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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gray Matter: My favorite neighbor

Monday, May 8, 2006

Spring has been a bit elusive this year, but in spite of the thermometer, Easter, the ultimate SPRING for Christians, has just been reverently observed. Perhaps it is in this frame of mind that I have been pondering the presence of a favorite neighbor of mine which happens to be a building rather than a person.

Holy Name Catholic Church is just one block up the street from my home. We are not of that denomination, so our family has never attended that place of worship, but it has still profoundly affected us over more than half a century.

For many years we had an even closer association, for Holy Name School, which is no longer in existence, was at the north end of our block. The empty lots between us formed their playground When well-meaning friends would ask how we put up with all of that noise during the school year, I always explained that we owed the school a whole lot more than they owed us. We could never have raised our large family on our narrow town lot if we hadn't had their playground on which to overflow. In that space, ball games, rounds of kick-the-can, and all sorts of other innovations provided endless hours of entertainment for our kids and all their neighborhood pals.

Even if we couldn't have seen the church, its bell would still have served us as a special inspiration. I am told that it was purchased in 1898 for an earlier church building which stood on a site, two blocks to the north. When the present church was completed in 1914, the lovely bell was transferred to its lofty location. I don't enjoy it as much as I once did since my house has been more effectively insulated and weather-proofed, and (if I must admit it) I've suffered from a bit of personal hearing loss.

Still, I fondly recall a time many years ago when a particularly astute priest had the bell solemnly tolled, one stroke for each year of age, when a church member died. That was a beautiful and meaningful custom, which caused us all to pause and wonder "for whom the bell tolled." I don't know about others but, in the midst of my busy life, it was often good for me to stop for a moment and quietly put things in perspective.

We have gotten to know and enjoy many interesting priests at Holy Name over the years. I recall one gentleman, a true Irish wit, who provided numerous light moments when we happened to meet in the Post Office or grocery store.

Another of the fathers surprised one of my sons and his wife by turning out to be a real jazz fan. That common interest provide them with a number of delightful visits.

A disabled Polish priest, who had suffered horrible injuries during WW II, came to serve as an associate priest for a time, providing one of the most moving encounters I can remember. I will share that story with you in my next Gray Matter.

The building itself is a fine structure, well-designed, of quality materials, inside and out. After a recent total renovation, it is truly "a thing of beauty". I heard rumors that some may have objected to the expense involved when that process got underway. This, I'm sure, was a simple reflection of human nature which could be expected. However, I am willing to wager that no one complains now when they enter that lovely sanctuary. By the way, it is always open and anyone who wishes may go in and enjoy the quiet elegance .

The magnificent stained glass windows, given as memorials those many years ago, were restored and given a layer of protective exterior material at the time of a previous restoration. Those windows have probably provided some of my most meaningful memories. When our kids were small, Christmas Eve was an especially busy time. First there was the special children's Christmas program in our own church. Then we gathered around our live tree at home for family worship. After the reluctant youngsters were persuaded to go to bed, there came all of the "Santa" duties. That made for a LONG evening. Tired as I was, even after their Daddy had given up and gone to bed, I always enjoyed a quiet moment of peaceful contemplation when I looked up the street and saw the glowing jewel-like windows of Holy Name as the worshippers gathered for Midnight Mass.

Yes, I am still gratefully appreciating my favorite neighbor this spring, as I intend to do through however many seasons I may yet be granted to enjoy it!