1101 Lafayette Street
Fort Wayne, IN 46803
Photo Credits: Argil Shock
I'm having a difficult time writing this today.
When I went searching for some photographs to use for this entry, I came across many that were related to 1993 fire. silence
You know how sometimes, you intellectually know things but emotionally, you push it back so far in your mind, that you can sometimes fool yourself into thinking that some tragic event really didn't happen?
I think I did that with the fire.
That day - along with events like The Challenger Explosion, 9/11, and the death of my grandfather - are forever etched in the core of my soul. They were pivotal events that changed me - just like earlier generations were affected by the depression or the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
So this memory today - gosh - it'll be all over the map. It's difficult for me to look at any picture of St. Mary's now, and not have a wave of emotions that range from complete happiness and joy (one moment) and then sadness (boy - those tears came FAST) and anger (why did this have to happen?!).
Like many of you FW'ers, I was born and raised Catholic. I have a ton of Catholic-related memories. I was baptised and married at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. I attended CCD classes and then eventually attended full time school at St. Therese.
My mother's side of the family lived and breathed the Catholic ways in downtown Fort Wayne during the 60's, 70's and 80's.
My grandfather and great-grandmother (even though they were members of Cathedral) enjoyed attending all of the downtown churches, so if I happened to be spending time with them on one of those days where they had the inclination to attend mass (and as you know - that was not just isolated to Sunday's), I usually went along with them.
Of course as a wee youngster, I didn't really understand church much. I was pretty irritated by having to sit still, and, I didn't understand why I couldn't read the funny words in the book or why I wasn't allowed to get up and parade around the church like all of the other people.
I was an obedient child and didn't ask - I just did. I learned the rituals of standing and sitting, and in a very short period of time, I knew exactly when the kneeler was supposed to go down and when the adults would start roaming around. I also knew when I could let myself be distracted by the intricate detailing of the church. I would stare at a window or a ledge and I would wonder things like:
- how big were the arrowheads that were used to do all the cutting and dicing of this stuff?
- how many people had to stand on top of each other in order to get that piece of glass up there?
I blame the arrowhead thoughts on my visit to a museum and my human pyramid scenario on the circus :).
I don't remember the first exact time that my grandpa took me to St. Mary's. Often, I would get Cathedral and Mary mixed up. They were in close proximity to each other and they were both grand, sweeping, architectural landmarks.
Where I could distinguish the two was within the interior of the church. St. Mary's was huge - gi-normous (and yes - Cathedral was too - but in a different way). Naturally, its architecture fascinated me. But in particular, it was the dark - gothic nature of the wood and the shape of the windows that held my attention - especially when I had to wait for grandpa or great-grandma to get back to the pew (you know - they were parading around - communion as I later learned it to be) . I was never scared by its grandeur or darkness. Its oldness and formality automatically made me feel right at home. And that smell. How do you describe that smell? It was old but endearing. Comforting and familiar...but special.
St. Mary's was just one place of many in Fort Wayne, where everybody seemed to know everybody. And you know what? That never struck me as strange. And I guess the reason I bring this up is that one of the charms of Fort Wayne for me - even from the very youngest age - was that the city seemed big in space, but small and homey when it came to relationships.
You can say Father O'Connor and immediately - everybody knew who you were talking about. You can mention the Soup Kitchen and automatically, people are reminded of the fact that in Fort Wayne, being down on your luck didn't mean you had to go hungry. You can mention the fire, and people will tell you where they were when it happened and how shocked and saddened they were.
Since the (physical) church I knew, no longer exists, I can't bring myself to go near the area. I know that the new church was built with a lot of love and that Father Tom used its re-building as a time of healing for the community. When all of that was going on, I had already moved to Indianapolis and that principle of out of site...out of mind... is probably why I'm still not over things.