Happy anniversary

Dateline: Thu 15 May 2014

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Indianapolis is celebrating its 75th anniversary this weekend -- and as Jerry Garcia said, "What a long...strange....trip it's been."

In disclosure, I am a Catholic convert, and most people know converts are unusually hard-core on the faith. So forgive me my trespasses here.

My decision to become a Catholic was based largely on the examples set by two men years ago. One was a priest in Evansville who worked tirelessly and with graceful humor with the poor. He was a Dutch Catechism kind of guy, more interested in the spirit than the letter of the law -- he embraced the post-Vatican II liberal church. The other was an Evansville newspaper editor whose blood ran Madonna blue, a traditionalist from the British John Cardinal Newman school. The editor did not mince words on matters of integrity, morality and faith -- or journalism, also a sacred credo.

I took the priest's advice when we moved from our quaint, impoverished Evansville parish to Indianapolis. "You have to check out St. Thomas Aquinas," he said. Wait 'til you see it. That's where you belong."

He did not mean only the building, although in 1970 STA became a contemporary structure designed and built by architect Evans Woolen, a "church for the revised Catholic liturgy" where the iconic crucifix does not exist but a huge, bright-red art cross hangs on unpainted concrete walls, the altar was cast of stainless steel, and the pews are "in the round."

The church was unvarnished until time for Mass; then the people rocked out. This was the tail-end of the Pope John Paul "revolution," which meant Masses sometimes included -- at STA anyhow -- clowns, interpretive dancing and thrumming guitars. Oh, and gender-free references to God. (Use "God" as opposed to "Him.")

More importantly, STA is in the heart of the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, and both bodies were as racially integrated as a Catholic church and a cozy, traditional neighborhood that survived white flight could be. STA was "part of the solution not the problem" and believed in "bloom where you are planted," thus welcoming racially blended families and people of all color and sexual orientation.

To my mind, during my early years at STA, the parish sometimes diverged into a season of silliness. At one Lenten Mass, a lay leader took the pulpit and explained we were all being given rocks to take home. We were to contemplate these rocks -- but, why, I never really understood. It was so fuzzy and feely that I thought it was nutty, and that surely I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So when I made fun of the rock thing to my colleague and fellow Catholic at the Star, the benevolent John Shaughnessy (a cradle Catholic), he joined in the laugh, then allowed, "I just figured, well, why not? Maybe these people just have more faith than I do."

That was admirable, and while I tried to believe it, there were times when our paths and STA no longer crossed. We moved into the St. Joan of Arc parish; we went to church there. We moved to St. Luke's neighborhood; we worshipped there.

Somehow, we always ended up back at STA.

For "traditional" Catholics like myself, the point of the Mass is to celebrate the Eucharist: the body and blood of Christ. At STA, it is also important for some folks to voice their prayers and social justice/political concerns (a tradition that became a boiling point a year or so ago, but that's another story). The larger tension between the liberal faction of church and the more conservative Vatican leadership over past years -- up until the most recent Pope Francis -- has played out at STA.

All that aside, I've stayed. I've gone, I've come back, and I'm staying. I'm going to the birthday party.

An acquaintance, Jeffrey McCall, a media professor at DePauw University, is a loyal Catholic who worships at St. Paul's in Greencastle, where I also lived and prayed. This was during a time of much anger and despair towards the church regarding the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups. I asked McCall one day after Mass what the secret was of his fidelity. How could he, an analytical man, stay so rock-steady when the whole church was stinking with corruption.

"The church is like your mother," he said. "And if your mother was in trouble, you wouldn't leave her, would you?"

No. And that explains the loyalty of many Catholics who continue to pack the pews despite the dissension of the past decades. A story, incidentally, that never makes the mainstream news.

I feel the same loyalty for my little parish, which one friend refers to as "the last stop on the way out the door of Catholicism" for many people. That could not be less true for me, but for some, perhaps it's so.
It's not perfect. But it's my church.


hendy [Member] said:

Saints and sinners aplenty, lots of characters and character. Many enjoy the community, some might go to Heaven. If it is a last stop, it's a stop that serves many well.

Once, it was a house-like church where Spanish and Sign were spoken. It didn't follow the money, rather its faithful. It seems still that way. Congrats to you and the congregation, Ruth. May it serve future generations well, too.

2014-05-15 18:49:25

ruthholl [Member] said:

Thanks, Tom.

2014-05-15 19:11:24

Jim Reidelbach [unverified] said:

Ruth, I am a fairly recent convert myself-in spite of everything I disagree with. It was an emphasis on "social justice" et al that drew me in after many decades contemplating it. I like what your former colleague Dan Carpenter related that Catholic activist extraordinaire Dorothy Day stated, :The Church is a wh*re,. . but she's our mother."

2014-05-15 20:24:53

ruthholl [Member] said:

Jim, thank you for telling me that. I have heard that expression about the church being a whore, but never knew Dorothy Day said it. It's a wonderful quote and she was a marvelous person. Yes, that whole Catholic Worker thing -- Dan turned me on to that. Robert Coles educated me about Dorothy Day, as well as Dan. Wow! So glad we share this. I am reading "The Moviegoer" by Walker Percy, such a Southerner, and despite the existentialist enuii in the book, he too was a convert. There are a lot of us. We should have a club. But that would be exclusive...right?

2014-05-15 20:42:03

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Who was the editor? Was it Grehl? I appreciated this piece, Ruthie.

2014-05-20 09:13:22

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