I haven’t been Catholic in Ohio all that long—only two out of the 16 years I lived here. And my Catholic experience is limited geographically to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. But now that the trajectory of my life is flinging me precipitously (though blessedly, blessedly!) west to Los Angeles again, I want to name some of the things I’ll miss most about being Catholic here. If you live in the archdiocese, cherish these. If you’re passing through, make their acquaintance.
In no particular order, 10 things this Catholic will miss:
Christmas Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St Peter in Chains Heavenly music, reverent ritual in this historic church at the heart of a silent Cincinnati, with a congregation that ranges from the titans of industry to those as homeless as the Holy Family seeking shelter. Bonus if, when you walk out into the wee hours, it starts to snow.
Quiet Time at Elijah House This hermitage in the woods at the Transfiguration Center for Spiritual Renewal in West Milton is a place of peace, welcome, and prayer. During three days there around All Saints Day this year, I was granted a measure of courage to surrender my chaotic life to God’s will. And I discovered devotion to Our Lady of Schoenstatt, practiced by a community that gathers at the Center, which spoke strongly to my soul. Transfiguration’s course in Carmelite Spirituality, which I took in Lent a couple of years ago, also helped me make friends with Therese of Lisieux (and cured me of the habit of referring to her as Max Lindenman’s dead French girlfriend), so you can see miracles happen there.
The University of Dayton Yes, I know. There’s quite a case to be made among trads that UD is CINO—Catholic In Name Only. It’s a funny sort of place, run by Marianists who are decidedly lefty on the theological and social justice scale, but also operating one of the biggest defense research facilities in the country. The student body—big in business and law—tends to Mitt-and-Ann Romney lookalikes, but decidedly unMittlike alcohol consumption levels. I love UD for Flyer basketball (the NCAA equivalent of rooting for the Cubs), especially in its annual rivalry with the Jesuitical archenemies from Cincinnati’s Xavier; for my friend Matthew Levering, who suffers (mostly cheerfully) the martyrdom of an orthodox theologian in a liberal department; for the Marian Library, with one of the largest collections of resources on Mary (and of creches!) in the world; and for the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, where I often sought the refuge of midday Mass.
The Land of Cross-Tipped Churches The northern part of the Cincinnati archdiocese is rural and deeply, piously German. Every small town has (and many are named for) its enormous, richly decorated Catholic church where faith still flourishes with the crops. From the single-lane country roads you can see cross-tipped steeples in every direction. In a nation of folks who don’t put down many roots any more, spending time up here is a way to tap into a nourishing well of faith.
The Triduum at St Charles Borromeo in Kettering My Ohio parish is the best of liturgical worlds for the Vatican II-influenced Catholic I will always be. It’s thoroughly modern in design, but not a bland cafe-gym-atorium like so many. Every detail was chosen to foster involved, respectful, divine liturgy, and at no time can that be better experienced than during the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum. You have to be there. I will especially miss my pastor, Fr Jerry Haemmerle, our associate, Fr Tim Ralston, our two-count-em-two! deacons, the lead music ministers Ted and Lisa Singer, and pastoral associate Brenda Tibbits. You welcomed me home and fed my soul. Deo gratias! (I’ll be back in May for Leo Vanderburgh’s Confirmation.)
Making Videos to Promote the Catholic Ministries Appeal I hope to continue working on promotional materials for the annual archdiocesan appeal from a distance, but nothing will match the eye-opening, heart-touching experiences I’ve had working with my colleague Perry Martin on campaign videos. It’s all in the stories, as Perry says, and whether checking out carrots the size of baseball bats (among the non-standard produce donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank) or listening to the gleeful leprechaun giggles of the then-oldest-surviving retired priest in the archdiocese as he recalled his life of service, or hearing how campus ministry changed young people’s lives, or letting ordinary people share what generosity means, it’s been a great ride—and an amazing insight into the Church in action.
St Mary’s Church (the Twin Towers) One of the oldest churches in Dayton, St Mary’s twin towers are part of the skyline. Symbolic of the changing face of the Church, St. Mary’s original German and eastern European parishioners long ago left the inner city for the suburbs, and the glorious old building now welcomes a thriving Spanish-speaking congregation and serves as a community resource for immigrants from every continent.
Fish Fries It’s a stretch to say I’ll miss fish fries, since I never actually got around to attending one. This peculiar staple of Midwestern Catholic life—part Lenten meal (with Polish sausage for the Protestants), part everlasting Mardi Gras complete with gambling, drinking, and dancing, and all fundraiser—goes on in two or three parishes a week beginning right after Epiphany and rolling right up to the brink of Holy Week. The first Catholic parish sign I ever saw in Ohio read ST ALBERT THE GREAT FISH FRY, and I wasn’t sure what the adjective modified. I hear tell they have fish fries in California, too. But they’re just, you know, fried fish.
The Shrine of the Relics, Maria Stein The only way I can describe the Shrine is to ask you to imagine the house of a holy hoarder who specialized in first-class relics. (Considering my own fascination with bits of saints, and my pathology, you can understand why this place is like the Holy of Holies to me.) With thousands of relics on view for public veneration—the second largest such collection in the US, it’s said—the Shrine is a magnet for pilgrims. The Sisters of the Precious Blood (who came over from Switzerland with the Precious Blood Fathers to serve the farmers of the area) maintain the Shrine and a lovely local museum. When our pilgrim group held its reunion there, I got to venerate a relic of the True Cross, and yes I know that if all the splinters so named were reunited we’d have a flotilla of Noah’s Arks, but that’s not the point. The point is carved in German over the Shrine’s doorway: “Enter devoutly, O pilgrim, for no place is holier than this on the new continent.”
The Burning of the Prayers Rituals like this—and the communion of families and friends, the joy of wide-ranging theological and cultural conversation across generations, and of course the food! that they generate—helped bring me back to the Church. When the prayers rise like incense next year, mine will be among them, even though I won’t be in the circle around the fire. Thanks for the warmth. I will carry it with me.