In a Nov. 12 letter to parishioners of Rochester’s Cathedral Community, Father John Mulligan, pastor and one of two diocesan vicars general, announced that as of March 2008 Most Precious Blood and Holy Rosary churches will no longer be used for liturgies. Instead, allCathedral Community parishioners will worship together at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
While acknowledging parishioners’ sadness and anger at hearing the news, Father Mulligan’s letter urged parishioners totrust in the Holy Spirit.
“I recognize that some of you are sad, some of you are angry,” Father Mulligan wrote. “And some of you are relieved that the decision has finally been made. Please know that, whatever your emotions, the Holy Spirit is always with us to guide us through challenging times.”
In a Nov. 8 interview with the Catholic Courier, Father Mulligan also said there currently are no plans to sell the buildings.
The community also is considering a tentative consolidated Mass schedule of 4 p.m. Saturday and 7, 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday starting that same month, according to a question-and-answer sheet sent to parishioners along with Father Mulligan’s letter.
The decision to consolidate worship at the cathedral does not affect the Cathedral School at Holy Rosary, which is operated by the Monroe County Catholic School Board, according to the question-and-answer sheet. The sheet also explains that the consolidation will give the community the opportunity to grow, will allow priests and staff to be more available at Sunday Masses, and give young people the opportunity to be with more of their peers.
In August 2006, Father Mulligan had announced that the community would begin strategic planning. A task force was named a month later, and members presented the recommendation in April 2007. The community conducted four listening sessions throughout 2006, and held a July 2007 hearing at which parishioners expressed a wide range of reactions, according to parish council representatives.
Father Mulligan said the community made it clear that consolidation would be a difficult decision. He said he challenged parishioners to provide alternate solutions or to point out factors that the task force had overlooked in its analysis. No viable alternatives emerged, he said.
In August 2007, the community sent the recommendation of its task force to Bishop Matthew H. Clark, who approved the consolidation recommendation in a Nov. 5 letter to the Cathedral Community.
“There is no easy path to meet the challenges facing parishes in these difficult times, yet the good faith of all involved affords me confidence,” Bishop Clark said in the letter.
Father Mulligan said the task force made its consolidation recommendation based on several factors, including the difficulties of keeping 12 buildings running and of ensuring that all three parishes are equal in quality and resources.
“It’s very challenging to be dividing your time and talent among all three parishes all the time,” he said.
Holy Rosary parishioner Donna Fleming, who is president of the community’s pastoral council and previously served as chair for the task force, said a drop in the area’s Catholic population also figured into the consolidation decision. In making its recommendation, she said the task force looked at sacramental statistics, the number of registered parishioners and the demographics of the neighborhood.
“We also looked at finances and what’s realistic, and how long could we survive in the present configuration,” said Sacred Heart parishioner Mark Hare.
Father Mulligan said projections of priest availability did not play an immediate role in the decision to come together at a single worship site, but he noted that a future reduction in priests is a possibility. The community is served by three diocesan priests and an extern priest.
However, the pastor noted that bringing the entire community together at a consolidated worship site also could facilitate growth.
“Combining the dynamic temperaments, talents, convictions, traditions and personalities of our churches at one worship site will create a level of energy and spirit none of our three parishes has individually experienced in many years,” Father Mulligan wrote in his letter to parishioners.
He said he appointed a transition team consisting of Hare, Angie Capone, Martha Dolan, Matt Lembke, Kevin Mannara, Sally Pietrantoni, Dominic Sanzotta; pastoral council liaisons Vince Carfagna, Carla Palumbo and Jim Pegoni; Joan Workmaster, representing the worship committee; and Rose Davis and Father Mulligan, representing the staff.
“(The team) represents people (whose positions range) from ‘I’m never going to go to the cathedral,’ to ‘This is a great idea,’ to everywhere in the middle,” Fleming said.
Although Holy Rosary and Most Precious Blood will not be used for liturgies, Father Mulligan said the hope is that they could still be used for ministry.
“Especially in the Holy Rosary listening sessions, people were very strongly committed to neighborhood outreach, and we want to maintain that,” he said. “We could possibly have an outreach center there, and also we are having conversations about services for senior citizens.”
The transition team intends for the Cathedral Community to stay active in the areas where it is currently active, Palumbo said.
This December, the parishes will begin meeting to discuss the transition and plan upcoming social events.
“There are plans to do a history/ listening session as part of Advent to be a gathering of our stories and traditions,” Palumbo said.
Parish Advent celebrations will focus on journeying, and the traditional Christmas Mass schedule will be maintained, Father Mulligan said.
In January, parishioners will share their church histories. Founded in 1889, Holy Rosary was the 15th Catholic church established in the city. Most Precious Blood began as a mission parish founded by the Society of the Precious Blood in 1930.
Also during January, parishioners will choose sacred and special objects from Holy Rosary and Most Precious Blood churches to be taken to the cathedral. Palumbo said a likely candidate for transfer to the cathedral might be the portrait of Precious Blood Father Sebastian Contegiacomo, who served as pastor of Most Precious Blood from 1937 to 1969.
In February, a Lenten retreat and a prayer labyrinth also will focus on the transition. In the spring, the parishes will complete histories, and could make a DVD of them, Hare said.
Farewell liturgies, which Father Mulligan said will include a celebration of each parish’s history, are planned for March, and the parishes will come together as one to celebrate Holy Week and Easter.
But the question remains as to whether all parishioners will make the trek to the cathedral or decide to join other parishes. Fleming said that the transition team hopes that the community will stay together for worship, but she acknowledged that individuals will have to make their own decisions.
“We have great faith that the Holy Spirit is going to lead and guide us,” she said.