The Curt Jester
May 1, 2011
by Jeff Miller
Framing Faith: A Pictorial History of Communities of Faith is a new book that tells some of the history of the Diocese of Scranton via the stories of ten Catholic churches. This is history mixed with photos predominately of these ten parishes. It starts out by giving an overview of the Diocese of Scranton with the history of the area and the jobs such as coal mining that brought people there. The background of the prominent industries is given and then a history of all the bishops of this diocese up to the present day. I found some of this rather interesting especially the story of one bishop when many of these parishes started.
The history of this diocese is probably repeated in part across the country. Immigrants coming into the area is what drove creation of the diocese and of course the increase in parishes. Again like much of the country these immigrant parishes were often ethnically defined with the majority of people being of a specific ethnicity along with the pastor. These churches were funded by the poor immigrants who often lent a hand in their building assisting even after a full day of work mining. The parish was a central part of social and family life where besides the liturgy traditions from their home-countries were maintained.
A history of then churches is given from their very start and details such as first baptism, wedding, etc along with the line of pastors to the present day. The architecture of these parish churches was influenced by the architecture predominant in their home countries with variations. Most of these churches are quite beautiful and were mostly built somewhat prior to 1900 or sometime not that far after. Some of these churches have since been closed down in recent years and this book wants to give a remembrance of them. The histories of these parishes is often quite similar where a need from some community desires being able to attend a church closer to them and they appeal to the bishop for a new parish. Some of the histories are quite tumultuous do to various problems such as strains of the heresy of americanism in trying to own the property of the local parish along with decisions on parish priests. Quite similar to the problem that played out in Diocese of St. Louis where St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish went into schism over this issue. Another parish had problems involving the Polish schism. There were also other difficulties such as some of these churches being burned to the ground and having to be totally replaced. Another problem for the area was that many of these churches were built over coal tunnels that were not always stable leading to architecture flaws and cracks.
I rather enjoyed this book and I would like to see something similar done for all diocese in that this continuity with the past is certainly something within the Catholic faith. My own parish has a interesting history in that it was burned down during the Civil War and pieces of the organ taken away as souvenirs by the Union troops. I would certainly like to know more details of the priests and bishops who served. One caveat I had with the book was the repeated unquestioned assumption that the Second Vatican II Council mandated architectural changes when documents like Sacrosanctum Concilium did no such thing. I found some of the pictures sad in that really beautiful churches had been renovated with less than beautiful altars and plenty of Captain Kirk chairs. Though this is a familiar story, though some of these churches did maintain their marble high altars and communion rails. Interestingly one piece of history in the book was one pastor in the 1940s who took out the communion rails and replaced the marble high altar with a much plainer wooden one. The Spirit of Vatican II must have time-warped back to him.