Monday, April 4, 2011

Swiss Buckeyes

Buckeyes--the nut, not the candy.
Rose window above main entrance
to Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral.
This past weekend, Br. Mauritius and I embarked on a little excursion to the Buckeye State--my home state of Ohio. Last summer while I was in Switzerland, with generous hospitality, he had shown me much of his native land and introduced me to many of his family members and friends. So, I thought I would return the favor on a little break from classes, work,and life in the monastery here at Saint Meinrad.

It was Br. Mauritius' first trip to Ohio, so I had to explain to him what a buckeye is--a hard (inedible) nut encased in a spiny pod produced by a buckeye tree, which is Ohio's state tree. The term is also a nickname for residents of the state, and for the sports teams of its largest university, Ohio State. It also happens to be a delectably rich candy made to resemble buckeyes (indisputably edible) by dipping balls of peanut butter into melted chocolate. But I digress ...

After classes late Friday morning, we left Saint Meinrad for the nearly six-hour trip to my hometown of Findlay, Ohio, where we planned to stay a couple nights with my mother. We took our time, stopping at one point for lunch (his first meal at a Waffle House), and slowing down for heavy traffic and a nice view of the skylines in Cincinnati and Dayton. North of Dayton along Interstate 75 near Sidney, we took a little detour and headed to the small burg of Maria Stein, named for the Benedictine Abbey of Maria Stein (Our Lady of the Rock) in Switzerland and home to the national Shrine of the Holy Relics.

In 1844, a Swiss missionary of the Order of the Precious Blood (whose name happened to be Francis de Sales Brunner!) came to America with a number of sisters from the order to establish a foundation in Ohio. The convent in Maria Stein, Ohio, was the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Precious Blood until 1923. Saints' relics were brought to the site from Italy in 1875, and a chapel was built to enshrine them. The convent and chapel are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Br. Mauritius in Maria Stein, Ohio
Although I had been in some of the surrounding towns during my lifetime, I had never visited Maria Stein, so Br. Mauritius and I were looking forward to seeing the shrine. However, we arrived very late in the afternoon after everything had been closed up, and not a soul was in sight. So, we were not able to go inside, which was disappointing, but we still took a good look around outside.

Arriving in Findlay, my mother happily greeted us, and we spent the evening visiting and dining on a splendid Lenten repast of bean and pasta soup, hearty bread, cheese, and fruit.

In the morning, I showed Br. Mauritius around my hometown of Findlay--where I grew up, went to school, etc. He was very patient during my stroll down Memory Lane. This included a prayerful visit to the downtown (and original) church of my home parish of St. Michael the Archangel (the parish's main church, offices, and school are now located in a larger, more modern complex on the east side of town). The downtown church is where my parents were married, where I was baptized, where I served Mass as an altar boy for many years before school began across the street, and where my father's Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated. (Unlike Maria Stein, this time, we could get in!)

After an early lunch at Findlay's legendary Wilson's ("Mity Nice") Hamburgs--not just a meal, but an experience!--we traveled up the interstate to Toledo, which is the seat of my home diocese, and where I lived and worked for a good number of years before joining the monastery. (Incidentally, there are eight current monks of Saint Meinrad, including the abbot, who are from the Diocese of Toledo). In Toledo, of course, I showed Br. Mauritius where I used to live in Maumee and where I worked in downtown Toledo--The Blade newspaper.

More importantly, however, we visited two cathedrals in Toledo. St. Francis de Sales Church, named for the original patron of the diocese and located across the street from The Blade, was the city's cathedral from 1910 to 1940. Later, it became a parish church, but was closed in 2005 and is now a chapel in Toledo's business district.

The fact that Francis de Sales is the patron saint of writers and journalists and provided the name for the former cathedral located near the place I worked several years before my "spiritual reawakening" and eventual discernment of a religious vocation has not escaped me. God works in mysterious ways, indeed. I went to many weekday Masses in the chapel after my reversion, and it was there I began to learn who Francis de Sales was, and to identify with him enough to desire his name and intercession as I embarked on my monastic journey. He remains the secondary patron of the diocese.

Alas, though, since it was Saturday, the church was locked, and I could not show the interior to Br. Mauritius.

We were, however, able to enter the current cathedral for the diocese on Collingwood Avenue north of downtown. This magnificent structure was built in the 1930s under the patronage of Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and is modeled after the cathedral in Toledo, Spain. The cathedral is an architectural and artistic marvel, although we were not able to inspect it thoroughly. Unbeknownst to us when we arrived, the bishop was presiding at a Mass of Confirmation. He never checks with me on these things--Ha!

Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral
However, we were able to slip into the pews at the very back during the Mass (far enough away from the action up front to avoid disturbing the sacred rite), and see what we could see. Almost immediately, Br. Mauritius pointed out the series of stone shields midway up the walls of the cathedral denoting the important Marian shrines in Europe. The one closest to us read: Einsiedeln. I'm glad he noticed it. It is something that had always escaped my attention.

Out front, we also found Francis de Sales again. He is among four saints honored with statues on either side of the main entrance. Chosen for their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, they also include Alphonsus, Dominic, and Bernard of Clairvaux.

Francis and Francis
"This is the most beautiful church I have seen while in America," said Br. Mauritius, who has traveled quite a bit while studying this past year at Saint Meinrad (he returns to Switzerland next month).

Dodging a rainstorm, we then ducked into a coffee shop and bookstore before heading to the monument and park outside Maumee along the Maumee River that is dedicated to the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Br. Mauritius was interested in visiting the site because he had recently read about the 1794 battle, which got its name because it was fought in a field littered with trees that had just been felled by a tornado.

U.S. forces led by General "Mad" Anthony Wayne (a veteran of Valley Forge) fought with Native American warriors led by Miami chief Little Turtle as part of the larger Northwest Indian War. Wayne's forces were victorious. The battle is considered key to the opening of the Northwest Territory to westward expansion and the statehood of Ohio in 1803. Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers led to the signing of the Greenville Treaty in 1795, which ended much of the hostilities in the territory. Signicantly, the famed Shawnee chief Tecumseh did not sign the treaty, and later led a renewed Native American resistance.

It should be noted that the monument at the site honors both Wayne's forces and the Native Americans who fought and died in the battle. The park is small and understated--unlike the nearby Shops at Fallen Timbers.

In the evening, we returned to Findlay and rejoined my mother, then went to a downtown restaurant for dinner with my Uncle Kenny, Aunt Norma, cousin Patty, and her boyfriend Mike.

On Sunday morning, my mother, Br. Mauritius and I attended Mass together at St. Michael's main church on the east side of Findlay, where he was able to meet with many friends and parishioners. A good number of people were very interested in meeting a Benedictine monk from the Swiss Abbey of Einsiedeln!

After Mass and lunch, and before heading back down the interstate to Saint Meinrad, all three of us stopped (of course) at Dietsch's Ice Cream and Candy. Although we're in the middle of Lent, it was Resurrection Day, so we enjoyed some ice cream--strawberry for me, Buckeye (yes, it's an ice cream flavor, too) for my mother, and a maple nut and chocolate-almond combination for Br. Mauritius. While there, Br. Mauritius also sampled his very first Buckeye (the candy, not the nut).

It is entirely possible that we came back with a few dark chocolate covered pretzels to share with the monastic community come Easter Sunday, and that they have been stashed in a dark, cool "tomb" until then for safekeeping. Until then, this will have to suffice: Little Rewards

Holy Rosary Cathedral interior

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