Bishop Matano outlines path forward for Auburn-area churches - Catholic Courier
Auburn’s Holy Family Church (from left), St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Alphonsus Church are seen July 1. (Courier photos by Jeff Witherow)

Auburn’s Holy Family Church (from left), St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Alphonsus Church are seen July 1. (Courier photos by Jeff Witherow)

Bishop Matano outlines path forward for Auburn-area churches

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano has decided none of the nine Catholic churches in Auburn and northern Cayuga County will close at this time.

In an Aug. 11 letter informing the pastors of his decision, however, the bishop directed the parishes to continue to look critically at the needs of the local Catholic community and decide what changes need to be made to enable the parishes to meet those needs.

“Having given this subject extensive and prayerful consideration and having pondered seriously the material presented both written and orally from the many consulted, I hereby direct that in the next year by September 1, 2022, the parishes present their concrete efforts made to divest themselves of unnecessary properties and to utilize only those facilities needed to serve the religious, pastoral and spiritual needs of the faithful,” Bishop Matano wrote in the letter to Father Frank Lioi and Father Stephen Karani, pastors of the two clusters of Catholic parishes in Auburn and northern Cayuga County.

Bishop Matano’s decision comes in response to the recommendation — submitted last spring by a pastoral-planning committee comprising the pastors as well as representatives from each of the nine area parishes — to close St. Alphonsus, Holy Family and St. Francis of Assisi churches in Auburn and St. Joseph Church in Weedsport. The committee made the recommendation based upon months of study and discussion about such factors as community demographics, priest availability, parish-life trends, the physical condition of buildings on the nine church campuses, future facility needs and the geographic locations of each church. Town hall-style meetings were held to gather feedback from the public before the recommendation was submitted, and in July Bishop Matano traveled to Auburn to participate in two listening sessions with parishioners as he decided whether to accept the recommendation.

Although he has not mandated the closure of any churches at this time, the planning committee’s work was not done in vain and should serve as a guide and a stimulus as the parishes work to make decisions, Bishop Matano wrote.

“The Committee certainly identified the basic premise upon which this process is built, namely noting the demographics, the financial circumstances, the building footprints, the sacramental records for the administration of the Sacraments, which all indicate that steps must be taken now if we are to be good stewards of our resources and realistically provide for the strong continuation of the faith in this much appreciated area of our Diocese,” Bishop Matano wrote.

The bishop has instructed the parishes to assess the ministry needs of the Auburn and northern Cayuga County area and identify priorities as well as areas of potential collaboration. He also asked the parishes to do the following:

• Assess administrative needs and combine wherever possible.

• Consider realigning staffing and ministries to meet ministerial and administrative needs while using parish financial resources responsibly.

• Determine the types and availability of volunteer leadership and the corresponding training necessary for those volunteers.

• Assess current building usage and projected capital repairs and develop a long-term plan for the usage or sale of buildings.

• Determine what financial resources are needed for evangelization and religious education in the wake of the June 2020 closure of St. Joseph School in Auburn.

The parishes are to present to the diocesan Office for Pastoral Planning the steps they’ve taken in response to these directives by March 1, 2022, and what goals they will reach by Sept. 1, 2022, Bishop Matano wrote in his letter.

Dan Fessenden, chair of the pastoral-planning committee that worked on the recommendation presented to the bishop last spring, said he was not surprised by Bishop Matano’s decision. The issues considered by his committee — which dissolved after fulfilling its role of researching and putting together a recommendation — and those which still need to be considered are very complex and intricate, Fessenden said.

“The response from the bishop at this point I think is clearly an indication that some additional effort needs to be made to more carefully consider some of the issues at hand here,” Fessenden said. “I think it speaks to … the opportunity for shared stewardship here, and I can only be hopeful that the work of our planning committee has awakened our fellow parishioners to the need for some meaningful change, and that they eagerly heed the opportunity the bishop has provided to become engaged to shape the future of our parishes.”

Father Lioi, pastor of the Auburn parishes of St. Mary and Sts. Mary and Martha, as well as Our Lady of the Snow Parish in northern Cayuga County, said parishioners were happy to hear none of their churches would be closed this year.

“Parishioners were pleased with the bishop’s letter and are now prepared to work on implementing the bishop’s six factors in determining the future,” Father Lioi said. “Now that we know that no churches will be closed in 2021, our work … has only begun.”

Tags: Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, Cayuga County News
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