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A Portrait of Priests and Nuns, Watching the Decline of Catholic Culture

Catholicism’s reach and influence in the western world has been waning for decades, a large yet incremental shift difficult to document with a camera. Photographer Mika Goodfriend does so, beautifully, by focusing on the small and the personal in his series Fraternité Sacerdotale.

The series provides a glimpse into the lives of the priests and nuns living in Fraternité Sacerdotale, a hotel in Montreal for traveling clergy. These men and women of the cloth are the dignified face of an institution in sharp decline throughout much of the west.

“The Catholic faith in Quebec is an endangered species,” Goodfriend says. “Everyone in the Fraternity was aware of the massive shift towards secularism.”

In Qubec, that shift began in the 1960s with the Quiet Revolution, a massive reform that shifted many social services—including health and education—from the church to provincial government. As the Church ceded control and society secularized, many of the abbeys, convents and other buildings were taken over by universities or made into condos.

Yet Fraternité Sacerdotale endures. Most residents of Fraternité Sacerdotale are from throughout English Canada, though Goodfriend met clergy from as far away as Colombia. Some are on long-term appointments and stay for months. Others come and go within days. And it’s an open question how much longer the hotel will remain open. That is what drew Goodfriend to the project.

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

The late Jack Leigh may be most remembered for his image, “Midnight,” a 1993 photograph of a sculpture called “Bird Girl” in Savannah, Georgia’s Bonaventure Cemetery. The image was a commissioned for the cover of author John Berendt’s novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. But Leigh’s career stretches beyond the single image. “Jack Leigh: Full Circle, Low Country Photographs, 1972-2004,” at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art celebrates his legacy. 

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