ROCHESTER — Andrew’s Center, parish food cupboard, St. Vincent DePaul Society.
Altar Rosary Society, Mothers’ Club, Holy Name Society.
Life Teen, Scouting, CYO sports, St. Andrew School.
Liturgical ministers. Festival, coffee-hour and bingo volunteers.
Committees for liturgy, finance, parish council and social ministry. Volunteers for RCIA, sacramental preparation and faith formation.
The longer Father Robert Werth spent beckoning folks from these and many other ministries to stand and be honored, the greater a sense was conveyed of how deeply St. Andrew Parish has impacted the city’s northeast side for nearly a century.
"From 1914 to 2011 you have done a great, great job building God’s kingdom," declared Father Werth, assisting priest at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish, of which St. Andrew is a part.
This powerful tribute, making up several minutes of his homily, highlighted an emotional two-hour Mass on Sept. 4. The afternoon liturgy served as a farewell celebration in light of St. Andrew’s imminent closing in a reorganization of area churches. Approximately 450 people attended, and several clergy with St. Andrew ties joined celebrant Father Mickey McGrath, the parish’s other assisting priest, on the altar.
Prior to honoring St. Andrew’s various staff and ministries, Father Werth invited congregants to stand up if they’d ever received sacraments at St. Andrew, attended the parish school or been called to religious life from there. This round of recognition kept Mercy Sister Roberta Rodenhouse, for one, on her feet quite a bit, since she received first Communion, first reconciliation and confirmation at St. Andrew, graduated from the school and entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1957.
"I have so many wonderful memories of this church. I’m sure that’s where my vocation came from," Sister Rodenhouse said. "You just have to savor these times, you just have to hold them in your heart."
Creation of such memories began when St. Andrew’s original church and school were opened in 1914. The current church, at 923 Portland Ave., was dedicated in 1927.
School enrollment topped 900 in the early 1960s, but the ensuing decades saw a downward trend that led to the school’s closing in 2008. Now the church — along with many other east side parishes in recent years — has met a similar fate due to declining Mass attendance, finances and priestly support. St. Andrew’s closing will leave St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish with three churches: St. Michael, 869 N. Clinton Ave.; Church of the Annunciation, 1754 Norton St.; and Our Lady of the Americas, 864 E. Main St.
Deacon David Palma, pastoral administrator for the first-year parish, noted that Sunday Masses have not yet ceased at St. Andrew, but there is a buyer for the property and thus the parish wanted to plan a celebration before a sale is completed, "which could be occurring very soon" he said.
But rather than dwell on these sad realities, the Sept. 4 Mass — which was followed immediately by Father Werth sprinkling holy water on the church’s outdoor steps and a dove being released — served as a tribute to St. Andrew’s glorious past. Deacon Joseph Placious, a native St. Andrew parishioner, emphasized during his poignant opening reflections the need to "remember the good times. I hope that you leave today with happy thoughts."
Those kinds of thoughts came easily to Sister Rodenhouse, who said the energy and vitality of the St. Andrew community was obvious on Sept. 4 and had been there for as long as she could remember.
"You can be gone for many years. The faces are different, but the spirit is still the same," she said.
Meanwhile, Deacon Placious pointed out that St. Andrew members’ longstanding priority on community outreach still resonates in the wider community to this day.
"The ministries were created out of a love for their people, out of a love for their Lord," he said.