There lies a little town just south of the land where Abraham Lincoln once lived and north of the mighty Ohio River. Nestled in the rolling farmland on old U.S. Route 231 is the little hamlet of Chrisney. Originally known as Spring’s Station, the name changed in 1882 in honor of John B. Chrisney, who owned the land where the first post office and rail station were built. As the traveler enters the town from the west, a small, brick steeple rises above the northerly hill atop a structure erected in 1898. A faded gold cross rises above it all. The pale blue and yellow windows adorn the Spartan church. The pews are 10 deep on the eastern side.
As our family piled into the intimate, sacred place on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, little St. Martin I Church appeared to smile curiously at our rather unfamiliar kids. The small, squatty nave filled up quickly as the sounds of “These Forty Days…” started from the balcony above. Outside, the spring solstice was approaching, but the cold wind was beckoning another ice storm that would arrive later in the day as the rain began to fall. Somehow, despite having one of the harshest winters in the last three decades, our historical tour had managed to avoid the many Sundays that were fraught with frigid temperatures and icy skies. Ash Wednesday had signaled the start of Lent the previous week.
But the warmth of the church remained; and as the story of the transfiguration unfolded in the gospel and homily, I strangely noticed what appeared to be leaves fluttering outside the furthest stained glass window. Befuddled by the signs of a different season, I remained transfixed for a moment trying to understand how these remnants of an earlier time could still be twisting in the wind. Suddenly, I realized that my eyes had fooled me, as the leaves turned to birds joyfully playing in the tree. As their silhouettes fluttered near the window, I wondered what this winter had been like for them. I wondered what it had been like for the people of Chrisney, now and then. I thought about what the winter had meant to me. The sobriety of Lent would continue, but would the growth of this spring find its way into our souls? Or would it be just another season?
As Mass ended, we introduced ourselves to Deacon Michael Waninger. He immediately recognized us as the family from St. John Chrysostom Church, our stop the previous November. I had been inspired by his challenge to the congregation regarding the yearly diocesan campaign, not the least of which was the way in which he invoked camaraderie among the members of the church. But as we continued to converse, he told us that one year ago this Sunday, his life had taken a dramatic turn. During his routine duties at church, he suddenly felt his heart spike. Before he could react, his face hit the floor leaving a huge knot that, self-professed, pronounced the floor even more hard-headed than the forehead that it met. A pulmonary embolism had shot up into his brain that, had it remained in his chest cavity, would have killed him. But he was not dead, the furthest thing from it. Just minutes ago, his life and the fervency that sprung from his mouth was so evident when he reminded the parishioners of all that they had accomplished together. He spoke not of a sober season, but one of new life, new meaning, new love. Christ’s love.
We thanked him, and headed outside. It was still raining. Chrisney lay quiet as the parishioners slowly drove away. I wasn’t sure if we would see this town again. To my knowledge, I had never seen it before. But Deacon Mike and his spirit would live on into another season. And that made me smile.
This reflection is from Jim Schroeder’s book “The Evansville Diocese Historical Tour: Footprints of Our Catholic Brethren.” Jim, his wife, Amy, and their kids live in Evansville. They are parishioners at Holy Redeemer Parish. Jim is a pediatric psychologist and Vice President of the psychology department at Easterseals Rehabilitation Center. “The full story, including illustrations, is available on Amazon or with his other books and articles at www.james-schroeder.com.”