Assumption Catholic Church
  323 West Illinois Street - Chicago IL 60654
  (ph) 312-644-0036  (fax) 312-644-1838    Map & Directions


Fr. Joseph Chamblain, O.S.M.


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1/14/2018 Fr. Joseph Chamblain, OSM    


Since my mother died in Memphis a dozen years ago, I’ve made a practice of going home to visit cousins and friends once a year, usually right after the New Year.  I call Memphis home, but I’m really more of a visitor now. I have not actually lived in Memphis since 1975. Every year when I visit, though, I discover that some familiar things have disappeared, things that connected me to my home town.

One of the things that disappeared sometime during 2017 was the East Memphis Sears store. When it was built in 1958, it was at the very edge of the city. Shortly after it opened my mother’s uncle, a retired lawyer, took me on an expedition. We boarded the Poplar Avenue bus where we lived close to downtown and rode it all the way to the end of the line where the new Sears store was located. When we got off the bus, I thought I was in another city. There were acres of parking and a fancy covered walkway from the bus stop up to the store. The Sears itself was so different from the boxy downtown department stores. It looked fun. It had a scalloped roof rather than a flat roofline. When we walked in, the first thing I saw was a huge candy department. This told my five-year-old self that the store was well designed. They did not put something unimportant like clothes up front. Instead they followed a retail model that made sense: start with candy and build out from there. We looked around at everything, including the sleek appliances, so different from the old stuff in the kitchen at home. Then we got back on the bus for the bus for the long ride home.

Over the next decade a whole shopping center grew up around the Sears store and then a mall was built on the other side of Poplar. Most of the new stores were much more elegant than Sears and attracted a more upscale clientele; but Sears still had the most prominent location, right at the intersection of two busy streets. In time, the 1950’s luster started to fade and it became like the poorly kept house that is an embarrassment to the wealthy neighbors. While parking was hard to come by in front of most of the stores, the massive parking area near Sears was never crowded. The Poplar bus had stopped reversing directions at Sears’ corner. It now traveled another five miles east, because the suburban sprawl of Memphis had joined itself to two former rural towns named Germantown and Collierville.

Then when I visited Memphis last week, the Sears store, the brick arched walkway from the bus stop to the store, the separate auto center, were all gone. It was inevitable that this Sears would close and the property be sold. All that land in one of the most prominent locations in Memphis must have dazzled the eyes of cash starved Sears executives in Chicago. Now, in the middle of the former Sears property, something new and something smaller is going up. These new stores are taking a risk, betting against a retail apocalypse, just as Sears took a risk sixty years ago planting a store so far beyond the population center of Memphis.

Sometimes when the landmarks of our life disappear (be it a home, a church, an office building, a store, a restaurant, a hospital, or even a whole neighborhood), we squint our eyes and wonder, “Where did they go? Do they still exist in some parallel universe?” It is an empty hope, of course. The bulldozers came in and knocked them apart. But maybe it is not a crazy thought. Maybe it is simply an intimation of a belief that God planted in all of us, that we ourselves will still exist in some parallel universe after our demise, after the wrecking ball of disease and death have had their say. Our church teaches that this is true not only of us and our loved ones, but true also of those whom no one had the privilege of getting to know, those whose lives were terminated before birth.  It is why we believe in the sacredness of the life of the unborn. It is also why we believe in the sacredness of the lives of the elderly, those who may have lost the luster of youth and may not be contributing much to the economy, like an aging Sears store. It is why the lives of those marginalized by our culture and society matter. What is important is the Spirit of God who lives within us. This weekend we have our Rosary and Mass for Life at Assumption and the Chicago March for Life in the Loop. Next weekend is the March in Washington. We pray and we march for life for a very simple reason. All life matters to God.  

                                                                        Fr. Joe


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