By Susan Miller
A previous post Close. Cluster. Close. Repeat., discussed how the Diocese of Rochester handles church closings. In summary, as parish schools are closed and parishes are clustered, people leave and income declines. At this point, it’s much easier to close churches.
You might assume that if people keep attending a church and donate more money, the church won’t be closed. If only it were that logical.
For an example of a parish that did everything right and still lost, let’s examine St. Thomas the Apostle (STA) in Irondequoit. Last year, five parishes in Irondequoit were merged to form one parish, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Massses were completely eliminated at two of the churches, STA and St. Salome, and both have been slated for closure.
So why was STA chosen for elimination?
Maybe it had to do with location? Actually, the three churches still in use are in the same area of the community. It would have made sense to keep at least one of the churches open in northern Irondequoit.
Is STA a small church? On the contrary, STA seats 1000 people. This large church would have been especially useful at Christmas and Easter. But when former STA parishioners petitioned the pastor, Father Norm Tanck, for holiday masses, the pastor refused.
Was attendance declining? Attendance was stable until STA was clustered in 2007. At that time, they lost their most popular mass, and so had a decrease in attendance.
What is the condition of the church and facilities? STA has ample parking and no immediate capital needs. However, plans have been made to upgrade the three open churches at a cost of $1.7 million.
How about their finances? STA was a financially stable parish with $400,000 in the bank when the proposal for closure was announced. One of the open churches was nearly $400,000 in debt.
So what happened? Interestingly, the Irondequoit Pastoral Planning Group (IPPG), Father Tanck, and Bishop Clark have never explained why STA lost its masses and is slated for closure. Furthermore, the IPPG’s meeting minutes show that the group had decided to close STA before it had critical data.
However, there was one very important characteristic of STA that separated it from the three surviving churches. STA was a traditional Catholic church surrounded by more progressive churches in the very progressive Diocese of Rochester. Perhaps STA was a sacrificial lamb in a game of ideology?
In closing, I am not telling people to leave their parish or stop giving money because it doesn’t matter anyways. What I am saying is that these actions alone are not enough to stop any church, including our own, from closing in the Diocese of Rochester.
The good news is that canon law is on the parishioners’ side, and as recent rulings have shown, Rome is enforcing canon law. At this time, the former parishioners of St. Thomas the Apostle are continuing their appeal in Rome.
How is Blessed Kateri Parish Doing? Not well. A Cleansing Fire post from March estimates that 70% of the STA and St. Salome parishioners are not attending masses in the new parish. Not surprisingly, this has led to financial problems. According to Cleansing Fire’s post Crisis in Irondequoit, Blessed Kateri fell about $100,000 short of their CMA goal.