When I was about 14 my dad and I went to Cresslough to see their new Church, St Michael’s. It had been designed by the Irish architect Liam Mc Cormick, who dad admired, and was one of 7 modern churches commissioned from him in Donegal. I think it was perhaps the first modern church I’d ever seen. I know now that it was inspired by the work of Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp, but back then it was just so different that I’ve never forgotten it.
A solid white wall is all you see walking towards it, the shape of Muckish mountain in the distance mirrored in the outline. Then inside the light comes from above, with the brightest light over the altar. The one set of windows lets you look out to the mountain in the distance, and the fan shape of the seats helps the congregation gather around the altar. I’ve no idea what the people of the time thought of this super modern design, but I have a sense that they took to it very quickly and settled into its embrace, finding the space tranquil, spiritually uplifting and an encouraging place to pray.
It was opened in 1971, on my birthday, August 15th. The parishioners left their very traditional small church and walked into this modern marvel. There is a fantastic video called “The Church and the Mountain” by Glass Mountain, which tells the inspiring story of this community, led by Canon Doherty, who had a vision and made it happen, travelling all over America to the Donegal diaspora fundraising, to provide this new beginning. Their belief in God, in the new beginning, in their future is inspiring.
In the years since people have come from all over to see it, just as we did that day, but it is this past week that the whole world has been introduced to its beauty. Fr John Joe Duffy has stood among the people of the parish and spoken with such gentle warmth about how special each one of these parishioners was and how they will be remembered in the community where their lives were cut short so tragically.
This is why we have a parish, so that we can be church together with and for each other. Our regular practice, coming Sunday by Sunday to sit with our friend and neighbours, young and old, those new to the parish and those who’ve lived here the longest, sets down a rich seam of holiness and belonging that we can mine at times when accidents happen, lives are lost or we simply need to feel that there is a place to be still.