20 September 2010

St. Francis de Sales Church

This week I headed out to St. Francis de Sales Church in Northeast Washington. It’s a little church with a very interesting story. It claims to be the “oldest continuing congregation” in Washington, and can trace its roots back to the Queen Family Chapel, which Catholics started worshipping at in 1722. The chapel was burned down three times, once during the Revolutionary War, once during the War of 1812, and once by Union soldiers during the Civil War (I found it bizarre that Union soldiers would burn down a building in Union territory. It was a regiment from New York, so my guess is that they were motivated by the anti-Catholic sentiment of the time, which was very strong in New York because of the influx of Irish and German Catholic immigrants.). In 1908, the original church of St. Francis de Sales was built on the location of the old Queen’s Chapel. It moved to its new location on Rhode Island Ave in 1927, to the anger of many parishioners. Now, on the original Queen’s Chapel location is Langdon Elementary School, near Queen’s Chapel Road. The St. Francis parish started by building a lower, basement church, but then the Great Depression hit, and they never had funds to start building the upper church. St. Francis de Sales remains the same small church that it was in the 1930’s, a proud descendant of the first generation of American Catholics.
On the outside, St. Francis de Sales appears to be an incredibly small church. That’s mostly because it’s built to be the basement of a much larger building, and a good portion of the worship area is underground. The worship area felt a lot like the lower church at St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a modest but adequate space. As I walked down the center aisle towards the altar, I realized that I was walking on a downward slope.

The parish was mostly African-American, and I began to recognize the same patterns of behavior that I’ve seen at other African-American churches. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. A woman named Linda decided to introduce herself to me and give me a hug before Mass even started. For the hymns, there was a man on piano and a female cantor. For a few of the songs, they seemed as if they were not on the same page, but they did a nice job overall.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we cannot serve both God and mammon (money). In his homily, Deacon Bert said that someone once told him, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy the Cadillac you can drive around to look for it.” He then dissected the question, “Is money evil?” No, he concluded, for we need money to feed the poor, clothe our children, and give back to the community. It is endless desire, a “bet you can’t have just one” attitude, which brings us further from God. He told the congregation to take all that they had and put it at the service of God. 

Here's some info on the history of St. Francis de Sales, both of which can be found on the Saint Francis de Sales Website. This document is a basic history of the church, and this is a copy of a 1908 Washington Herald newspaper which has an article discussing the dedication and history of St. Francis de Sales. 


Churches I've Been to So Far (I'm up to 19!)

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14 September 2010

St. Mary Mother of God Church

On the way back from New York, I asked my roommate Allen to pick out a church for me to go to the next day. He looked at my list of churches and suggested St. Mary, Mother of God church in Chinatown. I got my two reliable church-going partners, Dan and Loreto, to come with me on another adventure.

St. Mary, Mother of God is an interesting parish. They play host to the Our Lady of China pastoral mission, which hosts an 11:30 Mass in Cantonese. They are also the only church in the Washington Archdiocese who performs a Tridentine Latin Mass, which is the mass which was celebrated in Catholic churches before the Second Vatican Council in 1962. I decided to go the Cantonese Mass this week, I’ll probably go see the Latin Mass another time.

The church building was very nice, with a single tower in front and a dark stone exterior that reminded me of St. Patrick Church. The interior was pretty standard neo-Gothic architecture, with pretty marble columns and a light color scheme that reminded of me of St. Monica’s Church.

As for the Mass, I really didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. There were some prayers we were able to pick up on, but some, like the Nicene Creed, we were lost on. We were able to follow along during the readings in the English missal, but were lost again during the homily. It seemed like the priest took an awful long time to give his homily, but perhaps it just seemed that way because we couldn’t understand him.

They did a couple more odd things that I found intriguing. One was that the choir, or what I believed to be the choir, was not standing up near the front of the church, or even standing at all. They were seated in the first two rows of the church and they stood and sat just like everyone else. Where most parishes either sing or recite the responsorial psalm, this parish appeared to do a combination of the two: a lector read the verses, but the choir sang the refrain. I also found it a little amusing that they had two very short women going down the aisles collecting the contributions; normally that’s done by Knights of Columbus members or older parish men.

After the mass, we talked to some regular parishioners, Paul and Margaret, who told us a little more about the church and the Cantonese service. I asked them what the priest said in the homily. Paul said he couldn’t understand the priest’s sermon, because the priest was speaking Mandarin, but Margaret told us that he was talking about the story of the prodigal son. While the father’s rejoicing may not have seemed fair to the “good” son, he said, his actions were based on love, not fairness. Margaret told us that she was moving to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, but she told us to look her up and that she would cook us some delicious Chinese food if we wanted it. I’ll probably take her up on that. 


Archbishop Donald Wuerl gave mass at the GW Newman Center this past Sunday night, and I got the chance to hear him speak. (I also shook his hand and told him about this website...Are you reading this, Father?) He spoke about the New Evangelization, a call for Catholics around the world to bring others into the fold or back into the fold. He summarized his ideas in his new Pastoral Letter, which you can read in a PDF here or in neat-o flipbook form here. Enjoy!


Churches I've Been To So Far

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12 September 2010

NYC (New York Catholic)

My roommate Allen and I decided to make a quick trip to New York this weekend. It was a lot of fun. As we scampered around the city to see the big sights, i.e. Central Park, Times Square, Chinatown, I managed to find a bunch of New York's Catholic churches. I've discovered that I'm getting better at determining if a church is Catholic or not just by looking at it. I was about 65% accurate this trip, I'm hoping to get a little better as I study more churches. In any case, here's what I found.

St. Francis of Assisi Church (W 31st St.)

St. Patrick's Cathedral (Undergoing some renovations)

Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua (Grenwich Village)

Capuchin Monastery of St. John (Midtown)

Sts. Cyril & Methodius, St. Rafael - Croatian Catholic Church
I found this church as we left New York on the bus...wish I had some better pictures!

06 September 2010

St. Gabriel Church

This morning I visited St. Gabriel Church in the Petworth neighborhood with my friend Loreto. We had a little trouble waking up in the morning, as well as some trouble using the D.C. Metro system, but we managed to only be a few minutes late for 11:00 AM Mass (I’ll get better, I promise.)

St. Gabriel was a large stone church that reminded me of St. Ann’s in Tenleytown. On the inside were large stone columns, stained glass windows, and a very pretty wooden structure which held the tabernacle. Mass was fairly well-attended, with mostly African-American parishioners. I was expecting to see more Hispanics at the Mass, because of the large Hispanic population in the  Columbia Heights/Petworth area. Perhaps I would have seen more if I had gone to one of St. Gabriel’s two Spanish-language masses.

There was an interesting choir in Mass today. It featured about a dozen singers, a piano player, a drummer, and a trumpet player. They had some really nice moments, despite a male soloist who was a little flat. At the end of the Mass, a woman who appeared to be the choir director sang a particularly passionate hymn. St. Gabriel’s pastor, Father Mateo gave a nice homily about distinguishing which things in our lives are taking us away from God. Whether they be people or habits, he encouraged us to get rid of things that take us away from Him and to love God first.

After Mass, I told Father Mateo about my project and he introduced me to Sister Regina, one of the Sisters of the Holy Name who resides at St. Gabriel Parish. She told me a little about the church, and gave me a book detailing the history of the parish. As it turns out, the parish started out worshipping in a hut in 1920. They built the St. Gabriel Catholic School in 1924 (it is now a public charter school) and broke ground on their current structure in 1930. I also learned that Michael Steele, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and current Republican National Committee Chairman, attended St. Gabriel School as a child. Thanks so much, Sister!

St. Gabriel Parish Website (Not much and not updated recently, but it has their contact info.)
Washington Post Article which makes mention of the former St. Gabriel Elementary School, which was sold off by the Archdiocese and made into a public charter school a few years ago.  


Churches I've Visited in Washington, D.C.

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01 September 2010

Amtrak Catholic

Well, I'm back in Washington, D.C. after a long summer in California. I got a little behind in posting blogs because the end of summer got so hectic, but now I'm all caught up. I arrived on Saturday from a four-day long Amtrak ride across the country (with a 24-hour stop in Chicago). I saw a few interesting churches along the way, and I thought I'd share them.

This is an old church in New Mexico. Looks like it's abandoned, but kind of neat.

I spotted these two churches from the train window in Galesburg, Il.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church

Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church

I visited my friend Jenna in Chicago and we bumped into some interesting Catholic landmarks in the city. The first was the Archbishop Quigley Center, a former seminary that now serves as the headquarters for the Chicago Archdiocese. We also stopped by the Holy Name Cathedral. It's one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. It's textbook Gothic design with some brilliant modern flourishes. I was particularly impressed with the carved wooden roof.

Archbishop Quigley Center

Holy Name Cathedral

Thanks for showing me around, Jenna!

I've had a wonderful summer and I've enjoyed comparing the churches I've seen in California to the ones back in Washington, D.C. I'm excited to continue on my journey.