The parish in whose church I was an altar boy at Sunday Mass, weekday Masses, and Christmas Midnight Mass half a century ago is about to mark its 150th anniversary. St. Anthony of Padua parish was founded in south St. Louis in 1863 by 14 white men. For many decades afterward, sermons could be heard there in English and in German. Its large and beautiful church was filled with respectably-dressed parishioners on Sunday mornings in the 1950s – with no air-conditioning.
There was no “diversity” in the parish or the neighborhood around it for years afterward. But there is today: In strict compliance with leftist dogma, the parish now celebrates the “multicultural neighborhood”around it.
The parish “welcomes all” and proclaims gleefully that 2,500 foreign-born people are now living nearby. What they neglect to mention is that the parish thrived, operated two parochial schools, and had five times as many parishioners as it does now in the years before the neighborhood became “diverse.”
It closed its schools after most parishioners moved away and took their children with them – while the neighborhood was being made “diverse”. This is the same neighborhood that police today describe as one of the most crime-infested areas of the city – exactly the opposite of what it was fifty years ago.
At the time of its Diamond Jubilee in 1938, the parish had a Young Ladies Sodality, Young Ladies Choir, Married Ladies Sodality, Married Men’s Sodality, married Ladies’ Sewing Circle, Ave Maria Guild, and the St. Anthony Choristers (75 men and boys). The souvenir booklet published that year includes photos of the 8th grade graduating classes: 66 boys, all in white shirt, dark tie, dark jacket, white trousers, and white shoes; and 53 girls, all in white dresses and white shoes. There is no “diversity.”
In the 1970s, an annual “Oktoberfest”was held in the city park two blocks from the church. “October in Dutchtown just isn’t the same without an Oktoberfest,” The Flying Dutchman neighborhood newspaper reported. “The festival is built around a German-Slavic theme, in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.”
It attracted hundreds of neighborhood residents of German, Slavic, Polish, and Italian descent. But there were no robberies, assaults, fights, or shootings at those events – only arts, crafts, food, good cheer, and accordionist Joe Hrdlicka’s delightful jokes and polka music.
By 2006, the annual Oktoberfest was ancient history, because the neighborhood had since been made over into a paradise of “diversity”. I walked through that park one day that year and saw the words “Crip Gang” and “Home of the Bloods” scrawled on a wall of the park clubhouse. I wasn’t sure whether they had been put there by the Germans, Slavs, Poles, or Italians.
When he looks toward the people sitting in his church today, what does the current pastor of St. Anthony’s see? “…at the 10 o’clock Sunday morning Mass I feel I’m looking out at the United Nations. There are people [sitting there] born in Africa, the United States, the Philippines, Mexico…”,he said last month (St. Louis Review, June 8, 2012). And he imagines that is a good thing.
But when I read those words, I knew I had heard that song before when it was sung by hip young St. Louisans in the 1960s: “Laclede Town” was a group of low-rise apartment buildings erected in 1962 as an “experiment in ethnic togetherness”. Progressive thinkers called it a “bold experiment in interracial living”. People of different races, ethnic groups, and incomes would live happily side by side. In a fawning newspaper essay, one woman who lived there described it as “cool, hip, cheap, and populated by people committed to making integration work.” It was “our own little United Nations”, she wrote. The manager of the project described himself as a “social anarchist.” My Congresswoman described Laclede Town as a hotbed of radicalism.
Thirty years later, “Laclede Town”was dust – because it was demolished after years of incompetent maintenance, unaccountable management, excuse-making, theft of copper pipes and furnaces, broken windows, roaches, vandalism, and boarded-up apartments. The “bold experiment” failed. The “little United Nations” became disunited.
The “multicultural diversity” was deadly to Laclede Town. It is just as deadly today to St. Anthony’s parish and the neighborhood I knew and loved as a boy. But the parish hierarchy have no time to learn that, because they are too busy celebrating “openness” and smiling for nice pictures.