The LuLac Edition #508, June 29th, 2008
PHOTO INDEX: THE INTERIOR OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST SLOVAK CHURCH, PITTSTON, CIRCA 1960s AS I KNEW IT AS A YOUNG BOY AND THE FRONT OF THE CHURCH ON CHRISTMAS DAY 2007.
I’ve always been told that my generation, the Baby Boomers are the luckiest in civilization. Unlike our grandparents, we were born in a country that was free, prosperous and abundant in its riches and opportunities. Our parents, those immigrant grandparents’ children, worked hard to establish the things for us they never had growing up. Education, a good nurturing neighborhood, steady discipline and team work (I think they call that family values now) and the freedom to dabble in questioning everything they taught us were the gifts my generation received. Even though most of us came from working, middle class families, our parents never let us go without anything we needed and more times than not, with sacrifices we never realized until adulthood, the things we wanted.
We went to church every Sunday and thought that was going to last forever because we were told your church would be there as long as you were. And we saw the continuity with our own eyes; pastors who served in prior years were buried with great pomp and ceremony from my church. Grandparents, aunts and uncles who through their contributions built the church went to their final reward from our church. We were baptized there, had the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation administered and were educated there. Like a wide eyed bride, we fully believed we’d grow old with our church and have it survive us.
But a funny thing happened to the Boomer generation on the way to our parent’s age. Things began to change and not for the good. Core items we took for granted began to be taken away from us. Oh they were given euphemistic words like “downsizing”, “right sizing” and “givebacks” but it all amounted to the same thing, we were losing things we thought would last forever in this great country. Sports records like Maris’ 61 and Jim Brown’s rushing titles were cherished but we knew someone bigger and stronger, some day would overtake them. After all, it was only sports. Then our careers took a u turn. Coming from parents who worked in the same place for decades, we thought we’d be afforded the same opportunity. But we weren’t, mainly because of world economic factors and things beyond our control. So the Boomers justified the elimination of jobs, career moves, and various salary dips chalking it up to the economy. Even the realization that we were getting less bang for our bucks than mom and dad did in the 60s didn’t seem to bother us. At least we had that place where we could come to as a remembrance of the times we had growing up - our church. Standing like a bulwark in a sea of uncertainty, at least as parishioners or visitors, we could drink in the spirituality that molded us. It should have come as no surprise to the boomer generation that this would also be taken away from us. Our generation has always been labeled as one of entitlement (uh, have you ever talked with a 30 year old???) and whining when things don’t go our way. Specious argument if you ask me. We’ve had things taken back from us that were givens in our parent’s prime years. This generation has had to take a lot of hits from a world market that crushes competition, a corporate philosophy that thinks if your boss gives you a candy bar instead of Christmas bonus they are treating their employees like kings and a government that doesn’t even have the decency to steal behind your back. But with all of those things, we thought we’d never lose our churches. But we are, one by one in an insidious attack on everything we ever believed in or knew.
Today, at 2PM, the church my grandparents on both sides of my family helped build with their contributions is closing for good. My grandparents and many other immigrants sacrificed so that they would have a church where they could worship God in the language of their childhood; a church that would honor their traditions and offer stability and moral leadership to their children and grandchildren. After today, St. John the Baptist Slovak Catholic Church will be no more. We will be told that “change is difficult”, “the church is only a building” and that “we must follow” as good Catholics. Take your pick of any cliché. Try to justify it in your mind. Look at it as a new beginning, a test of your faith. Yeah, yeah, yeah! Here’s the bottom line: the closing of this church, like many of the other ones in the Greater Pittston Area this year and others in our area to come is immoral. It is an insult to the memories of all those parishioners who built those structures with the promise that it would be there for generations to come. That promise today will be broken. Not kept by a church that preaches to us that we should always honor our word. The changes in the Catholic community the last few years have not been good. And the excuses we received from the church hierarchy have been insulting at best, devious at worst. It may not be in this lifetime, but those people who are closing our churches, schools, and treating fellow Catholics (I’m talking about the parochial school teachers here) like the coal miners of yesteryear will have a day of reckoning. At some point they will have a lot to answer for.
Even though I have belonged to another church since 1982, I wanted to put together a final tribute to St. John the Baptist Church. This was the church I was baptized, confirmed and educated from in the 50s and 60s. My grandparents on both sides, my father and countless relatives were buried from St. John the Baptist. Never being super religious or spiritual, it is surprising to me and others in my life how personally I am taking the closing of this entity. I do believe though the story of the life and now death of this church needed to be told. My intention was to have a historical record of this century old bastion of faith. Through the miracle of the internet, the history of the church and those who built it will live on. It will only take 6 minutes of your time to view. Here’s the link to YOU TUBE: