I wrote the post below for the ‘Everyday Soul’ blog of the Franciscan Center in Tampa, Fla. I was on the board of directors when it was published March 17, 2011. The images are from the original 2013 post on this site. MH
Visiting Sacred Places: Old St. Patrick’s Church
The admonition to “Preach the Gospel at all time; use words when necessary,” is generally attributed to St. Francis, though there is some dispute about this among scholars, which I will not tackle here.
Rather, I want to urge a variation on the theme: “Visit sacred places often; go there when necessary.”
I’m flying home to Pittsburgh on St. Patrick’s Day to visit my family. I hope to wander off on my own for a quick visit to one of my favorite places for spiritual renewal.
Old St. Patrick’s Church, founded in 1808, is the city’s oldest parish. Read about the church’s colorful history, including a priest who ran for president during the Great Depression.
I discovered Old St. Patrick’s in the mid-1970s. I don’t remember how I came to wander through the opening in the red brick, ivy-covered walls of the Monastery Gardens fronting the church. I found an oasis in the middle of city ward packed with produce warehouses and slashed by railroad sidings.
The garden is divided into lush, grassy quadrants shaded by trees and dotted with evergreens and seasonal flowers. A statue of Ireland’s great patron saint commands the center of the garden from a stone pedestal. The surrounding brick walls contain the Stations of the Cross. In a corner near the front door is a grotto modeled after Lourdes.
It is amazing how quiet and peaceful the garden is in the middle of busy industrial and commercial district.
Inside the church is a replica of the Holy Stairs, which represent the 28 steps between Christ and Pilate in the Passion. They are meant to be ascended prayerfully on one’s knees, a devotional exercise I’ve done on several occasions, though not with every visit.
The second floor church and sanctuary (reached from side stairs) now hosts only a mid-day Mass twice a week, the neighborhood that once surrounded the church having long since moved away. It is more like a chapel than a church.
It is a joy to partake of the Eucharist with others in this intimate setting, though I am just as grateful for the times I visited alone. This is a place where you just have to light a votive candle. Inside or out, the purpose of the visit is prayer and reflection.
I don’t get to visit Old St. Patrick’s every trip to Pittsburgh, but I put myself there frequently during my meditative time. The church door and garden gate are never locked.
We work and pray to make the Franciscan Center in Tampa “an environment of peace, simplicity and hospitality for all those seeking spiritual renewal.” We invite you to come away and rest awhile.
And Happy St. Patrick’s Day.