Churches plan amid diversity - Catholic Courier

Churches plan amid diversity

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in an occasional series on how Southern Tier parishes are dealing with challenges brought on by consolidation.

With its mix of rural, urban and collegiate faith communities, diversity is a chief characteristic of the Tompkins Planning Group.

The group strives to spread its resources among two city parishes; two sizable campus ministries at Cornell University and Ithaca College; and three parishes to the north. Throw into the mix numerous health-care facilities, a county jail and group homes for boys and girls, and there are “a lot of demands for ministry,” said Karen Rinefierd, diocesan liaison for the Tompkins group.

Fewer priests will be available to meet those demands in the years to come, however. That reality is especially being felt by the parishes of St. Anthony, Groton; Holy Cross, Dryden; and All Saints, Lansing. In 2005 the trio became a cluster under which one full-time priest serves three churches, which also share staff and programming. The Tompkins pastoral plan calls for St. Anthony, Holy Cross and All Saints eventually to become a single parish sharing all staff, finances and parish pastoral councils. Rinefierd said the timetable for that step will hinge on how well the clustering process proceeds.

As it stands, those three churches have a total of five weekend Masses — two each at St. Anthony and Holy Cross, and one at All Saints — but don’t anticipate having the resources to support for that many liturgies in the future.

“This puts a lot of pressure on priests and staff,” Rinefierd said.

That’s why the cluster is working toward reducing its schedule from five Sunday Masses to three, to allow Father Scott Kubinski to cut down on his traveling and spend more time at each site.

“I find it difficult to be an effective pastor when I’m not present on a regular basis, meaning almost every weekend,” Father Kubinski wrote in a recent bulletin column for All Saints. “I feel the need to change that.”

“You can’t run this person ragged. It may be fine to drive 10 miles in July, but not always in February,” said Linda Bonavia, a St. Anthony parishioner who also serves as cochair of the Tompkins planning group. The other chair is Father Daniel McMullin.

Thus far, collaboration in Groton, Dryden and Lansing seems to be proceeding smoothly. Sacramental programs, youth events and council meetings have been blended in recent years; in addition, an outdoor Mass and picnic was well-attended by all three faith communities when the cluster was launched in 2005. Bonavia also noted that the three parish bulletins recently were combined into one. “It’s not a big thing, but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.

Still, she acknowledged, consolidation does not come easily: “You’re never going make everybody happy. We’ve come to accept that a lot of people naturally would like life to be the same as 20 years ago, but that’s not going to happen.”

However, Bonavia emphasized that the planning council is not looking to close either St. Anthony, Holy Cross or All Saints.

“Each of those churches is a viable community. In every small town there’s a lot of loyalty and investment by the people,” she said.

In fact, population is on the rise in All Saints Parish — so much so that a new, larger church opened there earlier this year. Bishop Matthew H. Clark is scheduled to officiate at the church’s dedication Mass on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 3 p.m.

The planning group’s other two Catholic parishes are Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception, which is the site of the only Catholic school in Tompkins County; and Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena. Each has a full-time pastor — Father Leo Reinhardt at Immaculate Conception and Father Michael Mahler at St. Catherine. Because of the churches’ large sizes, Rinefierd and Bonavia said the pastoral plan doesn’t call for significant changes at either church in the immediate future.

Rounding out the planning group’s faith communities are the campus ministries of Cornell University and Ithaca College. Father McMullin, a diocesan priest, is director of Cornell Catholic Community. Father Carsten Martensen, a Jesuit priest, is in his first year as director of Ithaca College’s campus ministry.

The remaining Catholic parish in Tompkins County, St. James in Trumansburg, is a part of the South Seneca planning group, which also includes Holy Cross in Ovid and St. Francis Solanus in Interlaken. Those three churches have been staffed by Capuchin Franciscan priests for many years.

Bonavia noted that all faith communities in the Tompkins group have benefitted from sacramental support from extern priests, retired priests and college priest chaplains. But she emphasized that the pastoral plan addresses the need to be ready if these resources dwindle.

“The goal is not to depend on something that we may not always have,” she said.

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