Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brothers in Cincinnati

The Genius of Water fountain in Cincinnati's Fountain Square

This past weekend I had the pleasure of making a short visit to my home state of Ohio—the Buckeye State. One of my “jobs” at the monastery is to occasionally travel to meet with various chapters of our oblates and give spiritual conferences on some aspect of Benedictine life. (Benedictine oblates, for those unfamiliar with the term, are laypeople who commit themselves spiritually to a particular monastery and to living out the Rule of St. Benedict within their own state in life. Saint Meinrad has some 1,400 oblates around the country.)

Over the weekend, I visited the Dayton and Cincinnati chapters in Ohio. Speaking Saturday at St. Luke Parish in Beavercreek (a suburb of Dayton) and St. Gertrude Parish in Madeira (a vibrant parish run by Dominicans just northeast of Cincinnati), I gave a conference titled Praying the Painful Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours.

This is the third year I have made this particular trip. I look forward to it each year not only because of the fine oblate chapters in Dayton and Cincinnati, but also because it is a rare and precious opportunity for me to visit and spend time with my brother Kevin.

Kevin outside Holy Cross
Immaculata Catholic Church
Kevin, the Midwest sales manager for Eclipse Awning Systems, is three years my junior (we grew up in northwest Ohio) and lives in Eden Park just northeast of downtown Cincinnati. It is a lovely area, featuring a large park sprawling around Mount Adams, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and Krohn Conservatory. I arrived late in the afternoon Friday and benefited from my brother’s generous hospitality by staying with him through Sunday afternoon (Dayton is only about an hour north of Cincinnati on I-75).

On Friday evening, we enjoyed dinner at a restaurant on Cincinnati’s famous Fountain Square (remember the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati in the late 1970s?) —which, a full week before Thanksgiving, was decked out for Christmas and filled with people enjoying a live television broadcast featuring various choirs belting out holiday hits. A little too surreal for my tastes; lucky for me, we found a Graeter’s ice cream store nearby. I am still (and will always be) an ardent devotee of genuine Italian gelato and Dietsch Bros. Ice Cream in my hometown of Findlay, Ohio, but I must say that no American ice cream experience is complete without a scoop (or two) of Graeter’s super-premium ice cream. Seriously—trust me; I’m an “expert” on this subject, remember?

Fountain Square features the 43-foot Cincinnati landmark Genius of Water fountain. My earliest memory of this fountain is from one day in October 1973, when the square surrounding it was packed with Cincinnati baseball fans after the Reds defeated the New York Mets in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Although the Reds eventually lost the series, I still remember the game. The Mets’ Tom Seaver was pitching a 1-0 shutout until the Reds’ Pete Rose and Johnny Bench hit solo home runs in the eighth and ninth innings to win it. I was eight years old, and recall sitting on my father’s shoulders waving my brand new Reds cap like mad and shouting with the entire crowd of 54,000 as Bench stepped onto home plate. It was the first baseball game I’d ever attended. Kevin (only 5 at the time) didn’t get to go, and he was pretty darn steamed about it, as I recall.

But, I digress …

On Saturday after I returned from Dayton, Kevin and I watched the second half of the Ohio State football team’s comeback victory over Iowa on television (go Bucks!). While doing so, we enjoyed homemade chili Kevin had made—using our Uncle Joe’s top-secret seasoning (Uncle Joe gives Kevin bags of his ready-made seasoning, but won’t reveal all the ingredients—yet). Later, we went to a movie and took in the sights at Newport on the Levee in Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati. Nice view … and I think we witnessed a marriage proposal along the river (from the looks of it, she said yes).

After a pleasant morning walk through Eden Park on Sunday, Kevin and I went to Holy Cross-Immaculata Catholic Church atop Mount Adams for Mass on the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the highest points in Cincinnati, Mount Adams offers a spectacular view of downtown and the Ohio River (artillery was installed during the Civil War to defend the city from the Confederate States, but was never used). Today Mount Adams is a historic neighborhood district (i.e. pricey), and is popular for its restaurants, cafes, and bars. It gets its name from President John Quincy Adams, who in the mid-19th Century gave the dedication speech for the Cincinnati Astronomical Society’s new observatory on the hill.

Downtown Cincinnati as viewed from Mount Adams
The observatory was later moved (because of smoke from the increasing number of factories) and the building became the Holy Cross Monastery in the 1870s. (It was a monastery for the Passionist religious order, not Benedictine monks.) The monastery closed in the late 1970s and is now an office building.

However, the Mount Adams community still retains (in its own way) some of the monastery’s heritage. There is a Monastery Street, a fountain featuring a statue of a rather plump and possibly inebriated monk (or is it a Franciscan friar?), and a bar called Monk’s Cove. This establishment operates the Monk Mobile, a fluorescent green minibus which shuttles patrons on football game days to and from downtown where the Cincinnati Bengals play. On this particular day, the Bengals were playing the Buffalo Bills, two teams with a combined record of 4-16. Apparently, these “monks” take their penance seriously.

Holy Cross-Immaculata, the church where we went to Mass, is the site of an interesting tradition that stretches back to pre-Civil War times. On Good Friday each year, thousands of pilgrims pray the rosary while climbing the 150 steps to the church from the base of Mount Adams. The “Praying the Steps” tradition has drawn pilgrims from all over the world.

After Mass, Kevin and I walked to the Bowtie Café (across the street from Monk’s Cove), to grab some coffee and a light breakfast. The café, I am told, is owned by Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones. As we were leaving, the Monk Mobile pulled up to Monk’s Cove and a herd of Bengals and Bills fans piled in. I’m not positive, but among them I may have spied my confreres Fr. Denis and Fr. Godfrey (the rector and vice-rector, respectively, of Saint Meinrad Seminary). Fr. Godfrey was likely the one wearing the Bills hat with horns. I always wondered what those two did after Mass on Sundays. Evangelizing, to be sure.

Anyway, I was off then to the Cincinnati oblate chapter meeting at St. Gertrude, and then back to my monastery, Saint Meinrad. It’s always good to come back home, but I’m already looking forward to the next “Brothers Weekend” with Kevin in the Queen City.

Thanks, bro.

Looking east along the Ohio River from the top of Mount Adams


Anonymous said...

I am so happy you enjoyed your weekend! I know how much Kevin looks forward to these weekends as well. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! We will see you December 11th!!


Stephen Drees said...

Hello Brother,

Glad you enjoyed your visit to the Queen City. Didn't realize you have a brother in Eden Park. Enjoyed your talk at St. Gertrude and our chat afterwards. The visits from you and your brother monks to "us Oblates" is MUCH appreciated and goes a long way to enriching our connection to St. Meinrad and Benedictine spirituality in general.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Br. Francis de Sales Wagner said...

Thanks, Wendy. Always a good time. Told Mom we also got tattoos. It's good to keep her guessing sometimes ;)

Tell McKinsey I said hello, and that there's some strawberry ice cream in Kevin's freezer with her name on it -- unless Kevin eats it!

Happy Thanksgiving
Br. Francis

Br. Francis de Sales Wagner said...

Thanks Stephen. It was good to meet you. It was encouraging to see so many novice oblates in Cincinnati. It's a good group, and the oblates are an important extension of our prayer and work in the monastery.

By the way, we could use a few more novices around here as well, so please keep us in your prayers.

Happy Thanksgiving
Br. Francis