Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting my family in St. Louis. While there, I was able to preside at Mass and preach at the parish where I grew up, Our Lady of Sorrows (OLS) in south St. Louis. While it was great to celebrate Mass there again, I was saddened to know that OLS Grade School will be closing at the end of this school year. I attended nine years there, kindergarten through 8th grade, as did my dad, my two sisters, and all three of my brothers. So my family has a long history with this Catholic grade school. And it was a really good school!
But changing times and changing economics have now forced the unhappy outcome of the closing of the school. It struggled valiantly for a long time. The same forces that have forced the closure of many other parish Catholic Schools in St. Louis have finally caught up with OLS School. Catholic Schools in St. Louis are an endangered species.
Nothing manmade lasts forever. Not even churches, parishes, and schools. The Gospel and the Church will go on, but not necessarily as we remember them. Sometimes, holding on to certain forms of the past expressions of the Gospel can impede the future growth of the Gospel, but it is always hard to discern when this is so, and even harder to let go.
When auxiliary bishops are ordained, they are made bishop of some place that is no longer an Episcopal See. For example, Bishop Daniel Garcia, the Auxiliary bishop of Austin, is Titular Bishop of Capsus, somewhere in Africa. But there is now no Christian community there. There are many places that at one time had thriving Christian communities and bishops, and now have only titular bishops, and often are nothing but ruins and sand. At one time the Gospel was vibrant there. But now history has moved on and they are no longer local churches with a bishop.
Of the places where I have been assigned as a Paulist priest, the first was St. Nicholas Church in North Pole, Alaska, and is no longer served by the Paulists. It was a special place for me, where I learned so much more about being a priest than I ever did in the seminary, and I was saddened and disappointed when the Paulists pulled out of Alaska. But I also understood that a missionary order needs to be flexible and free to move. Similarly, my first assignment as a pastor, to St. Andrew’s Parish in Clemson, South Carolina, with the mission churches of Holy Cross in Pickens and St. Francis, in Walhalla, is no longer served by the Paulists. It was a wonderful place to begin as a pastor, with so many committed people willing to put up with my mistakes and teach me about what a pastor really does and how to do it. I was very much saddened when the Paulists decided to leave South Carolina, as with North Pole, as part of my heart was still there. But again, I know that we have no firm hold on anything here, but only in heaven.
And of course, all of us have lost loved ones, who we miss and hope to see again.
Life is about change, and that means letting go. It is necessary, but it is just sad to let go of a community such as a school or parish that has been an important part of your life. However, the Gospel continues. It grows and thrives. Our call is not to hold onto the past, but to continue to make it vibrant and alive, and to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel.