Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Annihilation of Home Values in Cuyahoga County

Today's Plain Dealer has a story showing the astonishing annihilation of home values in Cuyahoga County, Ohio's largest county. In a table showing home sale prices for 2007, 2008, and 2009, we see that almost all cities within the county have lost value as measured by home sales. And in some cases, the losses are unbelievable. It is as if the city and county had been bombed by a nuclear weapon or destroyed by volcanic eruptions or earthquake.

Here are some examples. In 2007, in Euclid, my home town, the city where I grew up, the average price of homes in 2007 was $108,250 (197 units)--an incredible bargain. In 2008, the average was $59,450 (198 units). And so far in 2009, with 235 units sold, the average is $33,700. The value this year is less than 1/3 of the value two years ago.

Other inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland show similar or worse losses. In East Cleveland, the value of homes went from $25,700 in 2007 to $4750 in 2008 to $3988 dollars in 2009. These figures are almost beyond belief.

Here are the figures for the city of Cleveland: 2007: $62000; 2008: $17,000; 2009: $17000.

There are a few prosperous suburbs where the decline has been less precipitous (with even a small rise in home prices from 2008 to 2009 for Westlake).

It's hard to know what to say about this. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County and the surrounding metropolitan area are in deep, deep economic depression!

[The story on home values in Cuyahoga County begins on p. A-1 of the Cleveland Plain Dealer for Sunday, May 31, 2009. The home value chart is on p. A-12.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Great Poem by Clevelander Mary Oliver

When Death Comes

by Mary Oliver

From "New and Selected Poems" by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108-2892, ISBN 0 870 6819 5).

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver is from Maple Heights, a southwest suburb of Cleveland. And we are very proud of her, one of America's greatest poets. What can be added to this poem? She says it all. I love her lines "and each body a lion of courage and something / precious to the earth." We humans are the only creations of God called on to be courageous--and in so many cases we are!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Reflections

We dropped by All Souls Cemetery in Chardon Township, Ohio a couple days ago and brought a small American flag to place on my Dad's grave. Dad was a veteran of the US Navy during the World War II years. During that time he was a signalman aboard small ships, PC boats and SC boats. The Subchasers were wooden boats, called the Navy's "splinter fleet." They were small ships, not super fast, and not heavily armed. Dad spent most of the war in the South Pacific, including Australia, the Philippines, Borneo, and surrounding islands and seas. On the way to the South Pacific he stopped in Rio de Janiero. My brother Kevin has gotten hold of Dad's war records, but I have yet to study them. I doubt that they tell more than a fraction of the story of those years. Dad and his brothers Fran (or "Connie," as he was known to many), Jack, and Bill were all in the war, and all came home in one piece--at least physically (though Dad had shrapnel wounds and the little pieces of metal would periodically emerge throughout his life). My Dad and Bill had the least psychological damage, but Jack and Fran had problems that led to alcohol abuse and other troubles. Fran died at age 46 in 1965, and Jack died at age 49 in 1970.

On my mother's side, the Fitzpatrick side, her twin brothers, Dick and Don, went to war in Europe and North Africa. They too were psychologically damaged and fell prey to alcoholism. I think Fran, Jack, Dick, and Don were trying to self-medicate for PTSD and the psychological baggage of war. Back in 1945 and the years thereafter, there weren't many programs to help soldiers with PTSD, and so many of them suffered in silence. Like Fran and Jack, both Dick and Don died around age 50. Dick and Don were two of the most wonderful people that ever walked the earth.

Our family was deeply wounded again during the Vietnam era when my cousin, Tommy Fitzpatrick, died in combat in 1969. Tommy was only 21 years old, just 2 years out of Euclid High School. Tommy's death broke the hearts of his mother and father, Al and Catherine, and of his brothers and sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We still think often of Tommy and honor his great sacrifice.

At All Souls Cemetery we saw hundreds, nay thousands, of American flags placed on the graves of veterans. We noticed that there was no flag at Uncle Fran's grave, so we placed one there. These vets will never be forgotten.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Euclid, Ohio

On Chardon Road (US Route 6) hill, just south of Euclid Avenue (US Route 20), in the City of Euclid, Ohio, there is a most holy place--the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. I attend mass there in the summer, and today was the opening mass of the season. The mass begins at 9:30 sharp (sometimes even a couple minutes early!) at the bluestone grotto, a replica of the grotto cave in Lourdes, France. The cave (or grotto) is made from Euclid bluestone, quarried about a mile from the shrine by Irish, Hungarian, Slovenian, and other immigrants--including my own great grandfather, Fenton Fitzpatrick. There is a similar replica grotto at the University of Notre Dame--another very holy place. A priest-professor from Borromeo Seminary said the mass as a couple hundred lay people joined in the celebration. The world's strangest choir led the singing, as usual. Today the temperature was in the mid 60's and the sky was overcast, windy, and threatened rain. I think these conditions hurried the celebrant along a bit. It was a typical yet beautiful mass in this holy place. Lake Erie can be seen a few miles to the north of the Shrine, and the street noise and sometimes sirens and train whistles of busy Euclid, Ohio can often be heard. But the beauty, sanctity, and absolute specialness of this place is clear to everyone in attendance.

After mass, Linda, Emily, and I lit some candles and especially remembered Ruth Hoffman Sanders, my mother-in-law who died 2 years ago yesterday. Ruth was a tremendous person, a force of nature. Intelligent, passionate, a great mother, housewife, cook, family manager, motivator. She lived intensely right up to her sudden passing. We still haven't quite gotten over it. May she rest in peace and be brought into Heaven. And may she pray for all of us! We also prayed for my father-in-law, Ruth's husband Art Sanders. A sweet and kind man, great father and provider. Art died in April of 1996. Like my own Dad, he spent 4 years in the US Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. Ruth and Art had 5 children--and I married their first child (and prettiest)--Linda Rose.

We also lit candles for my Mom and Dad. Dad (Robert P. Coughlin) would turn 87 years old this coming Tuesday if he were still alive. Dad was the discoverer of the Shrine, and he and I used to help out there many years ago (I remember when we helped cut down a gigantic tree on the Shrine property in the early 1960's). A funny memory: Dad truly believed that the Shrine's spring water was a healing force. He drank as much of it as he could. Mom would save some of this water to sprinkle around the house when storms threatened

We also said prayers and lit candles for our immediate family and for our extended family, especially for those who are ill, like Jack Pendergast.

The Good Lord will bring safety, peace, health, and protection to those we prayed for. Prayers do not go unanswered.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Two Bald Eagles Seen Today at Mentor Lagoons

Today we walked along the lake shore by Mentor Lagoons, a wonderful area within the city limits of Mentor, Ohio. Mentor is an eastern suburb of Cleveland and has a population of about 55,000. It also has about a mile of wild lake shore that is now protected parkland. This must be one of the few undeveloped areas of the southern shore of Lake Erie. I guess the bald eagles we saw today noticed the great fishing, the wild lake shore, the hundreds of acres of undeveloped forest, the hundreds of acres of marshland--and they thought, this looks like a great place to live, to raise our babies.

These eagles flew directly over our heads, about 50 feet above the ground. We felt incredibly blessed.

Final Thoughts on Bishop Lennon's Closing of Churches in the Dioces of Cleveland

I have been an active, practicing Catholic for 6 decades. My family has been Catholic probably from the days of St. Patrick and St. Brendan in Ireland, some 1500 to 1600 years! I attended Catholic grade school, St. William's, high school, St. Joe's, and college, the University of Notre Dame. I have continued to read on theological and religious issues my entire adult life. In other words, I have some level of authority to talk about my Church, a Church I love and treasure.

I think a stealth effect of Bishop Richard Lennon's closing of 50+ parishes (some historic treasures!) is a loss of faith in the structure of the Church. To think that bishop has the power to arbitrarily do such a thing, with no need to consult, no real mechanism to appeal, no checks and balances to his enormous power. It is as if the bishop is a feudal prince. It is said all the time that the Church is no democracy. Wow, that is an understatement! It strikes me that the Church is un-American, so contrary to many of our core values. Again, I know that the Church does not have to be American. Really, it should be better than America, more just, better behaved, more principled. The Church is no democracy, but during mass today, with attendance so stunningly sparse that our pastor commented on it in the homily, I wonder if people are voting with their feet.

I fear for the future of the Church that I love.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Should We Feel Grateful to Bishop Richard Lennon?

Bishop Richard Lennon of the Diocese of Cleveland recently issued a stay of execution to two parishes that he commanded be closed: St. Colman's, the beautiful and historic Irish-American church, and St. Ignatius of Antioch, another beautiful landmark church on the Cleveland's West Side.

I am very glad that these churches will not be closed--but I am not grateful to Bishop Lennon. That would grant him too much credit. Bishop Lennon did what was right and just in these two instances. But he did not overturn his decisions in 50+ other cases, including the outrageous order to close down St. Peter's, Cleveland's oldest Catholic church and its most dynamic and progressive community.

As I have said before, these churches were built by us and our ancestors, not by Bishop Lennon. We paid for them; we sometimes built them with our own hands. Our thumb prints, blood and sweat are in the bricks and mortar. These churches are not Bishop Lennon's to close. It is clear that hundreds, indeed thousands of Clevelanders are angry with the bishop's arbitrariness. And I'll bet that includes many priests and religious of our diocese. It may include our retired bishop, Anthony Pilla.

Who is to judge the bishop's motives? Let's assume the best of intentions. But he has damaged the Diocese of Cleveland and the City of Cleveland (and the Greater Cleveland area). And he probably has permanently damaged his relationship with the Catholics of Greater Cleveland.

We want our Church back.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Kings"--A Movie in Irish-Gaelic (Featuring Colm Meaney)

Last Friday the members of my Irish class viewed the feature film "Kings." The movie is mostly in Irish-Gaelic, with a smattering of English. When Irish is spoken, there are subtitles in English. One of the principal actors in this film is Colm Meaney, the noted actor famous for his Star Trek role. Meaney was born in Dublin and surely studied Irish as he went through the Irish school system. He seems to speak Irish fluently and naturally in the film.

Over all, I wasn't crazy about this movie. The setting was London, where Irish ex-patriots (from Connemara) were at the wake and funeral of one of their old gang. The movie is soaked in despair and alcohol, and seems to play on old Irish stereotypes. Of course, there is a kernel of truth in stereotypes and for too long the Irish culture (and Irish-American culture) have played up the glories of alcohol. And too often the underbelly of that alcohol-soaked culture is ignored.

The movie had many good elements to it, not least of which was the acting of Colm Meaney. But the movie seemed so devoid of hope--and we can't live without hope.

Passing of Eugene Slusser, a Coughlin Cousin

My dad's first cousin, Eugene ("Gene") Slusser died recently. He was the son of Warren and May (nee Coughlin) Slusser. Aunt May (or Mary) was my Grampa Connie Coughlin's sister. She was the daughter of Cornelius Coughlin and Lizzie Ierg, immigrants from Ireland and Germany. Cornelius, my great-grandfather, was the youngest son of Daniel Coghlin and Mary Crowley, both born in West County Cork, Ireland. They moved around 1857 to Scipio, Cayuga County, New York with their children Jeremiah, Bartholemew, Catherine, and Cornelius. Jeremiah and Bartholemew both fought in the Civil War (and were prisoners of war for a while); Catherine married Thomas Fitzpatrick; and Cornelius, my great-grandfather, eventually made his to Cleveland, where, in the 1880's, he married Lizzie Ierg, who was born in Germersheim, Germany, a town along the Rhine River. By the way, my cousin Jack Pendergast is a descendant of Bart Coughlin.

I think Gene Slusser had 6 children, one of whom, Jim I think, was a state champion runner from St. Joseph High School in Cleveland. I just had a nodding acquaintance with Jim in high school, but I was aware at that time that he was a second cousin. There are not many of Gene Slusser's generation left in our family: My Uncle Bill and Aunt Kay Coughlin; and on my mother's side, Lois Cherry and, I think, Pat and Sally Kearns. But most everyone else is gone, alas. Tom Brokaw called this "the Greatest Generation." Who's to argue with that?

Here is the obit I found for Gene Slusser:

Eugene G. Slusser (December 7, 1919 - April 27, 2009)

EUGENE G. SLUSSER age 89 of Euclid, passed away Monday, April 27, 2009. Husband of the late Doris; loving father of Judith (Robert) Schura, James, Richard (Margie), Robert (Rhonda), Marcia (Scott) Maxwell and Thomas (Ann); grandfather 17; great grandfather of 5; Son of the late Warren and Mary (Coughlin); brother of Patricia and the late Warren and William. WWII Army Veteran. In Lieu of flowers Memorials may be forwarded to the Vitas Innovative Hospice, 600 E. Granger Rd., Suite 100, Brooklyn Heights, OH 44131, Funeral Service Saturday, May 9, at 4pm in the funeral home. Private interment Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery. Friends may call at the DiDonato Funeral Home, 21900 Euclid Ave, from 2:30pm till time of service Saturday.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Patrick Pearse Poem, in Gaelic and in English

Pádraig Mac Piarais

Fornocht do chonac thú,
a áille na háille,
is do dhallas mo shúil
ar eagla go stánfainn.

Do chualas do cheol,
a bhinne na binne,
is do dhúnas mo chluas
ar eagla go gclisfinn.

Do bhlaiseas do bhéal
a mhilse na milse,
is do chruas mo chroí
ar eagla mo mhillte.

Do dhallas mo shúil,
is mo chluas do dhúnas;
do chruas mo chroí,
is mo mhian do mhúchas.

Do thugas mo chúl
ar an aisling do chumas,
's ar an ród so romham
m'aighaidh do thugas.

Do thugas mo ghnúis
ar an ród so romham,
ar an ngníomh do-chim,
's ar an mbás do gheobhad. #

A translation:

Naked I saw thee,
O beauty of beauty,
And I blinded my eyes
For fear I should fail.

I heard thy music,
O melody of melody,
And I closed my ears
For fear I should falter.

I tasted thy mouth,
O sweetness of sweetness,
And I hardened my heart
For fear of my slaying.

I blinded my eyes,
And I closed my ears,
I hardened my heart
And I smothered my desire.

I turned my back
On the vision I had shaped,
And to this road before me
I turned my face.

I have turned my face
To this road before me,
To the deed that I see
And the death I shall die. #

This is the Patrick Pearse poem that Gabriel Byrne recited on the April 30th "Fresh Air" program, hosted by Terry Gross. Thanks to Una Kimbrew, my colleague and classmate with the East Side Irish-American Club's Wednesday night Irish language study group.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Irish-Gaelic Spoken on Public Radio Yesterday

Yesterday I heard Terry Gross, host of the National Public Radio show "Fresh Air," interview Irish actor Gabriel Byrne. The interview was fascinating, with Bryne speaking of his years as a seminarian and his experiences with the notorious Christian Brothers. Some of those experiences sounded very familiar to me, growing up in the Catholic Church of the 1950's and 1960's. The difference is that I had Cleveland Ursuline nuns, not Christian Brothers. And I would put my money on the Ursulines, especially Sr. Ann Francis, in a smackdown. Really, it wouldn't even be close! Toward the end of the 39-minute interview, Terry Gross asked Byrne about Gaelic, and asked him to recite a poem. Byrne hemmed and hawed a bit, but then proceeded to recite parts of a poem by the great Irish patriot, Patrick Pearse (executed after the Easter 1916 Rising by the Brits). The English title of the poem is "Ideal," and it was translated into English by Thomas MacDonagh. To hear the interview, go to this website:

If you just want to hear the poem recited in Irish, begin listening around minute 31:45 of the interview. I do recommend the entire interview for some of the interesting and funny comments made by Bryne (especially how his mind was changed about committing to priestly celibacy). The MacDonagh translation of the Pearse poem "Ideal" can be located using a google search, but so far I haven't been able to find (or discern by listening) the exact Irish text.

If you've never read William Butler Yeats' immortal poem about the Easter Rising, google search "Easter 1916." It will give a shiver. Near the end of the poem Yeats writes:

What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.