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Moving forward with sweet memories of the past

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The tiny church was packed for our last celebration. It was a bittersweet day, and I still remember a man turning around when he heard me sob.

Effie
Caldarola

The message came from someone out in the farm community where I grew up. There was going to be an auction, she said, and two of the stained glass windows from the little church I attended as a child were coming back up for sale after all these years.

Like many Catholics in the U.S., I once went through the trauma of my childhood church closing. The reasons, a shortage of priests, an exodus from family farms, aren't too different from what people in urban areas hear now: The population is shifting, the old ethnic neighborhoods, like the tightknit farm communities, are breaking up and moving on.

If you've been through it, you know the pain.

My church was called St. Patrick's Dublin, a mission of St. Patrick's of Clyde, another country church a few miles away. My great-grandfather, who fled the Irish famine, was one of Dublin's founders.

Dublin was a simple little white building nestled amid cornfields and dusty country roads. But the Irish farmers did justice to the place. They brought saplings up from the river and lined the area with trees. They brought a statue of St. Patrick, the familiar one with a shamrock proclaiming the Trinity, and they brought in lovely stained glass windows.

I was the fourth generation of my family to live in that community, which eventually became a mixture of Irish and Bohemians. Since Dublin was a mission, baptisms were done at Clyde, but my mother insisted I be baptized at Dublin's altar rail. That's an enduring grace.

When Dublin closed and an auction was held, I was finished with college and living away. I did attend the last wedding, of a close childhood friend, at the church. Old photos reveal a beautiful bride and a groom dressed in some outlandish 1970s plaids.

The tiny church was packed for our last celebration. It was a bittersweet day, and I still remember a man turning around when he heard me sob.

Soon, everything was auctioned, including the church, under the edict that it be dismantled so as not to emerge as a barn or pigpen. A memorial was placed at the side of the unpaved road; otherwise only memories remained.

First Communions, Christmas Masses at 7 a.m., baseball games in the field south of the church, the day my little brother -- in his haste to start the fun at the church picnic -- tripped carrying the baked beans and sent the casserole flying.

I remember an evening as an adolescent, sitting outside the confessional with the parish priest, the two of us the only people in the little building, me tongue-tied about confession, he tongue-tied and not knowing how to help me speak. I remember the ominous Midwestern storm clouds rolling in as I left Dublin that night.

Hearing that something from those decades long ago had re-emerged was startling.

Should I go to the auction? It was a long drive out to a remote farm. I didn't want to try to find the place alone, and I had no one to go with. But I think maybe something else held me back.

Instead, on that bright day heralding the beginning of spring, I kept to my plan to attend my political party's caucus at a local school. Hundreds of people poured in, the mood respectful and convivial. It was an exercise in participatory democracy at its finest, all about tomorrow's America.

Memories are wonderful, grace is enduring, but windows come and go. That little church had been my life, but on that sunny Saturday, everything was all about tomorrow.

Effie Caldarola is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.

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