City of Saints

Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Louis was one of the first parishes I knew I was going to visit and one of the last ones I did.

A one-time bustling German parish not far from the Gateway Arch, the neighborhood surrounding the parish had fallen on hard times. And one night in the winter of 1979, a local homeless man known to the remaining churches in the area froze to death. The tragedy pushed the church, plus fellow neighborhood houses of worship St. Vincent de Paul and Trinity Lutheran, to act. Together, they founded and began to staff a homeless shelter and accompanying kitchen, locating the site in the basement of Sts. Peter and Paul. Forty-plus years later, it’s still there, housing 60 men nightly.

The church itself has also undergone a transformation. Its rolls have dwindled as the neighborhood changed. Rather than continue to use the space as designed, with a few dozen parishioners spread into a church made for a thousand, they tore out the original pews and created an intimate area with the altar at the center of an elevated in-the-round setting. It was a configuration that led to an observation that wouldn’t have been possible in its old layout, though you’ll have to wait for the book for details on that.

As for that, I do hope to have some of the details on the book very soon.

The reconfigured Sts. Peter and Paul

Father Bruce Forman
The baptismal font in the gathering space.

The exterior view of the historic church.

The shelter in the church basement.

Mourning in Providence

Staying in New England, we come to Providence, Rhode Island, where my visit took me to the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, a visit tinged with quite a bit of sadness.

I can remember the day I made my first contact with Holy Name. It was August of 2020 and I was moving my son Cormac into his college dorm for his freshman year at Grand Valley State. I snuck away to the car for a prescheduled interview with Father Joseph Santos, the longtime pastor at the church.

During the course of our conversation, Father Santos explained to me how the church serves three distinct communities, which I was pleased to experience when I visited there back in May.

But, just a few weeks before heading out east, I learned that Father Santos had succumbed to COVID in late 2021. The parish, understandably, was still mourning his passing after years of service to the Church.

Despite his absence, Holy Name was a wonderful place where those three communities – a traditional neighborhood parish, Latin Mass goers and Nigerian immigrants – are beautifully coexisting.

Just as Father Santos prayed they would.

A fire in 1965 led to a beautiful and authentic restoration.
Holy Name is the home for Providence’s Latin Mass community.

The Basilica Church was modeled after Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.
Holy Name’s West African community worships at The Lady Chapel.
Rev. Lazarus Onuh, a native of Nigeria, was already leading the community when Father Santos’ passing made him the pastor for the parish.

Father Santos is remembered.

Maine, with Family

One of the obvious small joys of the trip across the country was the rare occasion when a family member could join me. And nowhere was that more fulfilling than on my visit to Maine, where I was accompanied by my daughter, Kiera.

She joined me for a weekend traveling the beautiful coast, taking in Portland, Boothbay Harbor and Acadia National Park. And she was there when I ventured to Newcastle to worship at New England’s oldest Catholic Church, St. Patrick’s.

Accompanying me allowed her to sit down after Mass with a few participants in Maine’s Prison Ministry, men and women who fulfill that vital role of bringing Christ’s love to the incarcerated. And Kiera’s presence in that conversation was not just as observer, but insightful participant. She serves as a case worker for youth offenders – then in nearby Vermont – the first step in her desire for a career in prison reform.

St. Patrick is the oldest Catholic church in New England.

My daughter Kiera and Deacon Robert Curtis inside the old worship space, now under reconstruction.

The new worship space, with a look at Maine’s famed woods.

Acadia National Park.

Mass in the Bluegrass

St. Peter Claver in Lexington, Ky., is the historic church for African American Catholics in the city. Today, it’s also home to an entirely new group of African Americans.

The parish is the home base for the Congolese Catholic Community of Kentucky, where the large number of refugees from the Congo gather to worship. The traditional Catholic community, now a diverse group of men and women from the Bluegrass, meets for the 10 a.m. Mass, while the Mass in Swahili follows at 2 p.m.

Both communities are eagerly awaiting the completion of a new worship space, which is under construction just outside the current space.

In between Masses, I killed time by visiting Cathedral of Christ the King, because that’s the kind of thing I did a lot of this past year.

An altar server leads the recessional at the Mass in Swahili.

The exterior of St. Peter Claver. The construction is to the left.

Parishioners at the 10 a.m. Mass were packed in rather tightly in the current worship space.

The Cathedral of Christ the King.

The Me Before Me

Stop 42 took me to Middletown, Ohio, another steel town sitting astride the Great Miami River.

The Cincinnati-area town is also home to Holy Family Parish, consisting of St. John and Holy Trinity churches, separated by just a few downtown blocks. It’s also home to Kara Jackson, the me before me.

Back in the middle of the past decade, Kara embarked on a multi-year trip, working as an altar server in all 50 states and D.C. (the Jacksons didn’t make it to Puerto Rico, though some Irish priests she met invited her to the Emerald Isle). The young lady, pictured below, served the Mass I attended, the first time she’s put on the vestments since COVID. She didn’t lose a step during her time off.

I actually spent time with Kara and her family, (father Rick, mother Tina) a full eight months before my trip began, reliving Kara’s trip in intimate detail one beautiful Saturday afternoon at their Southwestern Ohio home. And when I reviewed my notes upon our reunion, I realized just how accurately Tina had predicted how my own trip would go.

Kara Jackson in the recessional.
Holy Trinity Church, shortly after dawn.
The interior of Holy Trinity.
St. John Church.
The heavy marble interior at St. John.
St. John Church.