Lessons learned in a humble gymnasium

Just as I was finishing up a blog post this week about why I was leaving FaceBook, I received a notice that someone had tagged me in a post on the social media site. My attention was drawn to the story my friend shared of a church that in the early morning hours was destroyed by fire. This was my church; our church.

The Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, is where I grew up. Quite literally. I attended school there from kindergarten through the 8th grade. My parents were original members of the parish. They were among the 455 in attendance at the first mass held in the cafeteria of Ramapo Regional High School on a hot Sunday in July of 1961 – before there was a church, or a school, or even me.

I attended mass there every Sunday from the minute I arrived from Ireland in 1967. But the early parishioners and administration made the school a priority. The church building wasn’t completed until 1981, when I was already in high school. Mass was in the school gymnasium, something with which we became quite accustomed. My First Holy Communion? In the gym. My Confirmation? In the gym! I was planning to draw the line on the wedding though. “Not getting married under the basketball hoop!” I demanded.

I didn’t of course.  The new Church was dedicated in fall of 1981, just as I had started my junior year of high school and visiting from Ireland at that time was the nun who took care of me when I was an infant. It was so special and fitting that she attended this ceremony with my family. The church was  beautifully modern. No stain glass. But I so appreciated the way the filtered sunlight, through the skylights that ran the length of the the long support beams, formed a cross. At the right time of day that cross of sunshine landed perfectly on the alter.

That church became a place where I reunited with friends when I was home from college. There were over a decade of Christmas Eve midnight masses with my parents. If I close my eyes I can hear my Dad’s booming voice, perfectly on key. Gloria in excelsis deo. My parents renewed their wedding vows there to mark their 40th Anniversary in 1989. And in 1993, I was married…under filtered sunlight through the skylights, not a basketball hoop.

I remember quite clearly three times I was present in that church in recent years. Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, the school celebrated its 50th Anniversary. It was an all class reunion that started with a mass where friends reunited once again. In 2014, my husband’s funeral mass was celebrated there by Bishop Flesey. I was there was for daily mass on Monday, April 27, 2015. That was the day the Navy had let me know they would be conducting his Burial at Sea. Family members don’t go to that, but I felt I needed to do something. M.B.S. was there for me.

M.B.S. was always there; something I took for granted. It was always a place I thought I could go back to when I wanted to conjure up memories of my parents, or my wedding, or my elementary school friends, or feel connected to the religious traditions – and comfort – I had long left behind. But like The Record building in Hackensack (When we were friend of the people we served), or my parents’ restaurant on the other side of Franklin Lakes (the building was torn down a few years ago), it’s another monument to my memories that no longer exists.

Community transcends buildings though – a lesson to take away from all those years in the gym. As kids we learned that the people are what’s important. We learned that you don’t spend money you don’t have on something you really don’t need. We learned to be patient. We learned that hard work and cooperation builds communities – and churches. It was announced that masses will be back in the gymnasium. My elementary school friends and I are making plans to meet for lunch and attend mass one Saturday evening in January when I’m back in New Jersey.  There is something so comforting about that.

 

 

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