A candle for every 'story' at St. Pauline Center
KULPMONT - For every candle, a story - 600 of them.
Flames flick from votives lined inside the St. Pauline Visintainer Center on Chestnut Street, symbols of lives once lived and loved ones that have passed away. They're lit for parents, for siblings, for children. They're lit in honor of St. Pauline, patron saint of diabetics, or St. Peregrine, patron saint of cancer.
Each candle brings the center $5 toward restoring the chapel. The majority were paid for in advance, lit by the handful of organizers on hand.
Their scents are soft inside the sanctuary of what once was St. Casimir Church. An up-tempo gospel version of "Amazing Grace" rings loudly inside, the sound bouncing from the walls and peaked ceiling and chasing away any somber overtones Saturday's St. Pauline Feast Day could inspire.
Carol Patton, the center's secretary, has another sound in mind, that of the late David M. Bailey, a Christian folk singer. Patton calls him a hippie. She smiles and talks excitedly about Bailey and his music. She once listened to his CD over and over driving from Virginia to Pennsylvania after attending a Relay for Life with her sister, Kathy, a breast cancer survivor. Bailey lived 16 years himself with a brain tumor. Cancer killed him in 2010, and Patton lit one of 10 candles for him.
A different candle, a different emotion. Patton tries to grin but her eyes betray her when she recalls her mother. She chokes up, her expression evidence of a sadness that sticks when someone special is gone. She believes St. Pauline brought their family two miracles, longer leases on life for both her mother and brother, each of whom had been terminally ill.
The intention candles burn in honor of loved ones, the Rev. Raymond Orloski said. Light shines through darkness.
Orloski was pastor at Holy Angels Church before retiring. Holy Angels' current pastor, the Rev. Andrew Stahmer, watched as Orloski led a group prayer, with about three dozen Catholics in attendance. Hands to heads to chests to shoulders, they follow his lead and make the Sign of the Cross. As he blessed the candles with holy water, he shook droplets about the candles and turned to the crowd. Cover your glasses, he says to their amusement.
That's it for a service. The Feast Day seems more about community, remembrance and sharing than religious formality. They eat together in groups, smile and laugh as stories are told.
Patricia Shihinski, of Mount Carmel, holds court at one table. Alma Coronitti, newly of Elysburg, sits beside her. Neither have a candle lit for either saint.
Coronitti says she prays. Shihinski says she lit a different candle in the center for herself; surgery looms. If it's dampened her spirits, it doesn't show. She riffs like a comic without a microphone. They both say they'd like to see more people at the center on Feast Day. It's the same faces, same conversations, Shihinski says, like something out of "The Twilight Zone." She laughs, joking she may get an early exit for laughing so often. But it's necessary, laughter, and the key to aging. After all, she says growing old is a joke.
Shirley Gard and Rose Kuznicki laugh together about aging, in a way. They talk while waiting for someone to buy a raffle ticket for baskets, proceeds to benefit the center. At 93 years old, Kuznicki can't quite recall what club she's the secretary of. She pauses, and pauses again. A few minutes pass, the conversation shifts and Kuznicki is struck. It's the Mount Carmel Township Alumni. Her younger sister chuckles.
Kuznicki has a single candle lit for her late husband, Alfred. Like Patton, her face lets on that mourning a loved one always lingers even when in good spirits.
Gard has five candles lit for her parents and siblings. She talks of her brother, the late Carmen Barletta. If something was broken inside her house, he'd fix it. He'd visit from Bethlehem to find a list of chores waiting. Saturday's event was special, but like many Catholics, Gard lights candles weekly. She lights them for the sick, the abused. She says people need help.
Anna Mae Kushner paid for two candles but hadn't yet lit them. She walks among the rows of votives before spotting two unlit and side by side. One is for her brother, Phillip Schoppy, and the other for her sister, Ursula Joan Murray. Ursula passed away last year. Kushner returned to Pennsylvania from Florida about a decade ago. Murray had called her and asked for her to come home. She had listened.
Kushner choked up in speaking about her siblings, saying she might cry. Behind her, 600 candles still burn in memory of a loved one. Symbolism carries on when they're extinguished, perhaps as much as when the candles are lit.