People losing their culture and parish

By Jaclyn Freese
December 4, 2003

I know what it is like to see something that is part of your culture be thrown away like it is trash. I feel for the people of Holy Trinity Parish in Pottstown, Pa., I really do.

Holy Trinity is a small parish in the south end of Pottstown, my hometown. It was built by Slovak immigrants 91 years ago and has stood on the same spot ever since. Countless have been baptized, married and eulogized there. On June 30, the spot where so many have called a second home will be gone.

My parish, St. Aloysius, twinned with Holy Trinity in 2001. St. Al’s got a new pastor in 2002, Father Walter Benn, and he has made it his obligation to shut down Holy Trinity, citing it is “too much” for him to oversee both churches. Fr. Benn declined the help of retired priests to say mass at Holy Trinity, which would obviously lessen the pressure from his shoulders.

Holy Trinity is a debt-free parish, with a $1 million treasury. The parishioners pay for everything-they fix the stained glass windows, repair the pews, clean the church-Fr. Benn does not foot any of the bills. St. Al’s is not debt-free however, it is $9,000 in debt.

A lot of parishioners in both parishes believe Fr. Benn is after the million dollars. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt on this one-God help him if that is really his reason for shutting down Holy Trinity.

The main reason people are so up in arms about this is that a part of their culture will be torn down with Holy Trinity closing its doors. Fox News was at Holy Trinity at the Sunday, Nov. 30, 10 a.m., mass to report on what was happening. Parishioners at the mass were close to tears over losing a part of their heritage. One parishioner even called Fr. Benn “a sick dictator.” No one should have to think of a priest in that light.

The closing of Holy Trinity does not really affect me. Sure, it was nice to have a church to go to when St. Al’s was too crowded and it sure was pretty inside, way prettier than St. Al’s, but I am not a parishioner there, so why should I care?

I care because I feel for those people to see their culture be tossed away by someone who seems to not care. Back when I was still in high school, the Italian Club we belonged to, Maria Assunta, closed abruptly, leaving an empty hole in my family’s heart.

My great grandmother Mastracola was one of the founders of the club. You could only belong if you were Italian, fuggedabout entering if you were not Italian and you did not know one of the respected members.

Inside was like a scene straight out of “Goodfellas” (without the violence). The old men, all named Paul, Peter or Joseph, would sit around with their cigars and fancy drinks and talk about politics. The women would watch the kids and gossip about anything and everything. The kids played with the jukebox and the other Italian children-it was like time froze when you stepped into Maria Assunta-you were back in the 50s.

Of course, the best part about Maria Assunta was the food. The food had the Italian touch-the sauce was out of this world, the pasta was done to perfection, the meatballs were moist and the size of baseballs, and for some reason, the sprinkled cheese that came with the salads was the best grated cheese I’d ever had.

Then one day, Maria Assunta was no more. It was under new management and the new manager fled Pottstown suddenly one day, taking with him the club’s money and the hearts of its members. Maria Assunta was forced to close.

Gone was the smell of good old Italian cooking. Gone was the entertaining tales of the men and women who grew up in Italy. Gone was the sprinkled cheese that I looked forward to every weekend. Gone was my great grandmother’s hard work.

Now the parishioners of Holy Trinity parish are going to go through what the Italians went through a few years ago. It is sad to see what is happening to these people. Part of their Slovak heritage will be washed down the drain by a man who has not taken into account their feelings and frustrations. The kicker is the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is backing Fr. Benn, leaving the parishioners hurt and frustrated.

I feel for these people, I really do.

Posted to the Web by: Toccara Buckley

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Jaclyn Freese

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