By Rosalie Tirella
Millbury’s Saint Brigid’s Church. photos: R.T.
Miracle of miracles! As I was driving through downtown Millbury this morning I spied a CHURCH WHOSE FRONT DOORS WERE … OPEN! St. Brigid’s Catholic Church on Main. The light beige brick church with the big crosses had its big dark wooden doors flung wide open, as if to say: Hey, everyone! Come on in! Cone on in and pray!!
The church (and its rectory) face a busy street with lots of cars and pedestrians zipping by, yet it welcomes all, invites all to step out of the hurly burly and calm down in, bask in the quiet, dimly lit, pew-lined church. To meditate. Focus on a friend or family member in prayer. Wish, hope, dream … This is true for today, Sunday; it was true for yesterday at Saint Brigid’s … even Friday its front doors were open and I wanted to walk in and take a peek. Any one could walk in to take a peek …to pray to God, Jesus, Mary … Saint Brigid (whoever that is – and as an old Catholic grrrl, I know my saints)!
Heading to Sunday Mass
In Millbury this morning it was 1955 all over again – a time when churches of all ilks all over America opened their doors to one and all pretty much from dawn to dusk – so you could pop in to say a little prayer before work, visit at lunch-time, stop in after your work day, especially if it was trying and you prayed for inner strength – or terrific and you were grateful to God and wanted to thank him for the raise or promotion. It was a time when churches weren’t robbed with a-holes fleeing, running out the back door with gold-leaf candle sticks or chalices or Holy Communion platters … or even sound systems and microphones with stands. We Americans were unafraid of being gunned down by some sicko – murdered as we were about the sing a hymn. Together. We were not attached to our smart phone and too lazy to join a real community. We were all a bit more spiritual, less rapacious. Money wasn’t so important: families were happy with modest houses, modest cars, basic vacations once a year. There were more rosaries among our middle class than more boob jobs. I suspect there are now more Boob jobs. We have Botox treatments and so many other body-enhancing but soul-depleting “treatments.” Yet we all die.
Saint Brigid’s rectory
My Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, loved going to our Lady of Czestochowa Church – our neighborhood church in Green Island. There was also St. Anthony’s at Kelley Square and St. John’s on Temple. You really had quite the Catholic menu – the strict Poles of St. Mary’s, the cool Father Frank, the street priest for the poor, at St. Anthony’s or …the Irish of St. John’s. She was a proud parishioner, as was my late mom, as was I – up until college of St. Mary’s. Bapy, though poor, filled her little parishioners envelope with quarters every Sunday. Ma dressed us girls like dolls and together we walked every Sunday morning to weekend Mass where she always sat us in the pew directly behind a beautiful, beautifully dressed young woman and her daughter. The daughter had Downs Syndrome but was also beautifully dressed and so close to her mom who so obviously loved her.
I left the Catholic church when Freud, Erickson and Jung filled my brain, pushing God out of it – or at least the way I had been trained to “see” and worship Him in our working class household.
Now I say: God is pure love.
But what does that mean?
Pure happiness? Pure joy? Is God when you’re with people you love? Animals you care for? Nature. Is it feeling close? Understood? Cared about?
I don’t know. I try to be a better person every day to every molecule of life that wafts by, but I really liked believing in God decades ago when I was young. I was more optimistic, less burdened. Belonging to a parish and knowing everybody in the pews was cool. And looking up behind us, in the balcony of our little Polish church, sat our little Polish organist, dwarfed by our huge church organ with many tall golden pipes. He played the church hymns so passionately. I struggled to keep up with him! Ma always sang off key, her face contorted in pain. Sing along with our little maestro who strode into St. Mary’s every mass with his winter over coat or light jacket dramatically draped over his small shoulders was pure hell! And yet didn’t Ma love it when he strode by her and bowed ever so slightly and said in Polish, Good evening Pani. And he’d smile at Ma and her three perfectly dressed little girls, with our ribbons all aflutter, our Communion pocket books white and sparkling, Ma’s work-hardened hands covered, softened in her pale pink gloves that were so demure… so soft to the touch, going up to her wrists.
Ma used to tell me how often Bapy went to church when she lived in the Block on Bigelow Street: every morning. Every morning. She put on her cute blue hat with the fake flowers tucked in the band and walked to church in her black no nonsense shoes. Winter, summer, fall, spring. Every day.
Ma went to church every week day with the nuns at St. Mary’s School – they walked down Richland Street, where their little brick school was, and crossed Ward Street and piously filed into St. Mary’s church. On Sundays she made the trek with Bapy.
During my Green Island girlhood, when Ma and us three kids would be running an errand and just for the heck of it Ma would say: Do you want to go to church, to light a candle? Our Lady of Czestochowa was a little gold painted church on Ward Street, 20 yards away from the yet widened I-290, but I loved visiting. It always looked so cute, surrounded by pink and red flowers, the stairs painted white …inside the smell of incense was intoxicating.
Yes! we kids would shout, and we’d walk down to our church – whose doors were always unlocked – and we’d kneel once we entered the main area, Ma gripping the back of the last pew for support as she got back up from kneeling and blessing herself after entering God’s house … Then we’d walk softly to the right of the marble altar …to a huge statue of the Virgin Mary – Ma’s fave saint!- and Ma would place a dollar bill in a box, take a long stick and touch its end to an already lit votive candle and it would flare up and Ma would take the flame band ever so carefully light a votive candle that was a bit closer to the statue, closer to Blessed Mother. Then we’d all kneel on the long pale red velvet kneeler, bless ourselves and quietly say a prayer. Each of us saying our own prayer to Jesus. Ma probably praying to make rent. Me probably praying for an A on my book report. My two sisters murmuring their Hail Mary’s, too little to ask for anything … just happy to be boppin’ along with Ma.
When church doors were open …
Ma as a young lady. She loved going to church!