For Eight Forty-Eight, writer Catherine Smyka, who was raised Catholic, laments the vows she will not be allowed to take inside the Church’s walls:
St. Celestine’s Church sits at the corner of a residential street in suburban Elmwood Park in between a cluster of homes and an elementary school of the same name. Sunlight pours through the stained-glass windows displaying Biblical scenes: Mary and Joseph under a bright star, a mountaintop crowd with baskets of loaves and fishes, the 12 Stations of the Cross. Sometimes the kindergarteners next door drew their own New Testament depictions and hung their drawings by the holy water in the front Atrium; I’ve sat in almost every pew in that church. When I was growing up, while the priest spoke about loving thy neighbor and lights under bushel baskets, I stared up into the vaulted ceiling and wondered if I could climb high enough to hide inside one of the nooks by those stained-glass windows.
I was baptized in St. Celestine’s Catholic Church. So were my brothers and sisters and cousins; even some of my aunts and uncles. First Communions and graduations and Confirmations were celebrated in that building. St. Celestine’s was where you went on Sunday morning and then walked the two blocks to my grandmother’s for spaghetti dinner. I watched my uncle get married there six years ago and have pictures from my aunt’s wedding 21 years ago, when I wore patent leather shoes and white ribbons in my hair. Thirty years ago, my parents got married in that church. In all that time, the windows have not changed.
In high school I started thinking about what my wedding would look like in St. Celestine’s. I could picture my dress and the flower behind my ear. For once, I began to picture what it would look like to stand against the windows and look back at the pews. I could see all my Chicago relatives beaming at me from their seats, embracing me on my wedding day. The part I couldn’t picture, however, was the groom.
It’s been almost five years since I came out to my family. In the time following, I have spent many Christmases, New Year’s Eves, baptisms and Sunday mornings at St. Celestine’s church. I have watched my siblings sit in wooden pews near the back. Some of us still consider ourselves Catholic; some of us don’t. But we keep finding ourselves back in that building with the stained-glass windows. The front steps will always be a great place to gather, to tell jokes, to wave hellos. The parking lot is still a good destination when embarking on an autumn walk on a Tuesday evening.
I know now I won’t be able to get married at St. Celestine’s. There will be many more exchanges of vows under that vaulted ceiling, but not mine—but I do have history there.
No matter who I see on those steps or what happens in the future. No matter where I get married, or to whom…my story still started right there.