Catholic churches in Elmira combine into one parish
As the latest in a series of consolidations dating back to the early 1980s, all three of Elmira’s Catholic parishes will transition into a single citywide parish effective July 1.
The new parish, involving six churches in all, will be known as Most Holy Name of Jesus.
This development comes one year after the parishes of Blessed Sacrament (Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Patrick churches), Christ the Redeemer (St. Casimir, St. Charles Borromeo and Our Lady of Lourdes churches) and St. Mary Southside became clustered — a process by which multiple parishes share priests and staff members. Now, as a single parish, all priests, staff, councils as well as finances will be shared.
All six church buildings will retain their original names, but the parish titles of Christ the Redeemer and Blessed Sacrament will cease to exist. Priest staffing established with the 2017 cluster will remain unchanged: Father Scott Kubinski will serve as pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus; Father Rick Farrell will be the parochial vicar; and senior priests Fathers John DeSocio, Robert MacNamara and Walter Wainwright will provide sacramental support based on their availability.
Father Kubinski told the Catholic Courier that he foresees fewer obvious changes with formation of the new parish than occurred through clustering a year ago. At that time, due largely to a reduction from three to two full-time priests in Elmira, total weekend Masses were reduced from 10 to seven — two at St. Mary, two at St. Patrick, and one each at Our Lady of Lourdes, Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Casimir. St. Charles Borromeo, located in the Village of Elmira Heights to the city’s immediate north, no longer has a weekend liturgy, although the church is still used for weekday Masses, funerals, weddings and special events.
“That’s what affects people overall the most,“ Father Kubinski said of the 2017 liturgical scheduling changes, which also included a reduction in daily-Mass offerings. However, he said no further rescheduling of liturgies is expected at this time.
The revamped schedule also was driven by declining attendance and revenue. A March 2017 article in the parishes’ combined bulletin stated that between 2012 and 2016, the average number of people attending weekend Masses at Elmira’s six churches fell from 2,404 to 2,019 — a drop of 16 percent.
“Numbers dictate how you’re going to play it out, and the numbers dictate that we as a church are getting smaller and smaller,” remarked Bill McCarthy, a longtime St. Mary parishioner, who has served during the past year on a clusterwide parish council leading into the establishment of Most Holy Name of Jesus.
The reality of declining numbers also applies to priest availability, McCarthy added. A new full-time priest had been hoped for when Father DeSocio, former pastor of St. Mary, reached senior status in 2017, McCarthy said, but he realized “that wasn’t in the cards” upon learning that a shrinking number of active priests in the Diocese of Rochester has necessitated adjustments in other parishes as well.
“Not that you take away the emotion, but you have to look at the facts,” said another cluster parish-council member, Philomena Mrkus, former parish-council chair for Blessed Sacrament. A member of St. Anthony Church until it closed in 2008, Mrkus observed that Catholic churches in Elmira have experienced previous changes, so the most recent restructuring has come as little surprise.
“The majority of us have been through it,” she said.
Father Kubinski, who grew up in St. Casimir Parish in the 1960s, remarked that in previous generations in Elmira, “there were nine churches that were very active and almost every one had a school.” But he said that a declining city population — the result of an ailing economy and fewer employment opportunities — has factored into parish reconfigurations and the closing of several Catholic schools.
The blending of all Elmira parishes into one is an outgrowth of meetings and surveys in recent years involving parish leaders, staff members, finance and pastoral councils as well as parishioners working in conjunction with diocesan planning officials. Father Kubinski, McCarthy and Mrkus all credited Karen Rinefierd, diocesan planning specialist, for lending strong guidance throughout the process. During that stretch, Father Kubinski said, a conscious effort was made to keep parishioners in the loop via bulletin announcements and “town hall” meetings.
“We’ve tried to be transparent on things. Early on, we were pretty upfront,” he noted, adding that parishioner input has been sought not only regarding the consolidation, but also on designing a new parish logo and giving feedback on possible new parish names to present to Bishop Salvatore R. Matano for a final decision.
“Not everybody’s happy, but the vast majority of parishioners are willing to adjust. And some of them have embraced it,” Father Kubinski said of the merger process.
In fact, Mrkus said she’s seeing positive results from the pooling of resources, particularly in the areas of ministries and social opportunities for folks of all ages.
“I look at the bulletin now and there’s just such life, so many things going on,” she said.
Meanwhile, McCarthy — whose church of St. Mary Southside is Elmira’s only Catholic church south of the Chemung River — detects a gradual loosening of territorial preferences among local Catholics.
“We’re seeing now where people feel better about crossing bridges and going into different buildings,” he said.