07 July 2003

Our Lady of Knock Shrine

Yesterday, we went to Mass at Our Lady of Knock Shrine in East Durham, NY. For those of you who may not be familiar with the 1879 apparition in Ireland, see their website for information. First of all, the town of East Durham has a very high population of Irish immigrants and people of Irish descent among it's probably 500 permanent inhabitants, and it's quite the summer attraction for Irish Americans from the City. So it makes sense for the church here to be named after the only Irish Marian apparition that I'm aware of.
The church is quite a sight. The general impression is that too many people were eager to donate things. The walls are almost made of stained-glass windows with "In Memoriam" inscriptions, there is a huge statue of the apparition (which wasn't just Mary, it was the Lamb, St. John, and St. Joseph as well) behind the altar, and six sections of pews--only four of them don't have pews all the way to the back; the last four rows or so are chairs. The decor is, well, busy and a bit distracting. The EM's process in behind the altar boy (there's only ever one when I've been here, and almost invariably it's a redhead) and they wear some kind of off-white robes which are very unnattractive and seem a little, well, odd. Other than that, there has never been anything very remarkable about any of the services in the four summers that I've been here, except that, in the summer at least, the church is always packed to overflowing, with people standing outside the door. Nice to see.

One thing which really doesn't have much to do with the church itself but which is interesting to me, is the organist there. Specifically, his noticable sideburns. These sideburns always made me rather curious, as the style is very distinctive. After four years of wondering, I have finally solved the mystery. The organist of Our Lady of Knock Shrine in East Durham moonlights...as an Elvis impersonator!! It's true, I swear! He has a permanent engagment at a restaurant in the nearby town of Cairo; we drove by the restaurant yesterday afternoon and I recognized the name on the sign because I'd just read it in the church bulletin. I must say, I know some eccentric organists, but this beats all.


Anonymous said...

If he is organist at a Catholic Church, then he MUST have some other job. The need for organ and Gregorian chant as well as polyphony is preached, but not supported. The organ is given 'place of pre-eminence' - the organist surely isn't.

Jane said...

I'm not sure whether you mean this as an indictment of the people who hire and pay for musicians at Catholic parishes--that they do not pay a living wage--or an indictment of organists who expect to be paid. I certainly hope it is the first and not the second, since the Church does mandate that musicians be paid when necessary and possible.

It is true that they very often are not paid much and must have second jobs. I knew one organist who was so hard up for work that she actually lived in her car for almost a year, while playing three Masses a Sunday plus weddings and funerals. Scandalous. It's equally true that it is very difficult to find a second job that allows one to be available--as is usually expected--for a weekday funeral at just one or two days' notice. One does not choose to become a church organist to make money, and should usually have a backup plan. But you must admit that "Elvis impersonator" is very unique backup plan!