Saturday, July 16, 2011

Close. Cluster. Close. Repeat.

By Susan Miller

Cleansing Fire’s recent post, “Upcoming Guidelines for Closing Churches,” contained the following comment by DW about how the Diocese of Rochester (DOR) handles church closings:
“1. Closes parish school (Catholic education not a priority).
  2. Cluster parishes (lack of priests)
  3. Cut masses (3 masses per priest max)
  4. Income falls, attendance drops.
  5. No money, no people = close buildings/parishes.”

Let’s consider how this cycle played out in Corning’s Catholic community. In the 1970s, St. Patrick’s school and St. Vincent’s junior high grades were closed. In 1986, St. Vincent’s school (K-5) was closed. In 1990, the four parishes (St. Patrick’s, St. Mary’s, St. Vincent’s, and Immaculate Heart of Mary) were clustered, meaning they shared one full-time priest and combined services. Masses decreased. Then in 2001, the four parishes became one parish, All Saints.

A shortage of money became a nagging problem. Attendance dropped as church closings and rumors of closings accelerated. St. Patrick’s was closed in 2001, sold in 2008, and demolished in 2010. IHM has no regular weekend masses and has been for sale, on and off, for years. St. Vincent’s narrowly avoided being purchased by Providence Housing this year, and its future is unclear.

As we look back, we can see what we’ve lost and understand how we reached our current predicament. Some decisions were heartbreaking, and perhaps there were no other feasible options at the time. Other decisions were less considered, and parishioners were largely excluded, leading to anger and distrust today.

Some people will ask, “Are you saying we should keep every parish, every church, and every school and never merge or close?"

Let me be clear. I’m advocating that we look at each situation – parish, church, and school – carefully because there are many differences between communities and parishes. The DOR and other dioceses have been following a one-size-fits-all policy that sees only a bleak present and future. In this light, it’s been hard to resist a quick infusion of cash, even as we’ve seen how quickly the money slips away (such as from St. Patrick’s sale). Equally important, I’m asking that parishioners be given every opportunity to save their parishes, and that includes diocesan support.

Imagine how a pastor might handle the situation when he saw financial trouble brewing. He would stand in the pulpit and sound the alarm: “This church (or school) is in danger of closing if we don’t act now. The financial report is in the bulletin. Please join me in the hall on Wednesday night so we can talk about solutions.”

Imagine if the diocese’s priority was to save churches and schools. Perhaps it would send advisors to a struggling parish. Or lower the Catholic Ministries Appeal goal. Or use the CMA money differently by increasing allocations to churches and schools and decreasing other allocations, such as to Catholic Charities (see the CMA Allocations for 2010-2011).

Some parishes would rally, while others wouldn’t. Some would avoid losing their parishes/churches/schools for a while, and then perhaps lose focus. However, each parish would have a chance at survival, based on their commitment. Parishioners would know that they indeed made the choice. Not the diocese. Not an unelected committee. Not leadership.


  1. So, at number 4 is where the concerned parishioners should realize that the temporary pause on the sale of St. Vincent's is like a second chance to get your ASSigned pew back in church in this parish, otherwise there will be no third chance! If you truly believe that this is their 5 step process, then why wouldn't you throw a wrench in it where you can, at step 4?

    I really don't need an explanation because I do respect your views on this, I'm only making a point. The Serenity Prayer emphasizes my point, only I think it was written by a Protestant, oh no.

  2. First, Susan, this is a focused and pointed article. Thank you for saying what needs to be said.

    12:01 that's the conundrum for parishioners. And because the DOR has been at this game for a long time, leadership knows how to exploit certain reactions as a way to reinforce their plans.

    Also, the one mega-church idea goes beyond the diocese. It has been mentioned by the Archbishop himself, Timothy Dolan in a pastoral letter. It truly is a one-size-fits-all plan, and that is a form of centralized planning, aka marxism or socialism. The definition of central planning from, "defining a command economy as top-down administrative planning based on bureaucratic organization..."

    Financial control becomes the focus.

    Here is a quote from Archbishop Dolan: "This 'servant Church' warmly welcomes and embraces all, so a corollary of this third principle is that a parish is to be a spiritual home for its people. This will be an urgent challenge for us, because, in our planning, we admit that the trend is, by necessity, toward 'mega-parishes,' with large memberships and huge churches. We cannot allow our parishes to become impersonal assembly lines, because our people look to them as a warm spiritual home where they are welcomed, recognized, known and respected. Parishes are beloved anchors in our neighborhoods and communities."

    With all due respect, that statement is PP -- Pure Politician. I wonder how many Catholics (including priests and bishops) have spent any amount of time attending a mega-church, not counting cathedrals or basilicas.

    I have. I can guarantee you that they are to a large extent 'impersonal assembly lines' where people are NOT 'recognized, known and respected.'

    The nature of any large, centralized institution is of necessity impersonal.

    I ask one question: Is a mega-church Christ Jesus' idea of a relationship with Him and His Church?

    I thought not.

  3. not many know the second part of this prayer..

    The Serenity Prayer

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world
    as it is, not as I would have it;
    Trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His Will;
    That I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him
    Forever in the next.

    --Reinhold Niebuhr

  4. Do you know about Reinhold Niebuhr's politics and theology? He was a 'Socialist Christian'.

    Here's a quote about him: "Increasingly, Niebuhr was aligned with progressive politics and concerned with issues of social justice.

    Though increasingly liberal, Niebuhr was also fearful of totalitarian governments. His distrust of Communism was more about the political practices he saw in the Russian Revolution and within the Communist Party than a disagreement with the philosophy of Karl Marx." (From

    Yes, the Serenity Prayer was written by a Socialist. And believe it or not, some claim it as a Catholic Prayer.

    So much for Catholic Subsidiarity. Definition of Subsidiarity: an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.

  5. I wouldn't care if Margaret Sanger wrote it, it's just a prayer that seemed to apply here, that is all.

  6. Well, I guess that's part of the problem...not being knowledgeable about where certain ideas, perspectives, and philosophies are coming from...and how they are to be applied. That's part of the reason we are in the pickle we're in today.

    We all need to be able to discern the tares from the preached in today's Gospel.

  7. At All Saints Parish, weekly offerings increased after the Stewardship Appeal. If they really want income to fall (4), why are they trying so hard to get more money?

  8. My prayer for Anon 11:05:

    Please show compassion for the countless souls lost as a result of parish closures.


  9. 11:59, I assume it's to stay alive in some form and to build or repair a church because the sales of St. V's and IHM won't provide enough money to do so. I thought it was interesting that this past spring's stewardship appeal was the first "hard" push for money in a long time.

    As a side note, when SOP offered to fund raise, they were told that all money would go to the one-church solution.

  10. You all can banter back and forth like that's going to change anything. Can't you see that the "dye is cast" around here. Choose to stay and watch the fall of the parish or move on like so many others have. It isn't going to get better in Corning; say what you will or think what you want.

  11. 4:17, people said that St. Vincent's sale was a done deal. I give credit to SOP (in the months before I joined) and some others for making the noise that contributed to PH rethinking their purchase.

    We know that the deacon and Bishop Clark will not change their minds. We're appealing to people and organizations that are open to ideas other than a one-church solution. We may fail, but at least we'll know we tried our best.

  12. oh my, 4:17. Praying that hope lightens your heart tonight!

  13. Most of us agree it's discouraging to see what "dye is cast" by the current administration. I heard someone say once if you want to make God laugh to tell Him your plans. I draw my strength and inspiration from God and practical guidance from the Vatican with regard to the church operations. SOP remains steadfast in defense of our churches from being sold off as any kind of solution to a priest shortage or lack of budget expertise (balanced income and expense, including proper maintenance of churches).

  14. What I am saying is that the chatter in this blog is worthless without the actions to back it up. I haven't seen any rallying of the troops for mass attendance at parish council meetings. Plans to sell, consolidate and "megasize" are only taking another course. Come on people, we all know it! We're being sold out! Waiting to hear of the action plan that isn't mere talk. Don't think that I want to buy donuts from the former IHM church either but I don't see anyone fighting for that church.

  15. 8:08, attendance at parish council meetings is a great idea. Why don't you help organize? We need help.

  16. What is this about a donut shop? Is this true? You'd never see me supporting such a business at a location which I consider Holy!

  17. The IHM property being sold for a donut shop or drug store are rumors at this point.

  18. Susan-

    A great accessment. You have put all of the pieces together. Perfectly.

    Personally, and collectively, many All Saints parishioners are exhausted from the battles with leadership. The continual conflict has led to an attitude of self-survival. For many of us, our faith has survived by grieving, then leaving. But God has called some to the front lines of the battle.

    Thank you. You do have much support!