Blog post by Scott Priestle shared from his blog: View from the Hill
We will get together with my dad’s family this weekend to celebrate what would have been my Grandma Priestle’s 90th birthday. Because she passed away 16 years ago, it will also be a chance to share her legacy with the young family members who did not know her. I started my celebration a week early, at the Bend in the River Art & Music Festival.
My grandparents (Norb and Rosemary Priestle) volunteered for more than 30 years at St. Michael’s Church in Lower Price Hill – the site of the festival – and our family frequently attended mass there, so the building has special meaning for me. Even though it is undergoing a significant renovation and is no longer a Catholic church, the energy and enthusiasm I felt last weekend were proof that my grandma’s legacy is alive.
There was good food, good music, good beer and good company – a diverse crowd that included local business leaders, politicians and dozens of residents of the mostly poor neighborhood. The folks who are leading the renovation of St. Michael’s are doing it as part of a larger effort to empower those underserved residents of Lower Price Hill. It is the same mission that drew my grandparents to volunteer at St. Michael’s a generation ago.
The church was run by Comboni Missionaries at the time, and my grandparents often invited the missionaries to join us for family parties at their house. It was not unusual for a few St. Michael’s neighbors to be there, too. My grandma invited some of the poorest residents to their house for a home-cooked meal and a shower, knowing they might have gone days without either. Ten-year-old me was often put off by their appearance and mannerisms, but I have become more understanding as an adult, and my grandma is my inspiration. She was the closest thing I’ve known to love personified (with a generous amount of humor sprinkled into everything she did).
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati closed St. Michael’s in April 1998 – around the time my grandma died – and the complex fell into disrepair, along with much of the neighborhood. The Lower Price Hill Community School purchased the property, began an ambitious revitalization project, and recently reorganized as two distinct organizations (Education Matters and Community Matters) with a secular version of the Comboni’s mission: to provide support and opportunity to folks who have often lacked both.
Everyone I have met from Education Matters and Community Matters has expressed a passion for the mission that would make my grandma proud. My heart was pounding with joy when I left the festival last night. With Jen and Jake and Mike and Emily and Erica and Paul and Patty and Stella and all the rest, St. Michael’s is in good hands. I can’t wait to go back. My sons might not have met my grandma, but they will know her legacy. It is alive in Lower Price Hill.