EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth and final story in a yearlong series on how Southern Tier parishes are dealing with challenges brought on by consolidation.
If one diocesan parish were to be viewed as a microcosm of all that can occur in the pastoral-planning process, All Saints might well be that place.
"It’s a parish in constant transition," acknowledged Deacon Dean Condon, All Saints’ second-year pastoral administrator.
This has held especially true for All Saints during the last decade — and another major change is on the table as leaders weigh further consolidation of facilities. Some of the significant moments in All Saints’ recent history are:
* 1990 — The Corning-Painted Post cluster was created, with one pastor overseeing the parishes of St. Mary, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Patrick, all in Corning; and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Painted Post. Corning-Painted Post was one of the first parts of the diocese to implement the cluster model that has now become commonplace.
* 1996 — Several committees and staff positions were combined, and four separate parish councils were blended into one.
* 2000 — Sister Joan Cawley, SSJ, became the first nonpriest to lead the four churches, as Corning-Painted Post adopted the relatively new position of pastoral administrator, which has since spread significantly.
* 2001 — Corning-Painted Post consolidated into a single parish of four worship sites, with all staffing, programs, finances and other aspects of parish activity joined. The newly formed parish was renamed All Saints.
* 2001 — Within months after the consolidation, St. Patrick Church closed due to mounting repair expenses and reduced availability of priest staffing.
* 2003 — All Saints Academy consolidated its two school buildings into one, vacating the Denison Parkway (St. Patrick) facility and forming a single school for grades prekindergarten through 8 at the State Street (St. Mary) building.
Now, All Saints is eyeing the closing of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church — a move Deacon Condon said might occur as soon as June 2008.
"Motivated by the knowledge that the parish may only have one priest within the next three years, the finance council and parish council have begun a careful review of parish finances and building needs to determine the best way to be good stewards of our resources. If a sale were to be entertained, IMH would be the most logical to consider since it’s the smallest church," stated a Sept. 16 bulletin article by Karen Paschal, parish pastoral council chair, and William Cassidy, finance council chair.
Dialogue sessions on this and other facility-related matters were recently conducted among parishioners and parish leaders at all three worship sites: Oct. 21 at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Oct. 28 at St. Vincent de Paul and Nov. 4 at St. Mary.
"The biggest concerns were, do we have a plan — a longer-term plan for the welfare of the parish?" Deacon Condon said of the meetings.
He said potential action regarding Immaculate Heart of Mary stems from an extensive parish study earlier this decade. That study resulted in the recommendation that both IHM and St. Patrick be sold. Factoring into these conclusions were declining population in the Corning area; a projected drop in priest availability and the number of Masses to be offered; and the relative proximity of all four churches, meaning parishioners would have a manageable drive to Mass if one or two churches were to close.
Finances are another major consideration. Deacon Condon said that numerous costly repairs have been made or are still needed, among them fixing roof leaks, safety-related concerns and even damage to the bell tower at St. Mary from a lightning strike over the summer. The financial picture is further clouded by the fact that — although a sale is pending on the St. Patrick campus — it has taken much longer than anticipated to get to that point, he added.
The pastoral administrator, who replaced Sister Cawley in the summer of 2006, acknowledged that anxiety has run high as the parish grapples with the ongoing struggles of pastoral planning.
“I don’t know what to say except that it’s been really painful for the people and painful for me," Deacon Condon remarked.
However, he emphasized that "the parish council and finance council have been real supportive." He added that the spiritual life of All Saints has remained strong with many thriving programs and ministries, and that All Saints Academy, after experiencing seven consecutive years of declining attendance, has shown an increase for 2007-08.