Saint Francis of Assisi, Louisville, Kentucky, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Saint Francis of Assisi
Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 June 2021, 10:00am

The building

The campus includes rectory, a K-8 school, and the church. The rectory and school are on the National Registry of Historic Places; the church was built quite a bit later (1952) and is not. It has a long nave, and a simply appointed sanctuary. The original altar and reredos are still in place, the reredos having a quite attractive mosaic depicting St Francis and St Clare, attended by angels. There are no columns obstructing the congregation’s view of the altar. The mosaics depicting the Stations of the Cross are quite beautiful. Musicians’ seating is located in the front of the nave, to the right. There is a balcony where the previous organ stood; I gather the balcony is no longer used.

The church

It seems to have lost membership over the last few decades. When Materfamilias and I were active there in the '80s, there were four weekend masses, three of them quite well attended. Now there are only two weekend masses. I don't know if these declines are covid-related, or due to demographic changes in the surrounding community. There are the standard Christian formation and sacramental preparation ministries, and a K-8 school. The bulletin noted that on three Sundays in June, the parish would be joining with Highland Community Ministries to present tours of different churches in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood

Louisville has much to commend it. It is home of the Kentucky Derby, the most famous two minutes in sports. The legendary boxer Muhammad Ali grew up here, and the Muhammed Ali Center pays homage to his career. Lots of bourbon whiskey is made here. And the city has an extraordinary number of public parks, beautifully designed. St Francis of Assisi church is in the center of Louisville's Highlands neighborhood. It is located on Bardstown Road, a major north-south artery in Louisville. Along Bardstown Road are small businesses, specialty shops, and many restaurants (locals refer to Bardstown Road as ‘Restaurant Row’). On its other three sides are largely single-family homes. There is a strong Catholic presence in Louisville, and not far from St Francis one can find a Catholic university (Bellarmine), a Passionist monastery, and quite a few other Catholic parishes.

The cast

The pastor preached and presided at the eucharist. There was also a deacon, acolyte, two lectors, and three musicians.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

A bit under half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher said ‘Good morning ...Want a squirt?’ I held out my hand, and he gave me some hand sanitizer.

Was your pew comfortable?

Comfortable enough, with pull-down kneelers under the pew in front.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning, everyone, and welcome to St Francis of Assisi’ from the cantor before the opening hymn, and the usual ‘In the name of the Father ...’ after the opening hymn.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

GIA's Worship, 4th edition (2011); Word of the Lord (2018), published by International Liturgy Publications (this contained the order of mass, the three-year lectionary, and included musical settings of the responsorial psalm and Alleluia; the musical settings were not used in this service); and the music for the mass setting, David Kauffman and William Gockelman’s Mass of Renewal.

What musical instruments were played?

A two-manual pipe organ, Opus 105 of the Noack Organ Co. of Georgetown, Massachusetts. It is in just intonation (all musical intervals as whole number ratios), rather than equal temperament, and was installed in 1986. Also, a baby grand piano and flute.

Did anything distract you?

The deacon was vested in an olive green dalmatic, the celebrant in a dark green chasuble. They clashed. Bigly.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A fairly normal novus ordo mass. Bells were rung during the institution narrative. A couple of interesting bits of ceremonial: the two lectors and cantor met in front of the altar and bowed together before approaching the ambo. And the congregation, after receiving communion (one kind only), returned to their pews and remained standing until after the post-communion prayer. I've seen this in the mid-South before, but really not anywhere else in the country.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 — Very confident public speaker.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He preached on the gospel from Mark 5 – Jairus' daughter is healed by Jesus. He began by saying that he wanted to consider as his topic ‘fear.’ He noted two meanings of the word, the fear that is the result of anticipated danger; and, in scripture, where the word often indicates a special reverence. He noted he would talk about the first meaning. After being approached by Jairus, Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid,’ and (in Luke's version of the story) ‘Fear is useless.’ We must have faith in God to guide us, and not give in to fear. The opposite of fear is courage, the action of a heart that has faith in God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Music sung by the cantor as the altar was prepared: the Afro-American spiritual ‘Give Me Jesus.’ The cantor's voice is exceptional, and the pianist was a superb collaborator.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The parish has a marvelous pipe organ, built and designed by one of the premiere organ builders in North America (Fritz Noack, who, sadly, recently died). And yet, if this Sunday was indicative, it is rarely used.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?


How would you describe the after-service coffee?

If there was one, it was not announced.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 — A 10 if I could hear more of Fritz Noack's marvelous organ.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

That cantor's soaring soprano voice on ‘Give Me Jesus.’ Quite a treat.

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