Today we are celebrating the anniversary of the consecration of this church. Now, to be precise, we don't actually know the date when this church, the third St. Remy's, was consecrated. However, we do know that the first St. Remy's was consecrated on August 18, 1852; and last year, I wrote the Archbishop, and asked permission to celebrate the consecration of our church on that date. And, since August 18 fell on Thursday, we are able to move it to the weekend for everyone's benefit. So that's what we're doing today.
But why? Why is it important to mark this anniversary. As you know, last year we put new doors on the front of the church; and Father Amberger had written above them the words, Domus Dei et Porta Coeli, which is Latin, and means, "House of God and Gate of Heaven." Some years ago, there was a movie, and then a TV show, called "Stargate." The idea was that these folks found a device that, if you turned it on, and stepped through it, you would be transported many thousands of light-years to another world.
Now, wouldn't that be sensational if there really were such a thing? But there is: this church is a gate...to heaven!
This is why we do this.
Now, let me share a little history about our parish and our church. The first settler in this area was James Thatcher and his family, in 1805, about a mile and a half north of here. The first French Catholic families arrived in the 1830s. In September, 1839, Archbishop John Purcell sent the first priest here, Father Louis Navarron, who was given responsibility for Frenchtown, Versailles and Russia. The first church for this area was St. Valbert's, where the cemetery is now; but in those days, it wasn't easy getting there, through the forest -- so Father Navarron took up residence in Russia, and set up a chapel about a mile southeast of here, on a farm then owned by the DeBrosse family. By my calculuation, it's about where Versailles and Miller Road meet, or a little south of there. That's where Mass was first offered in Russia, and there was a cemetery there.
The first St. Remy's was consecrated August 18, 1852, and Archbishop Purcell came up from Cincinnati for that. Today that's a two hour drive; in those days, it might have taken a couple of days.
That first church, built of logs, proved to be too small, so in the 1860s, a second church was built of bricks, right around the first church -- then, the log church was dismantled and taken out the front doors! Then, in 1890, the pastor had to tell everyone that they'd built their 30-year-old church the wrong way, so they had to do it over! Imagine having to make that announcement! But they did build the third -- the present -- St. Remy's. As mentioned, we don't know the date it was consecrated, but they laid the cornerstone August 17, 1890; and it was probably dedicated in 1891. So that makes this church 125 years old this year. And, since then, of course, there have been additions and improvements.
Now, this is a good time to ask: why is this parish here? What is our purpose? As the first reading makes clear, God wishes this to be a "house of prayer for all people." I had a conversation with someone in the community recently, who is not Catholic, and she said she didn't realize she could come here, she thought it was only for Catholics. May I suggest we all make it our task, in the coming year, to communicate to everyone in our community, Catholic or not, that this is a house of prayer for all people?
But I want to return to an earlier point. I mentioned that fanciful "gate" to another world. It would be impressive -- but it's only impressive if people believe it's real. Likewise, folks will only be impressed by this place, this Porta Coeli, if they have reason to believe it's real.
So do people see in me -- in you -- some evidence that this place changes us, because we come here?
Let me suggest some "markers" that might serve to convey this to others:
- First, when we come here, one of the things we can do is go to confession. There are many benefits, but let me highlight one in particular: it will make us humble. Nothing is more humbling than to kneel down, in the presence of another fallen human being, and confess your sins. And if we are humble, rather than arrogant, that will impress people.
- Knowing our faith and sharing it is great; but what impresses people is when they see that we live it, in how we live and how we treat others.
- Another marker is how we stand apart from worldliness. This is delicate, because I'm not saying we should shun people when they are drinking and smoking pot, and looking at trash on the Internet, taking God's name in vain, and all the rest; but what is important is that we communicate, in the right way, that we're not part of that.
- Finally, are we peaceful? Both in how we deal with others, and in our own lives? So many people these days are worked up about politics, about the situation in the world, about other things -- what does that communicate? If we're angry and fearful, does that suggest we've just been to heaven?
These are some ways people will see this Gate of Heaven is real -- because it changes us. And that will draw people to this House of God.