Monday, September 27, 2010

Learning to hear the silence: a persistent process of education

Last evening I had the privilege of attending the opening of a photo exhibit titled "Sounds of Silence: Traces of Jewish Life in Lithuania". The photos document, or perhaps transfigure, the architectural remnants of Jewish culture in Lithuania.

The event was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the Queens College Program in Jewish Studies. Speakers included William P. Kelly, President of Graduate Center, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis and Queens College Professor of Jewish Studies, Evan Zimroth.

Dr. Zimroth began by describing the toll that the Holocaust had taken on Lithuanian Jews (96% of the population was wiped out). She ended with anecdotes taken from her relationships with Lithuanian officials in the context of educating and sensitizing them to Judaism and the Jewish heritage of their country.

After the program I had the opportunity to greet Mr. Ažubalis and speak with him about Our Lady of Vilnius Church, aka Aušros Vartų bažnyčią. He was kind, but not very encouraging. I let him know what the church means to me as a second generation American of Lithuanian ancestry. I told him that there were lots like me, with and without Lithuanian surnames, that hungered to be re-united with a dimly remembered heritage but had resigned themselves to the lack of opportunity.

What I did not get to tell him was that the parish presented an opportunity to live the culture. Culture includes the language, the literature, the arts and the crafts, but it is subtle and much more than the sum of its parts. It is something that we primarily live and only later study and present.

This morning I awoke after a night of processing in my dreams the evocative images I had seen and the complexities of relationship between the Lithuanian Christians and the Litvaks. I thought of how Dr. Zimroth had exactly the perfect background to take on this task of education, building bridges between cultures, between the living and the dead, between the past and the future.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Honoring Rodolphus Polk at St. Agatha Home

St. Agatha Home for children was started by five Sisters of Charity in 1884. After periods of growth and change, it closed in 2003. Despite the closing of the facility and the demolition of its buidings, the community remains alive.

It gathered today to honor Rodophus "Rudy" Polk who died at the age of 75, having worked as a childcare worker, athletic coach and various other capacities at the home. This morning I stood with many others in a small graveyard in the woods in Nanuet as his remains were interred with military honors. There were people of all ages, sized and colors. There where white-haired Sisters of Charity in habits and civvies. There were staff from all eras and alums of all ages. The deacon who presided, his hair graying, was one of the "kids" under Rudy's care. We walked down the hill past the few remaining cottages. Though most of the buildings on the grounds of the home were demolished, the alumni organized to save the bell tower, which is now installed in a small garden surrounded by a memorial walk studded with names of alums.

We walked on to the old school gymnasium where a memorial service was conducted. Rudy's brother, Donald, who had also worked at the home, gave a eulogy that was emotional, funny and richly descriptive of the man whose light eyes entranced the ladies. A slide show followed, then open mike followed by refreshments and mingling.

My friend John had told me that Rudy was a quiet and unassuming man. It was inspiring to see all of the men and women whose lives he had touched so deeply. There was sadness as both Rudy and the Home itself were mourned, but there was joy, too, in the reunion of the community.

I see a piece of Our Lady of Vilnius in St. Agatha and I hope we find a way to reunite our community, to tie it to its tradition and to keep its spirit moving forward into the future.

God bless you, Rudy Polk. We will keep you in our prayers at Our Lady of Vilnius and we ask you to pray for us.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Archbishop Dolan planning to restructure parochial school system: Closings ahead

Today's New York Times ran an article titled Cutbacks Part of Plan to Save Parochial Schools. Instead of closing schools by necessity as they fail, Archbishop Dolan plans a pro-active administrative restructuring intended to preserve the life of the system rather than to default to a slow and piecemeal death. The biggest departure from history is to centralize the system rather than have the parishes administer their own schools.

The most controversial point seems to involves splitting the schools from their parishes financially. The article states:

"For example, parishes forced to close schools have long been allowed to keep the money from the sale or rental of those properties, since in most cases the buildings were built and maintained with parishioners’ dollars. Those proceeds provide a financial cushion that has helped sustain many struggling parishes.

Under Archbishop Dolan’s plan, however, all proceeds would go into a commonfund for the education of children throughout the archdiocese."

I wonder how this will work under Religious Corporation Law?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Today Marks the Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman

Today, when you gather in prayer with the parishioners of Our Lady of Vilnius, remember Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI today. Cardinal Newman has given us a lot of sustenance for our spiritual journeys and our quest to save this parish. Let us include him among our regular intercessors as we pray for the restoration of the bonds of connection that were severed by the suppression of Our Lady of Vilnius parish.


God has created me to do some definite service.
God has committed some work to me which has not been committed to another.
I have my mission. I am linked in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
I have not been created for nothing; I shall be an angel of peace.

Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness will serve God;
if I am in sorrow, my sorrow will serve.
God does nothing in vain and knows what all is about.
Therefore I will trust….
(John Henry Cardinal Newman)


Leading up to the beatification, Fr. Joseph Komonchak at dotCommonweal blog provided an excellent series of posts under the title "Newmania":

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Our Lady of Vilnius Site

CLICK HERE to view the new Our Lady of Vilnius site on Google sites. Right now it is bare bones. We hope to add new content, attach it to our domain name and make it a one-stop resource for our supporters and parishioners of other churches in similar straits.

Kol Nidre

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Religious Real Estate: The Plot Thickens

An piece on Bloomberg, Trump Offers to Buy Proposed NYC Islamic Center Site, indicates that Trump has jumped on the alternate site bandwagon, joining Governor Patterson and Archbishop Dolan. Trump apparently offered to purchase the site for the price plus 25%.
"As part of the bid, any community center built would be located at least five blocks farther from the World Trade Center site, Trump said."
The mosque would be coming a little closer to his condotel on Varick.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Siluva

The greatest feast day at the shrine of Our Lady of Siluva is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 8. A week of celebrations and festivities follows and continues through September 15. This celebration is known as “silines.”

Our Lady of Siluva, pray for us!

Picture:"Our Lady of Siluva" by Sister Mercedes
40 x 32 in. acrylic, 1968
collection of Jesuit High School, Kaunas, Lithuania

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A Tale of Two Soul Kitchens


Yesterday I went to my local art house and saw Soul Kitchen, a 2009 comedy centered on a delightfully motley crew inhabiting a shabby restaurant called "Soul Kitchen" in an area of Hamburg, Germany, that development forgot, but not for long. Within a lavish display of sex, drugs and rock and roll that might outrage many of my readers, is the story of a flawed band of heroes, who, with divine intervention, are transformed by love as they resurrect their home, the Soul Kitchen.


No sex or drugs at Our Lady of Vilnius, though we have hosted some funky music in our basement hall. A mix of local residents, Lithuanians, Lithuanian-Americans and people blown in by the Holy Spirit gathered here for 5 generations to celebrate the Eucharist and form an unlikely extended family of faith. May we preserve this home and this ethos for the future. Pray for the resurrection. Veni creator spiritu!