Published: October 6, 2010
"It's a reminder that death is coming," Duda explains. "Be prepared however you want to be prepared — religiously, with your family, but be prepared. Death was a very important part of life in the 19th century because people didn't live very long, and they'd die horrible deaths from plague or broken bones or something."
The exuberant ornamentation at these old churches was meant to elevate those gathered there to a higher state of mind, to evoke a sense of holiness. It's a big reason the caretakers are so invested in St. Albertus.
"When I come here, I feel like I've been to church," Baka says. "I don't like the modern churches. None of us do. I don't feel like I've been to a church when I've been in those."
Like anything left behind in the city, the church was soon at the mercy of the scavengers and vandals who make quick work of empty places.
Scrappers tore the old school apart. Thieves broke into the rectory. They got into the church. They even took the picnic tables from the courtyard, after taking the rainspouts. Surrounded by nothingness out here, there were no witnesses, no calls to police, nobody standing in their way.
The association had been fundraising for a new boiler to keep everything from freezing, but then scrappers got on the roof and tore away the long copper panels. That added $12,000 to the group's bills.
Half their efforts consist of fortifying the place against the never-ending onslaught. The other half is raising money to keep it alive.
For the past six years, supporters have organized the St. Albertus Fest, a day of bands, food and tours of the church. They also rely on donations from long-gone residents who, though they don't attend church here anymore, want to keep this last connection to their childhoods alive.
Duda, whose family came from here, whose father was born two blocks away, who spent countless Sundays kneeling here, is among those whose personal ties to this place fuel his passion for it. Yet beyond the spiritual reasons, for him and for others the dazzling beauty of this old church is reason enough to save it.
"That's why we keep it going," he says. "They don't make 'em like this no more."
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