Closing Mass at Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier honors past, eyes future - Catholic Courier

Closing Mass at Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier honors past, eyes future

ROCHESTER — In the 1940s and 1950s, Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier Church was so crowded on Sundays that folding chairs had to be set up. Organ music accompanied the weekday Masses, and Bishop James E. Kearney presided annually at nine-day novenas to the parish’s patron saint.

Toni Ferrera, a longtime Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier parishioner, shared these and other pleasant memories with the congregation on Oct. 11. Given that the 4 p.m. Mass marked the final liturgy in the church’s history, it was a most fitting time for a nostalgia trip.

“Today we are not closing a parish. We are simply closing a church building — because everything you remember of your youth, the times of your past, lives on in your hearts,” Father Vincent Panepinto, pastor of Church of Our Lady of the Americas Parish, told the approximately 250 people in attendance.

The closing Mass came one week after a similar liturgy at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, as Church of Our Lady of the Americas completes its evolution from three worship sites into just one. This consolidation stems from a decision earlier this year by the parish pastoral council to designate Corpus Christi Church as the sole remaining worship space, based on repair and upkeep costs facing the church properties.

As the final Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier liturgy ended, Father Panepinto removed the relics from the historic marble altar, which had formerly graced the sanctuaries of St. Patrick and Sacred Heart cathedrals. That altar will now be transferred to Corpus Christi, and the relics will be reinserted in the altar — along with relics from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Corpus Christi — during a ceremony to take place later this fall. Such plans reflect Church of Our Lady of the Americas’ ongoing effort to highlight each church’s history; many statues and other sacred objects from Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel also will remain on permanent display at Corpus Christi.

Also due to continue are the many vital ministries from each of the three churches, even though several buildings on their campuses are being sold along with Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel churches. Father Panepinto said Oct. 11 that details are still being worked out on where the ministries will be relocated.

St. Francis Xavier, located on Bay Street between Portland Avenue and Goodman Street, was founded in 1888 by German immigrants who settled in northeastern Rochester. In 1985 it became known as Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier Parish, due to the closing of Holy Redeemer Church on Hudson Avenue. In 2005, it was clustered with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Corpus Christi, forming Community of the Blessed Trinity. That cluster became a single parish, Our Lady of the Americas, in December 2007. Masses were rotated among the three churches during the past year.

Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel are among nine churches that have closed in the City of Rochester since May 2006. The others are Holy Family, Holy Rosary and Most Precious Blood, all this year; St. Anthony of Padua in 2007; and Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Augustine and Ss. Peter and Paul in 2006.

By and large, these churches had thrived for many years due to the large waves of ethnic Catholics moving to Rochester. For instance, Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier was buoyed by Germans and later Italians.

“There aren’t many of us (European immigrant families) left now,” Ferrera remarked to the Catholic Courier, adding that parishioners knew that church closings were “inevitable.”

Several times during the Oct. 11 Mass, Father Panepinto emphasized the need for the Church of Our Lady of the Americas community to remain intact. Ferrera pointed out that her childhood church has successfully adapted in recent decades, accommodating former parishioners of Holy Redeemer as well as a growing Hispanic population. Therefore, she said, the move over to Corpus Christi should be considered the latest step in this process.

“St. Francis has never regressed. We’ve always moved on,” she said.

And yet, knowing that they wouldn’t get another chance, a number of people lingered inside Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier Church after Mass concluded on Oct. 11. They took photographs and pointed at the structure’s many impressive components — the pipe organ, the stained-glass windows, paintings on the walls depicting the lives of Christ, Mary and St. Francis Xavier — reflecting, one more time, on an era now officially ended.

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