Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Atlantic City Catacombs

I hit the jackpot in Atlantic City.

Last Saturday, in Mammon Central for my father's 70th birthday party, I asked the concierge at Harrah's where I could catch a vigil Mass.

He gave me a well-photocopied sheet of paper listing local churches and Mass times. I picked the nearest one, and that's how I found myself in the gargantuan neo-Gothic jewel box that is St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

It was only after returning home that I learned that the 105-year-old church has much more than the five marble altars, ninety stained-glass windows, and other features that meet the eye.

It has catacombs.

To see what I mean, you'll have to switch over to another Web page to watch an online video.

Did you watch it? Come on, watch it — you won't be sorry. Go take a look. Go. Git.

OK, now come back — and read about the $4.8 million renovation — assuredly not a "wreckovation" — that St. Nicholas of Tolentine is currently undergoing to restore it to its former beauty. The article on it from the Press of Atlantic City includes this historical gem: "When the church was consecrated in 1905, famous bandleader John Philip Sousa played in front of the building for three days, and a headline in the Atlantic City Press read, 'Grandest Civic Structure in Atlantic City Complete.'"

A story in the Catholic Star Herald notes, "Despite the [renovation] work being done, the parish remains a foundation for Atlantic City’s neediest."

The article continues:

“St. Nicholas is really an island in the center of quite a bit of despair,” said [pastor] Msgr. [William] Hodge. The parish feeds 35,000 people a year, and it has the largest distribution of food in all of South Jersey, he said.

“The poor will never be forgotten here,” said Msgr. Hodge. “People come for bags of food, from all over. They come from times of crisis seeking passion from the church. We are just continuing the mission of St. Nicholas.”
Because the church has just been designated a shrine by Diocese of Camden Bishop Joseph Galante, it will soon be receiving additional priests. Monsignor Hodge told me the bishop informed him they will be "vigorous" retired ones who have experience celebrating the Tridentine Mass. To that end, the pastor said he looks forward to offering the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite at a 7 a.m. Mass on weekdays, largely for the benefit of casino workers who would like a quiet start to their day.

If you would like to donate towards St. Nicholas of Tolentine's renovation — or towards buying the Latin missals it will soon be needing — visit the church's Web site.