Mark Andersen stood in front of the congregation and wept.
Andersen is a 52-year-old community activist and punk rocker in Washington, D.C. He was speaking at a meeting at St. Aloysius, a historic Catholic parish that is in danger of being shut down due to a shortage of Jesuits, who run the parish.
“Take your time,” the elderly black ladies said to Andersen from their pews. “Take your time.”
Andersen pushed ahead. He talked about how two decades ago a friend told him about St. Al’s. Andersen, who is perhaps best known in D.C. for being a key figure in Washington’s punk rock underground in the 1980s and now helps the needy, expressed how reluctant he was to walk into any church.
But, like a lot of us, he was won over by St. Al’s. He found God and became Catholic. “Jesus is HERE,” Andersen said. “St. Al’s is” — and here he hesitated to let the final word carry extra force — “IRREPLACEABLE.” On either side of him were long lines of fellow parishioners waiting to speak, and they were all nodding in agreement. In the front row were two representatives from the Washington archdiocese, which will decided whether or not St. Al’s remains open.
St. Aloysius is one of the coolest and most spirit-filled churches I have ever been in (I wrote about it for The Daily Caller here). I first heard about it several years ago through my friend Pam, a social worker in D.C. For many of us Catholics who grew up with the bland post-Vatican II Mass, Sundays were a day of obligation, and an often joyless one at that. The music was God awful. The hip liberal priests were irritating. I went to Mass either at the National Shrine, a magnificent and holy building, or at St. Mary Mother of God in the Chinatown section of town. I studiously avoided St. Al’s, which is a few blocks from Capitol Hill. St. Al’s was where Martin Sheen went to Mass when he was protesting in D.C. Its parishioners handed out copies of the communist Catholic Worker. Those people were freaks!
Then I went. I found people who are full of love and the Holy Spirit, who are friendly, remember your name and, not least, are a vibrant and beautiful expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Part of their ministry is the McKenna Center, named after Fr. Horace McKenna. The McKenna Center provides shelter, clean bathrooms and other support for homeless men. Fr. McKenna (1899-1982) worked tirelessly for the poor. He founded a soup kitchen called SOME (So Others Might Eat), a clinic, a jobs center and Martha’s Table, which serves the needs of homeless women. He was also instrumental in the development of Sursum Corda Cooperative, a low-income housing project in the neighborhood just north of St. Aloysius Parish.
The McKenna Center will stay open no matter what, but St. Aloysius may close. Parishioners and the Archdiocese of Washington have been negotiating different alternatives, including having a religious order other than the Jesuits take over, folding St. Al’s into another parish or having a lay person run the parish with a visiting priest saying Mass. I favor the idea of another religious order taking over the parish. The hard truth is that liberal orders like the Jesuits are losing members while orthodox orders are gaining them, and it may bring a lot of juice to St. Al’s to have, say, Opus Dei take over. It would also be hilarious to watch in terms of human drama. Josemaria Escriva and Dorothy Day side by side. Amen!