Friday, November 06, 2009

Motor City Experiences

I've spent an amazing amount of time in Detroit over the past 9 days. Last week, Sr Barbara and I ran a book display for the "Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools" convention where we were the smiling faces at booth 417. We stayed with our Pauline brothers in Dearborn. After an early Mass, Sr Barbara and I caught a glimpse of the local paper. Headlining it was the story of the killing by the FBI of a radical Dearborn. Then, at supper, we were guests, along with our St. Paul brothers, of a lovely couple who live in one of Dearborn's tonier neighborhoods. Their experience of their mostly Muslim neighbors (in the "tony" neighborhood, as well as in our brothers' neighborhood) is quite different. The children in the area call the retired couple Grandma and Grandpa, and when one of the neighboring couples needed a weekend to themselves, the kids weren't parceled out to extended family; they spent the night with their Catholic grandma and grandpa. The husband told of a father bringing his two young sons to the local parish to deliver their post-Ramadan offering of charity. The boys had saved their pennies to give... half to the mosque and half to the Church. Brother Al told us that when a baby is born to a Muslim family, the house is decorated with tiny white Christmas lights. (I imagine that Christmas decorations make quite an appropriate impression!) If any progress is going to be made with regard to mutual respect between cultures in US, it's probably going to happen in Dearborn.

We returned to Chicago for the weekend, and then Sr Helena and I took to the highway again, this time to give workshops for the youth ministers of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Our first workshop was at St. James parish. Sr Helena (former resident of Toronto) was thrilled to see a Tim Horton's across the street. Sadly, we didn't have a chance to sample the offerings. (The local DRE told us that Canadians say it just isn't the same quality as in the homeland.) Rather than stay in Dearborn, we were given hospitality at Sacred Heart Seminary, where our main presentation would be held. (Sr Helena kept scanning the parking lot for Janet Smith's car; she was hoping we would run into her--figuratively speaking.)

The seminary is an impressive structure--one of those classic red-brick Gothic institutions from the early 20th century. The ceramic shower apparatus was so interestingly antique I took a picture of it! (Note the patent date: Dec 22, 1915.) Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the chapel, which is still being renovated after a fire in February. (Mass was held in the "chape-torium.")

More impressive than the seminary is the neighborhood around it. Guided by Mapquest and "Flo" (the female voice of our brand-new GPS), we drove past block after blighted block. Once beautiful, big homes with bay windows and welcoming porches were boarded up or burned out. In between, some homes were still occupied, and on the sidewalks children were coming home to them from school while men criss-crossed the streets in the loping stride of people who have nowhere to go. Apartment buildings, real architectural beauties (not bland cracker-boxes), stood there with shattered windows; roofs were collapsing through the empty floors. I felt as though we were driving past some of the hardest-hit parts of New Orleans, only this wasn't the result of a hurricane.

Our Thursday workshop was well-attended. One participant Twittered from the room, but we were pretty limited in online access. Between firewalls and bandwidth issues, we couldn't do all we wanted to, so (oddly) we resorted to talking about social media instead of demonstrating it. (Thank goodness for PowerPoint!) We hope to offer the same sort of workshop (only with real-time online access) to other groups. On the way home, we stopped in Dearborn to have supper with our brothers of the Society of St. Paul.

Brother Al (an energetic 81) and Father Arthur welcomed us. As Brother Al prepared the table, he started talking about our Founder, whom he knew very well. (Brother Al was the first Pauline brother to be elected to the General Council of the order, while the Founder was still alive.) When I realized what was happening, I pulled out my camera and changed it to the video setting. I missed a lot of the good stuff, but below is a clip of insight from Brother Al. We are hoping that Brother Al and Father Arthur will join us here in Chicago for Thanksgiving, which coincides with our Founder's feast day. (Pray!)

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