Wednesday, March 27, 2013

End of the Innocence

I haven't offered my unsolicited two cents on the Saint Vincent de Paul Place Soup Kitchen temporary relocation into Saint Joseph's School because I can't quite develop the necessary neutral third party perspective for an issue that speaks to us, transcending religion and municipal boundaries at so many levels that much of what is being said now is drowned out by other passionate points of view.

I've read on-line comments about news articles that 'the neighborhood' didn't support Saint Joseph's which closed in June 2010 and there's an element of truth to that assertion, I'm sure. But words and numbers are funny creatures and often behave in ways other than you or I might imagine and what is fact one day is sometimes very different on another.

At the time of its closure Saint Joseph's School was nearly half a million dollars in debt and after parents of the 100 or so children enrolled there had organized fundraisers and crafted a marketing plan to revitalize the finances and rescue their school, the Diocese of Norwich announced its decision to close explaining its belief  that there weren't enough young families in Norwich to continue to support the school.

And for about two years, until last summer, the school sat empty in the middle of the neighborhood it had been an integral part of for over a century. Generations of families had attended Saint Joseph's as had their parents and their parents before them. They were shocked and not a little disheartened when they realized their children would not complete their elementary years there as well.

I have a personal appreciation of the value and virtue of Catholic elementary school. I and my younger sister and brother attended Saint Peter School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and our three youngest sisters and brother attended Saint Paul School in Princeton. It was not an easy financial decision for our parents but they had a strong sense of value for money and, more importantly, of values beyond money.

Norwich parents devised solutions of their own for their children's education and their lives went on even as the rooms in Saint Joseph sat unused through two falls, two winters and two springs. The Diocese of Norwich itself with a wide range of missions and a broad spectrum of services redoubled its efforts especially as hard times became harder for those with close to nothing and those with less than nothing.

When required repairs at the Soup Kitchen location threatened to halt those services, the Diocese sought and received permission to temporarily relocate to their unused property, Saint Joseph School. Many in the neighborhood and across the city understood the nature and definition of temporary but sometimes words have two meanings and how the situation has developed to where it is we all now know too well.

What is less well-known, at least to me, is where do we go from two intractable and unalterably opposed viewpoints when both sides in a matter that should have NO sides have resorted to name calling and the impugning of one another's character and integrity. Meanwhile those who need help and those who work to offer it must fend for themselves, isolated and alone.

Helping has created injuries, emotional and financial, and casualties among those neighbors who've worked hard for their homes near Saint Joseph School and has in all likelihood rended the garment of community and torn the trust that took generations to develop. Lawyers will clear up all details and court decisions in all likelihood  will settle once and for all what is and what is not legal.

But when all the anger has turned to sorrow, I'm not sure any of us will know or even care who was right and who was left behind.
-bill kenny

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