Charity Vogel's recent articles about parishioners' letters stored a century ago in the south tower cupola of Corpus Christi Church rekindled childhood memories.
When I was 10 years old, I could see the towers and their enormous clocks from the second-floor window of my family's home at Clark Street and Paderewski Drive. The tower bells tolled the hours over the rooftops of the surrounding neighborhood, complementing the jukebox music from the neighborhood taverns. The bells reminded me to rise and walk to the parish convent to serve 6:30 a.m. Mass during the frigid Buffalo winter.
Habited nuns filled the chapel – all of the parish's elementary school teachers – silently facing forward awaiting Mass to begin. I was always nervous serving that Mass, fearing I might stumble over the Latin prayers or mix up the sequence of my movements. I knew the eyes of Sisters Bertha, Clarissa and Adeline were on me.
In contrast at Mass in the priests' chapel, a single priest shared the hour with me, minimizing my jitters. Exiting the sisters' chapel, I didn't dare raise my eyes to all those well-known faces, even if they were friendly. A minute later I returned to extinguish the altar candles and then retreated to the church basement to remove and restore my red server's cassock and surplus and return my spotless white sneakers to the shoebox on the shelf.
The tower stories brought other memories, too. Altar boys often discussed the imagined joy of climbing inside the towers and exploring the vast space under the vaulted roof. We all knew that the wooden stairwell inside the church's front entrance led to a locked door to the south tower. One day I found the door open, entered, and began an exciting new adventure. Narrow boards straddled the dust-covered ceiling support beams, forming a tempting walkway from the Clark Street side of the church to the area above the main altar. Frightened, I inched my way along that path to an area 100 feet above the altar. Peeking through crevices in the beautiful lighted arch, I beheld the church below – arches, altars, pews and aisles. If I slipped, I might fall into the hollow core of one of the high columns that edge the church aisles, my decayed remains left to be discovered in 2011 by the construction workers who removed the old cupola.
Luckily I did not fall. Instead I enjoyed a boy's-eye view of the painted vault above the main altar and the murals high above the church floor. If only camera-phones had been handy in 1953 to record the scenes in that sacred museum!
Now a new cupola caps the south tower, and 500 new letters rest in "both arms of the copper cross atop the dome." The letters, coated in preservatives, will be available in 2112 to anyone who wants to link that future time to the memorable past when elementary school students dreamed beyond locked doors.
The magic inherent in large domes draws people to them. St. Paul's in London and the Capitol in Washington, D.C., are beautiful, and adventurous visitors can climb to the tops for panoramic views of those cities.
Corpus Christi Church cradles a place of worship and adds a unique historical piece to Buffalo's skyline. Now a new cupola adorns its south tower, and one day a similar ornament will cap the north tower. Thanks to The News for recalling our attention to this treasure.