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The last day's of St. Paul's

Trip for last-minute pix of St. Paul's turns into something extraordinary

By Gloria Diaz

Fort Wayne Reader

2004-06-28


I donít consider myself a very religious person, but when I heard St. Paulís was being demolished I thought it was wrong.

Thereís something sad and just a bit creepy about smashing a wrecking ball into a church. I donít have any connection to St. Paulís. But something compelled me to snap some pictures the day before it was scheduled to go down.

The concrete barriers advertising the company chosen to do the wrecking were already up. They also said, ďno trespassing.Ē

Iím also a fairly obedient person and I skirted around the barriers getting some shots. A few minutes after I got there, two ladies came armed with a shovel, a spade, a bucket, a rolling garden stool that looks like a miniature wagon with a lid, and plastic grocery bags. One of them had planted chrysanthemums years ago and wanted to take them home before they were buried in the rubble. Unlike me, they walked behind the barriers and started digging. After all, it was their church.

And maybe they were trespassing, but they obviously didnít give a damn.

Rosemary Haughan has attended St. Paulís since she was three months old. She will be 66 in a couple days. Today, she was with a friend of hers, Audrey Roy. She talked freely about St. Paulís and how she felt about it all.

ďNo, we didnít have the funds to fix it up, but neither did we have the chance to raise (the money),Ē she said, as she examined the plants and weeds on the south side of the building.

ďI donít know, I just think itís a terrible loss. This building, architecturally, is sound. Iím not saying it didnít need some work, but it wasnít ready to fall down. One of the men and I met with Father and asked him to ask the Bishop to give us a couple of years to try to do capital fundraising.Ē The request didnít come through. I asked her why.

ďI donít know.Ē

She goes to St. Patrickís now. Other people she knows go to other Catholic churches close to their houses.

ďI donít know if Iíll ever really feel at home there.Ē

The warmth Rosemary described while attending St. Paulís went beyond whatever a faulty heating system could put out. A little more than 10 years ago, the parishioners were encouraged to go to another church. They wouldnít go.

ďOur furnace even went out, and we didnít have any heat in the middle of the winter, and the people still wouldnít go. They bundled the old people up, and their infants and their little ones and they still came to mass.Ē

There was low turnover at the altar as well. Rosemary says in the first 99 years of the church, there were only three pastors: Father Koenig, Monsignor H. J. Kroll, and Monsignor John F. Nadolny.

I ask Rosemary what she thinks the future of the Catholic Church is. Not just in Fort Wayne, but the nation.

ďWell, St. Paul said, Ďthe church is the people.í Itís not the hierarchy, though some of them may think so.Ē

Audrey thought the diocese should have given St. Paulís a chance.

ďThe problem was, it took money, and the diocese just wasnít willing to spend any money.Ē I asked her if she thought the diocese had the money.

ďThey will say they donít, but Iím sure they do.Ē

We were soon joined by a man who rode up on a Harley. He asked us if he could go inside the church. Rosemary told him if he managed to get inside to let her know. There were some religious education materials she wanted to get.

The manís name was Christopher and he did salvage work. A few minutes later Audrey informed us he managed to get inside. I enter through one of the front doors.

I havenít been in a church in years. This one is in the process of dying. The altar is littered with pieces of wood that might have been part of the pews as kneelers. There are a couple of Taco Bell cups on the steps. I make my way to the back, through a doorway. There are several rooms I walk through, some of them littered with stuffed animals, papers and a toddler-sized hoop dress. Quite a few of the rooms have furniture and appliances in them. This bothers Rosemary and Audrey. After the last mass, Rosemary was given a chalice. The less portable things wonít get new homes.

Rosemary and I slowly make our way up creaking but still sturdy steps to the auditorium. Thereís scattered glass on the floor from a light fixture that was probably vandalized. Spray-painted on the back wall and in the bathroom are obscene declarations. In the big room are two big tables, a bookcase, and several chairs. Christopher joins us. He discovered drug paraphernalia in the basement. Beside one of the many windows is an upright piano, made by Strich and Zeidler. Rosemary and I peck out a few notes, but Christopher treats us to a song. The piano sounds remarkably wonderful and rich as the music fills the auditorium. We fall silent for a little while. Christopher says the pianoís keys are ivory.

After his impromptu performance, itís time to go.

We make our way downstairs. On our way down, we are joined by a gentleman on the stairs. He just suddenly appeared, surprising us all. He, too, wanted to say goodbye to St. Paulís. He took a picture of the four of us on the stairs with his camera. Most of us were strangers to each other, bonding because of a building that meant something to us in some way. He joked about having proof that we were in St. Paulís, even though the concrete barriers said we shouldnít be there.

But you know what? We didnít give a damn.

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