Ruminations on the Germantown Closings

"You think not? We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things."

— Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles


So how am I feeling today?

Kind of lousy, admittedly. Not as lousy as the ex-members of Immaculate Conception and St. Francis of Assisi are feeling today, but lousy nonetheless.

And why should they (or I) feel any differently?

The death of a parish is never an easy thing, especially if it's as architecturally, historically and socially important as these two. The powers that be in the Germantown Catholic community are saying all the right things about carrying on as a solidified entity, but come on, let’s be honest.

This hurts like @%^#%$ hell.

And that’s coming from someone with a lot less skin in the game. Sure, as a chronicler of churches great and small, I have a somewhat unique perspective here. More so than most, I see the trends, the strengths and weaknesses of these places. I know what they mean to the people who rely on them for everything.

Yet, I’ll never feel the same way about either parish as did someone who lived and breathed them for decades. As devastated as I am by the loss of two of this city’s best churches — and make no mistake, I am a very forlorn Project this morning — it pales in comparison to others.

If you are, or were, a member of either parish, you have my heartfelt condolences. I’d like to hope the new parish at St. Vincent can do what the three separate parishes cannot, but even under the best of circumstances, things will never be the same.

As to the day itself, I will admit that I wasn’t able to make it to St. Francis of Assisi. The scheduling gods weren’t particularly kind, in that the closing masses for both parishes were placed close enough to each other that it made visiting both a little difficult, so I was only able to make good on a pre-existing appointment to see Immaculate off into the Long Goodbye.

(So if anyone has any firsthand reports from St. Francis, I welcome them.)

The parts I saw of the mass (more on that in a bit) were the usual mix of sad and bittersweet. Some tears, some utter disbelief at how so great a monument could fall. The turnout was far more than the parish has seen in a long time — by my estimate, probably 1,100 or so. Incredibly, still not enough to fill the church completely, but a far cry from the vigil masses that attracted barely a dozen people.

What followed was a nice if somewhat slow affair, hampered by a sweltering church (why weren’t the windows open?) and a decision to try to do and be everything for everybody. By the hour mark we hadn’t even gotten to the presentation of the gifts, and when they announced a plan to have everybody in attendance — yes, all 1,100+ present — go up and bless the altar with holy water, I knew it was time to peace out before I died of dehydration.

(They said the church would be open until 4 — I didn’t think they meant the mass would last that long! Ba-dum ching!)

So, yeah, it wasn’t as focused and efficient as Most Blessed Sacrament’s send-off, but hey, when it’s your last mass, you’re allowed to do whatever you want. And I was able to get some great last-minute shots and indulge in some classic Project sneaking, so that’s a win there.

But really, sadness aside, it was nice to see such a magnificent church full of life one more time, before it fades into obscurity, decay and about a half dozen of the Project’s least-favorite theorems. When I look back on Immaculate, I won’t remember the emptiness. I’ll remember that shot you see above, packed to the gills with devotion.

One last Sunday, just like so many they used to have.