My Church in Sauk Centre, Minnesota: Vandalized

Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota: west entrance. Picture is a print of Tiepolo's 'The Immaculate Conception.' (1767-1768)
Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) in Sauk Centre, Minnesota: northwest entrance. (September 20, 2022)

First, the good news. As far as I know, nobody got hurt during last weekend’s incident.

That much I could tell from what wasn’t in a metro area station’s news item.

Charges: ‘Very intoxicated’ man admits to vandalism at Sauk Centre church
Nick Longworth, KMSP/FOX9 (September 19, 2022)

“A man who reportedly admitted to being ‘very intoxicated’ caused extensive damage to a Sauk Centre church Friday, criminal charges detail.

“On Sept. 17, at 1:08 p.m., officers were called to Our Lady of the Angels Church in Sauk Centre on the report of vandalism. When an officer arrived he found extensive damage to the inside of the church entrance area and sanctuary, including a tipped-over statue, urine on the carpet, damaged candleholders and other items….

“…A cross was also moved and damaged, and other items in the church were moved or tampered with, a press release said. A red glass globe was also determined to be missing from the church, police said.

“An investigator was able to review video surveillance from the church showing two males entering the church at 6:27 a.m., and leaving at 6:38 a.m., carrying a candleholder. Surveillance from areas within the church showed two people enter, with one appearing to urinate on the statue in the front….”

If I’d been at Mass that Sunday, I’d have learned about the damage then.

But I hadn’t been, due mainly to having overslept that morning. And that in turn stemmed from an earlier sleepless night, and a glitchy knee that had affected all of the above.

Getting to Mass each Sunday is a good idea. A very good idea.1 I’m not happy that I missed last Sunday’s, but I can’t go back and wake myself up in time. So I’ll sort this gap out when and how I can. And that’s another topic.

Anyway, The KMSP article said that law enforcement took photos from the surveillance videos, showing them to various folks.

Then one of the two who’d been making alterations to my parish church’s interior decor contacted law enforcement and admitted doing the damage.

Seems that he and his cousin were “very intoxicated” at the time.

The man who turned himself in is 29. His cousin is 19. Old enough, at least in principle, to know better.

I gather that they’re both “facing charges in the incident,” but don’t know specifics.

I stopped by our church Tuesday afternoon and took a few pictures.

This Could Have Been Much Worse

Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota: stairs leading to worship area entrance, with Infant of Prague statue and candle rack.
Candle rack and our parish’s Infant of Prague, near OLA’s worship area entrance. (September 20, 2022)

The “extensive damage” could have been much worse, and again: nobody was hurt. Not physically, at any rate.

We’re down a table and a bulletin board or two in the entrance, but the windows are intact and so is another bulletin board.

I don’t know whether the two folks who were charged thought being “very intoxicated” was an excuse, or figured they’d best admit everything.

Either way, I don’t see alcohol as the problem. Make that not the main problem.

So instead of ranting against demon rum, or whatever the contemporary equivalent is, I’ll talk about temperance: Catholic style.

“Joy of Heart … a Snare for the Fool” — the Choice is Ours

Oliver Herford's 'Demon Rum Leads to Heroine' cartoon for Life magazine. (June 26 1919)Drinking, in moderation, is okay. Getting drunk isn’t. It’s a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it. (Ecclesiastes 9:7; Sirach 31:2531; 1 Timothy 5:23; Catechism, 2290)

The key word here is moderation.

I figure that what’s moderate depends on individual differences. But I’m quite sure that “moderate” drinking stops well short of being so sloshed, hammered and soused that vandalizing a church feels like a good idea.

We’ve known this for a long time.

“Or if one loves righteousness,
whose works are virtues,
She teaches moderation and prudence,
righteousness and fortitude,
and nothing in life is more useful than these.”
(Wisdom 8:7)

“Let not wine be the proof of your strength,
for wine has been the ruin of many.
“As the furnace tests the work of the smith,
so does wine the hearts of the insolent.
“Wine is very life to anyone,
if taken in moderation.
Does anyone really live who lacks the wine
which from the beginning was created for joy?
“Joy of heart, good cheer, and delight
is wine enough, drunk at the proper time.
“Headache, bitterness, and disgrace
is wine drunk amid anger and strife.
“Wine in excess is a snare for the fool;
it lessens strength and multiplies wounds.
“Do not wrangle with your neighbor when wine is served,
nor despise him while he is having a good time;
Say no harsh words to him
nor distress him by making demands.”
(Sirach 31:2531)

“Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable….”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1809)

Temperance, along with prudence, fortitude and justice are what Catholics call the cardinal virtues. (Catechism, 1804-1809)

They’re also much easier to talk about than to actually do.

Justice and Statues, Saints and Art

Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota: main entrance to worship area, showing space formerly occupied by a statue.
Main entrance to the OLA nave/sanctuary. One of our statues isn’t there. (September 20, 2022)

I’ve been saying how Saturday morning’s binge in Our Lady of the Angels church could have been worse, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about the situation.

Maybe I’d discuss how I feel about our parish church getting messing up, if I wasn’t feeling a trifle — numb, I think. Since ‘numb’ is easier for me to deal with than anger or rage, I’m not complaining.

Giovanni Dall'Orto's photo: the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, painted in gold on a clear blue dish. (2008) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.So instead of an impression piece about how I miss a statue that’s not near the door any more, I’ll talk about justice and whatever else comes to mind.

Justice comes in three flavors: original, commutative and legal.

Justice: The cardinal moral virtue which consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor (1807). Original justice refers to the state of holiness in which God created our first parents (375). Commutative justice, which obliges respect for the rights of the other, is required by the seventh commandment; it is distinguished from legal justice, which concerns what the citizen owes to the community, and distributive justice, which regulates what the community owes its citizens in proportion to their contributions and needs (2411) See Social Justice.”
(Glossary, Catechism)

Original justice and “the state of holiness” that we’re not enjoying ties in with original sin: which isn’t the notion that humanity is rotten to the core.

From a Catholic viewpoint, original sin started when the first of us decided that ‘what I want now’ matters more than what God says.

It was a daft idea then, and still is. I’m not personally responsible for that bad decision, and human nature didn’t become all bad. Our nature was and is wounded, not corrupted. And, like everyone else, I’m living with consequences of humanity’s bad start. (Catechism, 397-406)

Missing a Familiar Object

Collage: Bernhard Plockhorst's 'Guardian Angel,' Bernini's statue on the Ponte Sant'Angelo, Winged Victory of Samothrace and Nunut as shown on Tut's pectoral plaque.Before last Saturday morning, the parish had four statues of an angel holding a small basin. Now we have about three and seven-eighths.

The one that used to be on my right as I walked in isn’t there any more.

I’ll miss it. Particularly since it had been my habit to touch the holy water in that particular basin before Mass.

Since I’m Catholic, maybe a quick review of angels and statues is in order.

First, I realize that the statues of angels in my parish church are conventional representations of angels, appropriate to my native culture.

Angels don’t “look like” that, or anything else. they’re “spiritual, non-corporeal beings” with “intelligence and will.” They’re persons who are as real as I am; but with no bodies. (Catechism, 328-336)

I don’t worship statues, my health, family: or anyone other than God. Doing so would be idolatry, and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2113)

Having visual reminders around helps me remember who’s in charge, and who some of the heroes of our faith are. And that’s yet another topic.2

Art Over the Altar
Art inspired by Tiepolo's 'The Immaculate Conception,' over the altar in Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
Over OLA’s altar area, art inspired by Tiepolo’s ‘The Immaculate Conception.’ (September 20, 2022)

As far as I can tell, the altar in Our Lady of the Angels is undamaged, and so is the artwork in the half-dome overhead. That’s good news.

Again, I know that’s not really Mary of Nazareth up there. Honestly, who would believe that’s so?!

And, although I have a great respect for our Lord’s mother, I don’t worship her. That’d be a bad idea, and besides: she wouldn’t like it.

Mary is a woman of few words, but she’s consistently pointing us at Jesus:

“[And] Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”
“His mother said to the servers, ‘Do whatever he tells you.'”
(John 2:45)

And that’s yet again another topic.

Repairing Harm Done: When Possible
Statues in Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota, that were not damaged.
Happily-undamaged statues near OLA’s altar area. (September 20, 2022)

Other statues in our worship area seemed undamaged, which again is good news. Considering how much damage two sozzled young men could have done: well, I’m glad that they missed so much.

Getting back to justice, the commutative variety, I’m not sure what can be done in terms of undoing Saturday morning’s damage.

Commutative justice, doing “what is possible in order to repair the harm,” might include paying for cleanup. But mending what was broken includes damage that has happened in the inebriated pair who made the mess. (Catechism, 1459)

Judging persons, deciding that someone is “bad,” is profoundly not part of my job. (Catechism, 1861)

I am, however, expected to think about which actions are good ideas and which are not. (Catechism, 1776-1794)

I’m quite sure that breaking community property and pissing on at least one statue in a local church is not a good idea. It strikes me as exhibiting a certain lack of respect.

Whatever sort of commutative justice gets applied, however, I’m also fairly sure that ‘unbreaking’ that statue of an angel isn’t an option.

I saw it, tucked into an alcove and partly covered with a garbage bag. There seem to be significant parts missing. I could be wrong about that, since I didn’t look inside the bag.

Those statues were here when I came to Our Lady of the Angels, a third of a century and more back now, so replacement likely won’t be an option either.

Remembering Arson Down the Road

1566 propaganda print, celebrating faith-based vandalism.Even so, this parish got off easy. Down the road, back in 2016, some kid set fire to St. Mary’s Church.

Stearns sheriff: Teen admits burning historic Melrose church
MPR News Staff (June 20, 2018)
“A teenager recently confessed to intentionally setting fire to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Melrose, Minn., in March 2016 and was charged with first-degree arson in juvenile court, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday….
“…The church played a central role in the town for nearly 120 years before the fire. It was revered for its historic significance and design. Its twin steeples and onion-shaped domes are visible from nearby Interstate 94.
“No one was hurt in the fire, although it caused at least $1 million in damage. Diocesan leaders, citing the extensive fire damage and other problems with the old church have recommended replacing the structure….”

Crews demolish beloved Melrose, Minnesota church damaged in arson
Rob Olson, KMSP/FOX9 (May 19, 2020)
“The community of Melrose, Minnesota gathered to remember the old Church of St. Mary as it was demolished Tuesday, years after an act of arson destroyed the interior.
“After the fire in March 2016, a group called Restore St. Mary’s fought to fix the beloved church.
“Advocates ultimately decided to build a new, larger church a few blocks away, but for many, the old church still held a lot of memories…..”

I’ll be thankful that nobody was hurt or killed back in 2016, and that our parish church is still intact. I’m not so happy that we’ve now got vandalism cleanup on the parish to-do list, on top of dealing with water damage from the other year.

And I’m not at all happy about St. Mary’s in Melrose. It was a beautiful building, particularly the interior. But, again, nobody was killed. That’s nice.

Wow! The Wheelchair’s Still Intact! — or — Unknown Motives

Our elevator, a wheelchair and a crucifix, in Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota's entrance area.
In the OLA entrance area: the elevator, a wheelchair and a crucifix. (September 20, 2022)

I don’t know why last weekend’s vandals didn’t break windows, left our wheelchair intact, and didn’t smash the crucifix that’s near the elevator. For that matter, I don’t know why they made the mess that they did.

H.E. Fowler's 'Papal Octopus,' featured in Jeremiah J. Crowley's (1913) 'The Pope: Chief of White Slavers High Priest of Intrigue,' p. 430. (1913)Maybe it’s just something done by a couple of drunks, and that not even they know why they acted as they did.

But having grown up in a time and place where “Christian” radio was infested with frothing preachers whose zeal in denouncing all things Catholic was matched only by their enthusiasm for the latest End Times Bible Prophecies — I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually learn that last week’s vandalism was inspired by alcohol-fueled fervor against “Romanism.”

The fact is that I don’t know why some kid torched a Catholic church in a nearby town, or why two men whizzed on a statue in our church and made a mess for us to clean up.

America’s traditional anti-Catholic spasms have roots going back to Puritans fleeing oppression and Christmas, Europe’s religion-themed propaganda during the era of state-sponsored religions, and — going back to the start of our problems — that appallingly bad decision the first of us made.

EEEK! Catholics!!! — or — Acting Like Love Matters, Anyway

Thomas Nast's 'The American River Ganges,' warning Americans against the Catholic threat. (1875
(From Thomas Nast, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(“The American River Ganges:” Nast cartoon in Harper’s Weekly magazine (1875))

Nothing I do or say will change the mind of someone who’s convinced that the Catholic Church is in league with Satan, subverting good old American values.

John James Barralet's 'Apotheosis of Washington,' based on work by Gilbert Stuart. (1800-1802)Or convince someone with more up-to-date assumptions that Catholics aren’t hellbent on subjugating women: and generally failing to play along with the powers that be.

That last item isn’t entirely inaccurate.

We’re out of step with cultural norms, and have been for two millennia. We’ll be out of step with whoever’s on top two millennia from now. And that’s — you guessed it — still more topics.

Instead, I’ll be glad that we don’t see much of the good old-fashioned “apotheosis of Washington” attitude any more, and repeat what I’ve said before. Often.

I can make being a Catholic as complicated as I want. But the basics are simple.

Jesus said that loving God and my neighbor is “the whole law and the prophets.” Simple, right? One more thing. Everybody is my neighbor. Everybody. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1789)

Love God, love my neighbor, remember that everybody’s my neighbor.

It’s simple, easily remembered. Acting as if I believe it matters can be incredibly hard. Particularly when my neighbor hasn’t acted neighborly.

But it’s still a good idea.

I’ve talked about art, Saints, statues, justice, and acting like love matters before:

1 Mass: it’s important:

2 Saints and sacred art, a few quotes and a resource:

…Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.
“Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.
“The Church has been particularly careful to see that sacred furnishings should worthily and beautifully serve the dignity of worship, and has admitted changes in materials, style, or ornamentation prompted by the progress of the technical arts with the passage of time….”
(Sacrosanctum concilium, Pope St. Paul VI (December 4, 1963))

“..all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life … They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history….”
(“Lumen gentium, Pope St. Paul VI (November 21, 1964))

“By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. ‘The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history.’ Indeed, ‘holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal.'”
(Catechism, 828)

“Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God – the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who ‘reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature,’ in whom ‘the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.’ This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier.”
(Catechism, 2502)

  • Saints
    USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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