Lord's absence in evident by the open tabernacle doors. The intense sacrifice made by Jesus on the Cross is felt keenly in a Church sans Jesus in the tabernacle.
The quietness of the sacred space echoes faint, "Hosannas", and loud shouts of, "Crucify Him."Here in the parish Church ,in the shouting silence of the empty space, We Catholics begin to feel Jesus suffering and death. That is because we participate in His death through our own initiation at Baptism. Our common Baptism unites all of us and permits us to share in Jesus' Eucharistic sacrifice.
Good Friday does not mark the end for Jesus, nor for us…rather it a sign of hopeful expectation. That expectation transcends the historical and harsh reality of Jesus' crucifixion and death. The expectation is felt in Jesus' complete submission to the will of the Father, and the subsequent Father's power that raises Jesus from the dead. Most Catholics don't usually think of death as an expectant resurrection. Most Catholics separate Jesus' total dependence on the will of the Father from His suffering and death. Most Catholics forget to recall it is the Father that raises Jesus from the dead. We are too lost to think of these aspects of redemption. Too surrounded by the cold darkness of the power of evil. Too overcome with the physical death of Jesus. We don't like to think of a Church without a Eucharistic presence, without light and joy.
However as Catholics we need to focus on not just Jesus' death, but His impending resurrection. The impending resurrection is the theological extension of Jesus' faith in the Father. He suffers the Cross, because He believes in the Father's love. We too need to recognize the same in Jesus. We share in the mystery of Jesus' death because we are faithful of resurrection. The harsh reality of death undergoes a transformation in perspective when there is a belief in the resurrection.
God's love and power transforms the cross from a symbol of shame and death, into a true realization and expectation of new life. Jesus knows this. He trusts in the Father. The Father exhibits faithfulness to His Son and raises Jesus from the cold and empty tomb. It is only after I think of the cold reality of Good Friday am I able to sense the Father's incredible warmth and power. That's what makes us believers in faith. We know that we will not be abandoned in the solitude of death, but will participate in the Paschal glory of the warmth of the Resurrection.
When I remember that the Good Friday story has another lesson to communicate, is it possible to understand that my parish Church will be transformed on Easter Sunday morning. The liturgical reenactment of Jesus' passion is the beginning of the story, not the end. As believers, we have hope in God's power. We anticipate God's resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. When we realize this, shivering stops and I am acutely aware that there is life and warmth in the Resurrection, for Jesus, for us all.

Thursday, April 21, 2011