Paul Ritzenthaler, St. Joseph
I remember my first impression of St. Joseph. It came after my wife convinced me that my world went through a small community that wasn’t even a post office zip code…Pleasant Acres. I had set my eyes on a home in Cold Spring, but my wife fell in love with Pleasant Acres.
I stood (back then) in the midst of downtown St. Joseph, the closest community to our new residence in the “Pleasant” addition (Yup, wife won the habitation battle), and admired. I was impressed! There, standing majestically in the “Joetown” daylight sun, was a church that drew me back to the quaint village edifices that I had so admired in the midlands of England when I was stationed there in the Air Force circa mid-60s. Those were churches that had defied time-barriers and stood strong – unspoiled and unchanged – as the basic roots of the communities that grew up around them.
Now, back to St. Joseph, Minn., and St. Joseph, the sanctuary. What a wonderful focal point for a “city center,” I thought – a beautifully erected, stone structure that demanded more than a casual look. It was surrounded by magnificent pines and lush oh-so-green grass. No cathedral could rival the picturesque, demure configuration that overwhelmed the surrounding buildings. No, I wasn’t a Catholic, but I could relate to the pride of anyone who stepped through the beautiful doors of that church.
Allow me, now, if I may, to introduce you to one of the most destructive words in any community-driven or religious-drive agenda – PROGRESS. You see, so many times there are those who believe change is progress. They elect to ignore the fact their personal “vision” doesn’t relate to one integral fact – change often dismisses and destroys traditional values.
So, today, the lush lawns of the St. Joseph church are asphalted in part. Progress! The beautiful stone structure has been partially obliterated by a brick something that is going to be part of a “Meeting Place.” Progress! The stately pines are chopped down and the barren area in front of the church never looked more desolate. Progress!
Well, I have heard there are reasons for those progressive changes. Let’s start with the asphalt that replaced the grass in front of one portion of the church. I am told it was done in an effort to provide a more user-friendly venue for the handicapped. It seems to me part of that area has been replaced by a “Meeting Place” building. So, you “handicapped” have to walk a little further, but remember you now have a “meeting place” IF you can find a handicapped “meeting place” parking space.
The trees, I am told, came down because either 1. they were being replaced by more asphalt for parking, or 2. They were going to die within the next 10 or 20 years. Well, if the answer is 1. Maybe, those decision-makers should have left the former “meeting place” area as an asphalt parking space/meeting place for pre-church tailgate parties like they have during the Vikings Games – less rooms, more asphalt, more brats, and, perhaps, more play area for the school kids, and less need for more asphalt where once there were stately pines in front of the church. Or, if 2. Maybe said decision-makers should rely on God to decide when the trees should be replaced. I mean – Him forbid – those suckers might have had another 30 years under their branches.
Finally, we come to the “meeting place.” Might I direct those (and I’ll bet it’s a very minimal number of the congregation, because most of the congregation I have talked with, feels they will rarely be meeting at the “meeting place”), anyway, might I direct those who came up with this preposterous idea, to step back from their lofty goals, step across the street, and take a look at what they’ve done to a very beautiful edifice in the name of progress. Then, I propose they tear down that wall – well at least that hideous brick portion that covers the wonderful stone facade on the northwest side of the church.
By the way, (in the form of a history lesson) for those who promoted the building of the “meeting place:” Did you know the Quakers and Amish have for years – nay centuries – built their churches to also be schools and boardrooms and gymnasiums, and yes, “meeting places,” and… well, you get the idea. Perhaps, you might look inside the church structure itself to find ways to utilize a building that sits dormant most of the week. It is, after all, as beautiful inside as it once was outside.