Saturday, December 6, 2008

"There surely is need of youth and innocence"

Today is the birthday of journalist and poet Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), most famous for his poem "Trees." Kilmer, who was killed in France in World War I, was a convert to the Catholic Church; his journey to Rome was driven by the illness of his little daughter Rose, who died of polio at the age of five.

While discerning the path of his conversion, Kilmer would stop every day at the Church of the Holy Innocents, above, in what was once the red-light district of New York City (it's now the Garment District), on his way to his office at the New York Times. This church has had an almost mystical importance in my life, and I know it's also a place of great spiritual significance to my friend and "antiphonal blogger" Fallen Sparrow. Kilmer wrote about the church to his spiritual advisor, Father James J. Daly:

Just off Broadway, on the way from the Hudson Tube Station to the Times Building, there is a Church, called the Church of the Holy Innocents. Since it is in the heart of the Tenderloin, this name is strangely appropriate - for there surely is need of youth and innocence. Well, every morning for months I stopped on my way to the office and prayed in this Church for faith. When faith did come, it came, I think, by way of my little paralyzed daughter. Her lifeless hands led me; I think her tiny feet know beautiful paths. You understand this and it gives me a selfish pleasure to write it down.

It's appropriate, then, that the Church of the Holy Innocents has a shrine dedicated to unborn children. Anyone who's lost an unborn child, for whatever reason, can enroll the child online in the Shrine's Book of Life. Indeed, the name of one of my four unborn little ones is inscribed there.


Unknown said...

I haven't been here in a couple of days, and just posted something about the Holy Innocents (I was writing about the Coventry Carol) and then saw this post. I didn't know that about Kilmer; it's funny, he coincidentally came to mind when I was walking to Mass last week at lunch hour and I couldn't figure out why. Now I know!

Apparently he wasn't the only Doughboy looking for faith at Holy Innocents, judging by their entry about the Return Crucifix.

Pentimento said...

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of my engagement, which occurred, Fallen, in your very church -- the Sunday one, I mean -- in front of the Blessed Sacrament. That will certainly win a girl's heart, in case you're so inclined at some point.

A couple of weeks prior to that, though, I was in a crisis. I was late with my tuition payment at the university, and my bank account balance was showing $37.00. I took the bus down Broadway, wondering what to do, and for some reason I decided to get off at 37th Street and go into Holy Innocents, which I'd never been in before. Inside, I knelt down and prayed to God, asking Him what to do with my life, and to please show me if I was overlooking anything. As I was leaving, I saw that the church thrift shop had a sign in the window for a very small-sized wedding dress for $200. I thought, let me take a look at this, just for fun. I went in and asked, but no one could find the dress. The place looked pretty sad, actually, and the clothes hung there on their desultory racks, limp and faded. So I made to leave, but just then a man came into the shop to start his shift, and the other workers told me that his name was John and that he would know where it was. John brought it out from behind a curtain, and it was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen - a designer's sample. It looked as though it would fit, but I couldn't be sure by eyeballing it, so I asked to try it on. He said no, because he didn't want it to get dirty, and there were no changing rooms. But he finally relented, as long as I took off my shoes. So I stood on what honestly looked like a Muslim prayer rug -- not sure why it was there -- and two women sheltered me, and I put it on and found that it fit like it was made for me. Then this really happened: John fell to his knees and started thanking God and praying that He would bless me and my husband-to-be (mind you, I wasn't engaged yet). He said he'd had the dress for a long time, and that many women had wanted to see it, but none could wear it; he said one had even left in tears because it was clearly too small (I should emphasize here that I was a very petite person at that time), so obviousy this was God's will. Oh, and I should mention that it was exactly three o'clock, the hour of Divine Mercy. So we got married, and our son was born nine months and three days later.

Unknown said...

Wow. Congratulations and what a beautiful story!

Unknown said...

I forgot to add that it would be terrific if you put that story up as its own entry - it might not get read in the comments, but it's truly miraculous and one of those things that reminds us that we are still living in an Age of Wonder!

Pentimento said...

Really Rosie said the same thing, actually. To be honest, I've avoided posting things about my life lately because of the hatulation I've gotten from some of our Catholic brothers and sisters, but probably the ones in question have since stopped reading this blog, so maybe I will honor the request.