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Sealed Doors, Open Hearts

church closures

Mike DeSumma

SYRACUSE, NY- One month after the doors to her parish sealed, young Reena Tretler joined hands with her fellow parishioners in the shadow of St. Andrew the Apostle Church.

Like many there, she didn’t hesitate to voice her frustration with the Syracuse Diocese’s decision that they would never reopen.

“Out of all the other churches we’ve done so much to help everyone else,” Tretler said, “We’ve done just so much for the neighborhood. I can’t help but feel that this is completely wrong.”

The church, which is located on Alder Street on the city’s south side, is the latest parish to be closed in the diocese’s plans for church consolidation.

The downsizing comes as a result of a number of pitfalls that church leaders are facing due to the rising costs of parish upkeep as well as dwindling numbers of priests and parishioners.

In 2007, Catholic leaders unveiled a plan that would lead to the closure of 40 churches over a period of three years. So far, nearly three quarters of those churches have been shut down and protest from area parishioners have ensued.

St. Andrew’s closed last month and its congregation was merged into that of St. Lucy’s Parish on Gifford Street. Both churches had long been linked and served by a single priest. Leaders in the diocese cited a “one parish, one priest” stipulation as the reason for the closure.

But that didn’t sit well for many longtime parishioners of St. Andrew’s who say that was no reason to sacrifice the vibrancy of their parish, which had a long history of social activism.

“We were a solvent parish with a lot of lay participation,” Estelle Hahn said. “It’s not the hierarchy who is church. It’s the people who are church and to not listen to the people is just unforgivable.”

Modern Day Pitfalls

St. Andrew’s and St. Lucy’s were just one of many pairs of churches sharing a priest.

Linked parishes were set up by the diocese as a means of dealing with the huge drop in men going into the vocation. By next year, it is estimated that only 100 priests will be left in the Syracuse Diocese to serve its well over 200,000 Catholics. That is in stark contrast to the near 400 priests that served in the 1970s.

Coupled with the shortage of priests is a lack of parishioners to fill pews on Sundays—specifically younger Catholics to supplement a mostly aging church body.

Parishioners at other parishes that are currently sharing a priest, like St. John the Baptist on the city’s north side, see these trends as signs of the inevitable: more churches will be closing soon.

“I mean the costs are still there but unfortunately the congregations are smaller and smaller,” said Parish Life member Jerry Mott, “along with the shortage of priests it makes it very difficult for parishes to survive.”

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