Going back

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It’s difficult to let go of a place, even when you already have done so officially. Mrs. D and I have not been members of St. Adalbert Parish in St. Paul since 2002. It will always be a big part of our lives. We were married there on this day in 1991, and both of our children were baptized there. The twin spires of the church have been a recognizable landmark in the Frogtown neighborhood for nearly 110 years. As the crow flies, it is closer to the State Capitol than the Cathedral is. The Polish immigrants who arrived in St. Paul around the turn of the 20th Century built the church, but they have long since moved on. These days, it is a parish that serves another immigrant community, the Vietnamese, who have been its primary parishioners for over 25 years.

St. Adalbert is at a crossroads. Its community is thriving, but the old church has seen better days and isn’t adequate to serve the needs of the community. The building would require millions to in repairs to ensure long-term viability for the building and there’s no way the congregation can do that. Frogtown has never been a glamorous address, but in recent years it has become an even more dangerous place than it once was, which complicates matters even more. The police blotter usually has numerous entries from the area just to the west of the parish, with drug deals, prostitution and murder often on the docket. And, while the church is where the community gathers to worship, many parishioners live elsewhere in town. While the Vietnamese are immigrants, some have been in Twin Cities for over 30 years and their children are moving away and finding a better life all over the metro area.

Given those challenges, it’s hardly surprising that the community is looking for a new home and recently the Archdiocese approached our sister parish, Corpus Christi in Roseville, about the possibility of providing a new home for the St. Adalbert congregation. Corpus Christi used to be in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul that houses the University of Minnesota, but the parish built a new church about a mile or two north in Roseville, moving there in the 1980s. Corpus Christi is a small congregation, but it has a modern church building and plenty of space to grow, in a prime location just to the south of the Rosedale Mall complex. It also has a well-deserved reputation as a welcoming community. It sounded like a good match.

It’s not going to happen, though. It can't really. The St. Adalbert community is larger than Corpus Christi and while the Corpus Christi church building is newer, it is far too small to accommodate everyone who would want to attend Mass. You simply can’t fit more than 400 people in the sanctuary at Corpus Christi, while a typical St. Adalbert gathering of Vietnamese parishioners would be almost double that number. For the parishioners at Corpus Christi, the proposal felt less like a merger and more like a takeover. That’s not how anyone intended it, but perceptions matter. We are all one Church, but we are also humans and we care about the temporal things, even though we know Jesus calls us to set those things aside.

We haven’t been back to St. Adalbert in many years. We’re going today, for 4:30 Mass. I am eager to see it again.