On Aug. 6, more than 360 people gathered at Conquest Recreational Park with Bishop Matthew H. Clark to celebrate newfound unity.
An inauguration Mass and picnic was held at the park to celebrate Our Lady of the Snow Parish’s first year of existence. The parish was officially formed July 7, 2005, with the merging of St. Joseph Parish in Weedsport, St. John Parish in Port Byron and St. Patrick Parish in Cato.
The parishes — formerly known as the Northern Cayuga Cluster — had been clustered since the 1980s and had traditionally celebrated a cluster picnic the first weekend in August, said Kathleen Timerson, parish secretary. This year, parish officials decided to combine the annual picnic with an inauguration Mass to create a daylong celebration, she said.
“It was to kind of (make official) the fact that now we are legally one parish. The feast of Our Lady of the Snow is Aug. 5, so this kind of really tied everything together beautifully,” Timerson said. “It turned out to be a beautiful celebration, and everyone was in good spirits.”
The weather was beautiful and sunny that day, and the Mass and picnic drew a much larger crowd than organizers had expected, she added. Volunteers had set up in the pavilion about 300 chairs for the Mass, and had to quickly set up several dozen more to accommodate the crowd, she said.
Fran Lowther was one of about 15 or 20 volunteers responsible for setting up the pavilion. The night before the Mass and picnic, the volunteers loaded chairs, tables, a spare altar and some other supplies onto three trucks, he said. On the morning of the celebration, they arrived at the park at 7 to unload the trucks, move picnic tables out of the pavilion and set up the chairs and altar for the Mass.
“By 9 we were ready to go,” said Lowther, who also served as an usher at the Mass and welcomed Bishop Clark to the pavilion. After the Mass, the volunteers loaded up the trucks and moved tables back into the pavilion for the picnic.
“It was an excellent day. The weather cooperated, we had a great turnout and it was very enjoyable,” Lowther said of the celebration.
The inauguration Mass was the first outdoor Mass parishioner Shawn Harrington had ever attended. Harrington’s 8-year-old daughter, Kylee, was one of eight young liturgical dancers who participated in the Mass. The Mass was beautiful, Harrington said, and Kylee loved being a part of it.
Bishop Clark’s presence was another highlight of the event, Timerson noted.
“He commented on how we worked hard to get to this point. That made it really nice, and all the parishioners enjoyed having him there and being able to speak with him,” she said.
Father Eloo Malachy Nwosu, pastor, said the bishop’s presence was a symbol of the fullness of the church and the connection between the local and diocesan church. He was pleased Bishop Clark stayed for much of the picnic and was able to interact with the parish community, he added.
Father Nwosu also was pleased by the turnout at the celebration. Several former parishioners who’d moved away returned for the festivities, and several Auburn parishioners and visiting vacationers came to the Mass and picnic as well, he said. The majority of the participants, however, were current Our Lady of the Snow parishioners hailing from all three former parishes.
“It’s a breakthrough to have the celebration and be united. It wasn’t like that before. We’re getting there, and we’re talking as one community,” Father Nwosu said.
The three former parish communities had been used to working together because they were clustered for so long, Timerson said. Thus, parishioners didn’t see many physical changes when they merged to form Our Lady of the Snow. The Mass schedule — one weekend Mass at each church — didn’t change, and the former parishes had shared a pastor, cluster council and religious-education program for several years, she said.
On the surface, the merger mostly affected the way the office staff kept financial and sacramental records, Timerson added. Parishioners also may have noticed several cosmetic changes, such as the new Our Lady of the Snow logo that replaced the Northern Cayuga Cluster logo on bulletins and parish correspondence.
One of the more subtle changes is the parishioners’ openness to attending Mass at any of the parish’s three worship sites, she added.
“It’s kind of based on Mass time moare than location for a lot of people,” Timerson said.
Parishioners also seem more willing to attend functions held at any of the worship sites, rather than just the one they’re used to attending. Harrington and her family, for example, usually attend the weekend liturgy at the Cato worship site, but in July they attended the parish’s Italian Festival, which was held at the Port Byron worship site.
“We’re all one, so you try to learn who your neighbors are. You try to go to the different churches and to do things,” Harrington said. “Everyone tries to support each other.”
June Welling, who has attended Mass at St. Patrick Church in Cato for years, said the merger was something she and other parishioners knew they had to do. She was glad to see such a large, diverse group of parishioners at the Mass and picnic.
“The majority of the people are very accepting of the fact that now we’re one parish,” Timerson said. “The longer we are one and the more we work together, the easier it will be for other people to join with us in feeling like this.”