156. Our Lady of Perpetual Help: April Lindner

A poetry pairing.

YA Novel Based on Jane Eyre

This is from a section of the New York Times called “The Learning Network”. There is some good stuff here, although the Times’ lesson plans are a bit hit-or-miss. You can see the original, and access other lessons, here.

Of Linder’s poem, poet Ted Kooser writes, “I am especially fond of what we might call landscape poems, describing places, scenes. Here April Lindner, who lives in Philadelphia, paints a scene we might come upon on the back side of any great American city.” It’s Kooser’s pairing.

Below the poem is a news account by Dan Barry on a church of the same name.

Pairings are interesting lessons, as they demonstrate that no one source is authoritative. My social science teacher once showed us Pablo Picasso’s painting “Geurnicca” and the New York Times article about the event itself. The Times was underwhelming, even if informative. Pairings also act as a foil to the other, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the medium or artist.

Read the Times’ piece, but I’ll add two things I like about this poem.

First, you can tell so much about this community from what is shown. Forget tell. My favorite detail is the chairs put on the porches, but not sat on.

Question: Why aren’t they sat on?
Question: Why, then, did they put them out there in the first place?
Question: What are the hopes and dreams of the community?
Question: What’s the reality?
Question: Have you (students) ever found yourself between an ideal and reality?

As a push, have them think about the abandoned sports equipment, hobby materials and clothing in their closet or barn, barely played with. You thought you’d be a soccer star, and then you were too embarrassed to try out for the team. Or an interesting piece of clothing–the new you!–that never made it out of the bedroom. I once thought Hawaiian shirts would be cool; I bought a bunch, and then felt too stupid to wear any to school.

Second, I am intrigued by the idea of sanctuary. This is the age where kids close doors, hoard passwords, and stop talking to adults. What do they seek? What are the teen sanctuaries? Each is different (even if half are their room, their rooms and reasons vary). Each is a story. Explore.

A third idea–I know I said I only had two–is social responsibility. That mattress in the church. What is the role of the church? Of community? Are we responsible for our fellow man? When the social fabric breaks down, who picks up the slack? In America, government has stepped in where church used to, as far as taking care of the poor. Now we are debating government’s roll. Who will take care of those who cannot take care of themselves?

What is their (students’) responsibility? And, when have they exercised it?

Our Lady of Perpetual Help
By April Lindner

The burnt church up the street yawns to the sky,
its empty windows edged in soot, its portals
boarded up and slathered with graffiti,
oily layers, urgent but illegible.
All that can be plundered has been, all
but the carapace — the hollow bell tower,
the fieldstone box that once served as a nave.
The tidy row of homes that line this block
have tended lawns and scalloped bathtub shrines.
Each front porch holds a chair where no one sits.
Those who live here triple lock their doors
day and night. Some mornings they step out
to find a smoking car stripped to its skeleton
abandoned at the curb. Most afternoons
the street is still but for a mourning dove
and gangs of pigeons picking through the grass.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help is gray,
a dead incisor in a wary smile.
A crevice in her wall allows a glimpse
into the chancel, where a sodden mattress
and dirty blanket indicate that someone
finds this place a sanctuary still,
takes his rest here, held and held apart
from passers by, their cruelties and their kindnesses,
watched over by the night’s blind congregation,
by the blank eyes of a concrete saint.

In an August 28, 2009, article, “A Home to Prayers of Healing and Hope,” Dan Barry writes about another church called Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the role it played when Senator Edward M. Kennedy died:

A Home to Prayers of Healing and Hope
Dan Barry

BOSTON — The telephone rang early Wednesday morning in the hushed rectory of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, the old Catholic church on Mission Hill. Phones are always ringing in old churches in working-class neighborhoods, but this caller, a priest, had a singular request.

He said that the Kennedy family — that would be the Kennedys of Hyannis Port, Washington, the world — wondered whether the funeral Mass for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who had died just hours earlier, could be said at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Would that be all right?

The Rev. Philip Dabney, the associate pastor, was stunned. All he had done was answer the phone, and now his life had changed. “I said, ‘Sure,’ ” he recalled. “I was so taken aback. But you know how grace works.”

… The priests here are Redemptorists — missionaries who built this commanding Romanesque church in 1878. Known locally as the Mission Church, it holds a special place among Boston Catholics because of its shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is bordered by two vases filled with canes and crutches. According to the church’s official history, these strange but beautiful bouquets “provide testimony to the multitude of cures and graces granted through the intercession of Our Lady.”


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