Did you know there once were diocesan Catholic churches in Sandy Hill, Cameron Mills, Summerville and Grand View Beach?
Indeed there were, but they’ve been closed for many years. Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Sandy Hill closed in 1879, St. William Church in Cameron Mills closed in 1903, St. George on the Lake in Summerville closed in 1962, and Star of the Sea Church in Grand View Beach closed in 1964.
Churches have been closing for nearly as long as the Diocese of Rochester has been in existence, according to Karen Rinefierd, diocesan pastoral-planning liaison. The diocese was established in 1868 with 64 churches, but since then at least 67 churches have closed, according to information provided by Rinefierd. At least 23 of these churches were mission churches, which are smaller churches staffed by the pastoral leaders of larger, neighboring churches.
“There have been closings really consistently. I probably wouldn’t have thought in the 1970s we’d have closed churches, but we did,” Rinefierd said. “It’s just that for those of us being impacted by it, it feels new because it’s the first time we’ve faced it.”
The number of parishes has fluctuated throughout the diocese’s 141-year history. In 1953 that number peaked at 181 parishes, and the number has risen and fallen several times since, according to information provided by Rinefierd and fellow pastoral-planning liaison Deborah Housel. The diocese currently comprises 136 parishes, but the definition of a parish today is different than it was in the 1950s. Today it’s not uncommon for several parishes to work together through the pastoral-planning process, forming a cluster and eventually a single new parish, sometimes with several different worship sites.
“Really ever since 2002 we’ve had single parishes with multiple worship sites,” Rinefierd said.
One of the first churches in the Rochester Diocese to close was St. Mary in Greenwood, a Steuben County mission church that ceased operating in 1869. At least eight more mission churches were closed by 1910, followed by another six churches — four of them mission churches — by 1950.
Five churches closed during the 1960s, followed by five more in the 1970s and four each during the 1980s and 1990s. Four of those 18 churches had been mission churches, which often are located in outlying areas. Some of the churches probably closed because the populations in their areas had dwindled, Rinefierd said.
“In the past I would assume (closings) were driven almost completely by population shifts,” she said.
Although churches have been closing for years, the pace does seem to have picked up in recent years. Since 2000, 25 churches either closed or are in the process of closing, according to Rinefierd. The location of the closed or closing churches also has changed, she noted. In the past, most of the churches that closed were located either in urban areas in Rochester and the smaller cities within the diocese, or in rural areas.
That’s not necessarily true anymore, as evidenced by recommended closings in Irondequoit and Greece. For many years Rochester’s suburbs were considered areas of growth, Rinefierd said. During the 1950s and 1960s alone, 14 new churches were built in the suburbs — four were in Greece, two each in Brighton and Webster, and one each in Irondequoit, Henrietta, Fairport, Penfield, Gates and North Chili.
Population shifts are still driving many closings, as well as limited financial resources and priest availability, Rinefierd said.
“I think now the suburbs are changing in terms of poorer people moving in, an aging population and less financial resources, and also the economy has hit,” she said. “That hits people no matter where you’re living in the Rochester area.”