May 25, 2011
Framing Faith, a review
by Laura O'Neill
Today I have a different type of book to share about with my readers. It isn’t fictional and it is not from the realm of homeschooling material, either.
No, today I am sharing about a book titled Framing Faith by Sarah Piccini with photography by Ivana Pavelka & the ARTS engage students. My best description of this non-fiction work is that of a historical reference. The author and photographers have captured the stories and photos of ten parishes now closed in the Scranton Diocese located in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Their efforts have led to the preservation of this rich history where for many people the church was the hub of their community.
For someone who did not grow up in an older community with strong cultural delineations, I found the numerous Catholic churches in some areas around the Northeastern US to seem strange. Even after I discovered that you might find 2 Catholic churches on the same block because they represented 2 different cultural communities (say Irish and Italian!), I still found it boggled my mind. It is often those types of situations that ultimately end in the ethnic parishes being closed during restructurings from lack of financial or pastoral support (aka no priest to be assigned.)
Before even delving into the specific churches chronicled for this piece, there are introductions by both the photographer Ivana Pavelka who shares about bringing students into the project as well as some background on the church as the center point of immigrant communities as share by the author. She includes a bit about key features of all churches, so that one might see how even a building deemed shabby by one has the same underlying features of the most grandiose churches. This is then rounded out with a history of Scranton and how the community grew.
Then, the reader is treated to a chapter per parish being preserved in this text. Within each chapter is the story of how the specific church came into being along with other stories of its history. Interspersed throughout the text are gorgeous photos of the church itself, including images of the statues or stained glass windows gracing it.
I have to admit a bit of sadness welling up inside as I read through each chapter. Hearing the rich history of each parish and seeing the beauty of each structure made it challenging for me to accept that they are no more. However, it is some comfort to know that someone saw the need to document the history of the ten parishes so they may not be forgotten. And, I will admit it has me yearning to visit older churches again. Sadly, that is not something that can really happen up here in the Anchorage, Alaska area as most structures are not much older than I am. But, I can savor my memories of visiting similar churches while living in Maryland and visiting up in to Delaware.
While this book is preserving the history of the Diocese of Scranton, the stories told and images shared can resonate with any lover of history or architecture. Maybe other dioceses will be inspired to do similar works to preserve their history for future generations. The immigrants who built these churches did so with great sacrifice and deserve to have the fruit of their labor remembered.