CORNING — In the wake of a structural mishap on June 30, a century-plus history of worship at St. Vincent de Paul Church has come to an abrupt end.
Toward the end of the 5:30 p.m. Saturday Mass that day, a heavy board fell from the ceiling, landing between two people who were praying. Although nobody was hurt, due to the potential for more falling boards to cause serious injury, the 9 a.m. liturgy scheduled for the following day at St. Vincent de Paul was moved to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Painted Post — which does not have regular weekend Masses — at 9:30. Both churches, along with St. Mary in Corning, make up All Saints Parish.
In a July 5 letter to parishioners, Father Matthew Jones — who had begun as All Saints’ parochial administrator just four days before the ceiling incident — said Sean Moran, diocesan director of buildings and grounds, inspected the church July 1 and observed that the ceiling boards had most likely loosened because of warping from high humidity and heat, leaving the building unsafe for use. As a result, Father Jones announced that he had decided to permanently discontinue Masses at St. Vincent de Paul effective immediately.
In his letter, Father Jones pointed out that St. Vincent de Paul already had been slated for closure. He noted that once funding has been secured, Providence Housing Development Corp., an affiliate of diocesan Catholic Charities, has contracted to take a lead role in redeveloping the property to include apartments, a community center and an art gallery. Therefore, Father Jones wrote, it would not make sense for the parish to invest in repairs at this time.
All weekend Masses at All Saints Parish are now taking place at St. Mary Church, with the number of liturgies having been reduced from five to four. On Saturdays beginning Aug. 4, Masses will be offered at 5 p.m., taking the place of St. Mary’s 4 p.m. liturgy and the 5:30 p.m. liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul. In addition, the former 9 a.m. Mass at St. Vincent de Paul has been moved to St. Mary, where the 7 and 11:30 a.m. Sunday Masses remain unchanged.
Weekday liturgies will continue to be celebrated at Immaculate Heart of Mary, although that church also is up for sale consistent with a plan for St. Mary to become All Saints’ only worship site. Thus, the current reshuffling of weekend Masses simply speeds up a process that already was anticipated, Father Jones told the Catholic Courier.
“We’ve known this day was coming,” he said. “No one has come up and said they’re surprised, although there’s a state of sadness.”
St. Vincent de Paul Church was founded in 1913 to serve Catholics on the north side of Corning. Its first building, at the corner of Flint Avenue and Ellicott Street, was dedicated in 1914, and the current structure, at 222 Dodge Ave., was dedicated in 1955.
Mike Graham is familiar with both buildings, having been a member of St. Vincent de Paul for all of his 73 years. He said the church thrived in an earlier generation when many more priests were available, but that a consolidated parish is more practical in this day and age.
“Sure, we’re all sad to see (St. Vincent de Paul) go, but this is what’s needed,” said Graham, a trustee for All Saints Parish.
In fact, Mary Lou Fawcett, who served as a sacristan at St. Vincent de Paul, said the near-disaster of June 30 could even be regarded as a wake-up call from above.
“We took that as a sign from God that (consolidation) had to happen now,” she said.
Father Jones said a closing ceremony for St. Vincent de Paul has been set for Sept. 15, beginning at 2:30 p.m. on the St. Vincent lawn with a prayer service/reception and ending with 5 p.m. Mass at St. Mary. Father Jones added that a new parking lot will likely be added at St. Mary and that he’s in constant touch with members of the parish community, striving to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“Clear and frequent communication is necessary,” he said.
Father Jones, who was ordained in 2015, acknowledged that he’s had a hectic start to his first administrative position. “I think this is the worst of it. Closing a church is every priest’s worst nightmare,” he said, adding that the load has been eased by the many people willing to be of service. Fawcett, for instance, was already assisting as a sacristan at St. Mary during the 4 p.m. Mass on July 14.
“Our people have been working so well together,” Father Jones remarked.
“Many people have said, ‘What can I do to help?’” said Kathy Warner, All Saints’ business manager. “Everybody has been just wonderful.”