Longtime member resists idea of her church closing


June 07, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

Evelyn Jakowski remembers making confession in a meat cooler back when Holy Redeemer Chapel, an East Baltimore Roman Catholic church, celebrated Mass in a Highlandtown grocery store.

"Why not?" asks Mrs. Jakowski, who is now 69. "It's the same as anywhere else."

For nearly 50 years, the parishioners of Holy Redeemer -- a small, Oldham Street chapel associated with the nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus Church -- have done whatever it takes to worship.

For every one of those years, Mrs. Jakowski has worked for free to keep the congregation together. She does it all, from accounting to finding people to do repairs.

Now, during Holy Redeemer's Golden Jubilee year, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has put the church on a list with 15 other city congregations that will be targets of a reorganization. And Mrs. Jakowski -- who knows about hard work from her teen-age days making 23 cents for every 1,000 pretzels she could twist at a South Baltimore factory -- is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her church open.

Q: Most of your regular members seem to be elderly. Is Holy Redeemer dying?

A: We're down to one Mass, and Sunday school ended about 10 years ago when we wound up with more people showing up to teach than students.

We have about 350 parishioners and maybe 120 people coming regularly to Mass. I think 16 new parishioners signed up this year. There's a lot of young [Catholics] in our neighborhood, but they don't come to church. I don't know why. A lot of them come around when they want their children to make first Communion, and then you don't see them anymore.

Q: Are you afraid the Archdiocese will close Holy Redeemer?

A: All we need is a priest on Sunday, and the people will do the rest. We do all the repairs; we do everything.

Five years ago, the Archdiocese told us that the church of the future would be the people running the church and the priest saying Mass.

Well, we're already the church of the future.

We take Communion around to shut-ins, pray with them, chat with them. We buy our own paint to keep the place up, the men cut the lawn in the summer and shovel snow in the winter. It's a tremendous amount of time, and nobody gets paid.

Until we know what the outcome is, we'll just keep going on like nothing's going on.

Q: You remember Holy Redeemer from the beginning. Tell us about the church back then.

A: We had Mass everywhere in the beginning -- at the old Nemo movie theater on Eastern Avenue, a grocery store on Macon Street and then at a place that became a go-go joint. Then they built the Quonset for us, and the building we've got now opened in 1962.

Q: What is your reward for being a full-time volunteer?

A: You feel fulfilled that the Good Lord has given you something.

If I'm tired and go down to church to work, I get energy. I get a feeling inside of me that I can't explain. If I'm coming to church and I've forgotten something, the Good Lord reminds me before I'm halfway here. It's not me remembering, I know that.

I spend hours down there, and don't realize the time moving. My children are married and happy and have their health; that's my reward.

Q: Exactly what do you do for Holy Redeemer?

A: Well, they gave me a title, "assistant administrator," but I do everything. I'm chairman of all the affairs here -- the bingo committee, the annual chicken dinner, our Christmas party. I sort through the mail, count up the Sunday collection and send it over to Sacred Heart. I order the wine and the hosts for Communion. I do filing and the pamphlets.

I'm also president of the Holy Family Society, a group of us women who go to Mass and communion together as a body of believers once a month and have a luncheon.

About eight years ago, I made five sets of drapes -- purple, gold, green, blue and red -- that hang behind the altar during the different seasons of the church year. I got the gold material at Shocket's. Our drapes are green now because it's the growing season.

Q: How much are you getting in the weekly collection?

A: Maybe $500 or $600. Ten years ago, maybe that was doubled. But our people are very generous in other ways, too.

All I have to do is mention any little thing, and someone does it. One of our members is a retired plumber, and he fixes our pipes and our toilets and won't let us give him anything for it. We have men who deliver our collection envelopes to front doors so we can save on the postage. They're older, but they're all happy to be helping the church.

Q: Do you accept the Archdiocese's argument that Holy Redeemer should close because attendance is down and there aren't enough priests to go around?

A: They say they don't have a priest to say Mass; that's hard to believe. I can't believe all the priests are saying Mass at 9:30 a.m.

We're not getting anything for nothing from the Archdiocese, believe me. We send in quite a stipend for a priest to live at Sacred Heart and say Mass for us. It's not small, but we can afford it.

And 18 percent of everything we take in -- from collections to our chicken dinners -- goes to the Archdiocese. So you can see, we're holding our own, and we don't owe nobody nothing. We burned our mortgage long ago.

Q: What does it mean to you to be Catholic?

A: Gee, I don't know. It's a part of me that I can't pick apart from the rest of me. That's how I was raised.

I've got to be here; it's God's home. And to witness the Consecration [of the Eucharist] -- it does something to you, to know that our Lord Jesus Christ is up there on the altar, and the beautiful part is you can go and receive Him. People don't know what they're missing.

Q: What would it be like if you couldn't go to church?

A: It would be like dying.

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