To the editor,
St. Mary of Assumption Church is like no other in town. In it, Oswego has its own Notre-Dame. But now, Oswego has had its own tragic Notre-Dame fire. This fire isn’t literal — it’s in the heart of everyone who belonged or even just admired the beauty of St. Mary’s.
Recently, I attended a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at St. Mary’s. The irony of that is all too apparent; it was a Requiem for St. Mary’s. For many years, she had been the “Lady on the hill,” standing tall on west side of Oswego, her beauty a source of comfort and reflection to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Walking into that magnificent church was enough to render any soul speechless. Even many non-believers were impressed by the beauty. As Our Lady carried Our Lord in her womb for nine months, Our Lady on the hill carried in her Catholics for over 90 years. Just as Our Lady was immaculate not just spiritually but physically, Our Lady on the hill has immaculate physical beauty, which has stood the test of time and ever-changing attitudes in architecture. Just as we are supposed to wear our Sunday best to church, church architecture should wear its Sunday best, and St. Mary’s is forever a beautiful bride, standing tall like a statue, one who has awed everyone who gazes upon her.
It is true: numbers of Catholics have dwindled in Oswego, as elsewhere across America. Many parishes have closed or consolidated. But still the lesson has not been learned. The decision to close St. Mary’s, as well as the other parishes in Oswego, is rooted in a lack of money to sustain them. We all know money is the most important thing when it comes to a church, right? Wrong. The love of money is the root of evil, and when money is the root cause of a decision like this, it will prove ultimately fatal. St. Paul’s has been chosen to serve as the only Oswego Catholic parish from now on. It was chosen for financial reasons, not for spiritual and aesthetic reasons. I mean not to offend the parishioners of St. Paul, but it cannot compare at all to St. Mary’s. Beauty has been sacrificed to save a few bucks. Some may say, at least St. Pauls is still a church and we can still celebrate Mass so be grateful. Those who say that have missed the point. St. Paul’s is not dressed in its Sunday best but in tacky 1970s street clothes. With beauty gone, why even dress in our Sunday best? Why even keep our souls dressed in a state of grace? A church is supposed to be an earthly annex of Heaven. It should look, sound, and even smell of Heaven, and if it does not, there is something terribly wrong.
As part of the next generation of Catholics, I find the Bishop’s well-intended but misguided vision disheartening. We young Catholics yearn for the pathways of old, not for hip ways to be more like non-Catholics. We Catholics have lost so much direction over the last 50 years, as we tried to be more like the world, but we still had St. Mary’s, and that beautiful building alone reminded us of halcyon days.
We’ve lost many of our old hymns; we’ve gone from “the Magnifcat” to “Mary Did You Know?” Many of our old teachings have been forgotten, ladies are no longer wearing veils, nun in habits have vanished, priest in cassocks are nowhere to be found, Rosaries are rare to find, receiving Holy Communion looks like a line at a deli. I visited an Episcopal Church last year and they all reverently knelt during their Communion, putting us to shame. Many parishioners quickly leave before the Mass is ended. Most tragically we’ve lost our old Latin Mass
Due to poor stewardship over the last 50 years, few Catholics can even defend, let alone describe Church teaching anymore, and children preparing for their First Communion have gone from learning out of the Baltimore Catechism to coloring pictures of the Last Supper.
Although you can’t see it, in the painting of Mary above the altar in her namesake church on the hill, she is shedding a tear. I can only hope her tears and the tears shed in this vale by the parishioners of St. Mary’s wash over this disgraceful decision and cause a miracle to bloom forth. But alas, unless those tears were dollars, nothing will be done. Nothing, I fear, will change. My plea to the Bishop: Notre-Dame is on fire. Your flock is scattered and scared. Please be a shepherd, not a tax collector.
Benjamin J. Rebeor