With the recent formation of two new clusters in Elmira, the trend toward multichurch configurations continues to spread across the Southern Tier.
In late June, Father Jeremiah Moynihan (St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo/Our Lady of Lourdes) and Father Walter Wainwright (St. Anthony/St. Patrick/Ss. Peter and Paul) assumed administration of three parishes each. They are being assisted by a new parochial vicar to the area, Jesuit Father Thomas O’Brien. The three priests are covering a total of nine weekend Masses among the six churches.
Clustering occurs when one full-time priest is assigned to serve two or more parishes. The affected parishes also enter into collaboration in staffing, programs and events. The Elmira clusters are outgrowths of the diocesan pastoral-planning process, begun in the late 1990s to address the ongoing priest shortage. Planning is undertaken by parish and regional groups, with final plans ultimately submitted for approval by Bishop Matthew H. Clark. Campus, health-care and prison ministries also are factored into the process.
The Elmira clusters are based on a plan finalized in November 2005 by the Chemung-Schuyler Regional Council planning group and affirmed by Bishop Clark in early January. According to the plan, each cluster will eventually become a single parish, with merged staffs, finances and parish pastoral councils.
Other areas of the Tier already to have employed such a model are Steuben County’s Our Lady of the Valley (2004), Holy Family (2004) and All Saints (2001), as well as Tioga County’s Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick (2003). Though all church buildings in these communities are still called by their original names, the previous parish identities have been dropped.
These arrangements often result in the need for fewer church buildings. For instance, St. Patrick Church in Corning closed in 2001, a few months after it became part of All Saints Parish. In western Steuben County, St. Joachim and St. Ignatius Loyola both dropped Sunday Masses upon becoming Our Lady of the Valley Parish in 2004. And, by 2008, Holy Family Parish in Steuben anticipates eliminating Sunday Masses at two of its four church buildings, as priest availability there drops from two to one.
In addition to assigning a single priest to multichurch communities, pastoral planning also has brought about greater reliance on pastoral administrators (non-priest parish leaders), extern priests (those from other dioceses) and retired priests serving as sacramental ministers.
Changes have come quickly in the past five years, with approximately two-thirds of all Tier parishes having reconfigured during that time and two churches closing. Karen Rinefierd and Deborah Housel, diocesan pastoral-planning liaisons, said such changes are being made with substantial local input.
“Overall in most of the Southern Tier, with some exceptions, the leaders know what’s happening with parish structuring over the next 10 years,” Rinefierd said.
Rinefierd stressed that parishes need to make honest assessments of key factors such as population, Mass attendance and financial health, and move accordingly so they can provide better ministry.
“Sometimes finances alone will drive changes,” she said.
Pastoral planning also extends to buildings other than churches. According to Housel, the parish house at the former St. Joachim in Canisteo is slated for demolition, and the church hall is for sale. And in Holy Family Parish, the former St. Joseph’s School in Wayland is badly in need of repairs, forcing religious-education classes to relocate to Sacred Heart in Perkinsville.
As these challenging decisions are made, Housel and Rinefierd applaud local communities on their level of involvement.
“There are very active lay people. They’re doing the work,” Housel said. She added that parishioners participating in the planning process “look at it beyond just being their Catholic Church. They’re ecumenical and look at their viability to the community, working with agencies.” As an example of such interactions, she and Rinefierd pointed to parishes’ strong teamwork with Catholic Charities offices across the Tier.
Rinefierd observed that another positive development took place in 2004, when three Sisters of St. Joseph moved to Holy Family Parish where they have instituted a variety of ministries. Rinefierd said that this development was not part of the original pastoral plan.
“They’ve brought a whole new level of pastoral care. Every now and then, we get a happy surprise,” she remarked.
Planning produces many changes in recent years
Significant restructuring of Southern Tier parishes has occurred since the Rochester Diocese began its pastoral-planning process. Here are some of the more notable parish developments from recent history:
* 2005 — St. Joachim Church, Canisteo, closes. The building is acquired by Steuben County Rural Ministry.
* 2004 — Holy Family Catholic Community becomes a single parish made up of the faith communities of Sacred Heart, Perkinsville; St. Joseph, Wayland; St. Mary, Dansville; and St. Pius V, Cohocton. Those four churches had been clustered since 1998.
* 2004 — Our Lady of the Valley Parish forms, with Sunday Masses eliminated at St. Joachim and St. Ignatius Loyola, Hornell. Sunday Masses remain at St. Ann, Hornell, and St. Mary, Rexville. The four churches had originally clustered in 1999 and were known as the Roman Catholic Faith Community of the Canisteo Valley.
* 2003 — St. Mary in Bath is appointed its first pastoral administrator.
* 2001 — St. Patrick Church in Corning closes.
* 2001 — All Saints Parish forms, combining Immaculate Heart of Mary, Painted Post; and St. Patrick, St Vincent de Paul and St. Mary, all in Corning. The churches were first clustered in 1990 and known as the Corning-Painted Post Roman Catholic Community.
* 2000 — Corning-Painted Post is appointed its first pastoral administrator.
* 1994 — St. Gabriel in Hammondsport becomes the first parish in the Rochester Diocese to be appointed a pastoral administrator.
* 1991 — The pastorate of St. Catherine of Siena, Addison, is added to that of St. Joseph, Campbell, and St. Stanislaus, Bradford, forming what is now commonly known as the “A-B-C” parishes.
* 2006 — Elmira’s St. Anthony/St. Patrick clusters with Ss. Peter and Paul, and Elmira’s St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo does likewise with Our Lady of Lourdes. These developments leave Elmira’s St. Mary Southside and Horseheads’ St. Mary Our Mother as the county’s only unclustered parishes.
* 1998 — Elmira’s St. John the Baptist and St. Cecilia churches close. They had been clustered since 1990 with Ss. Peter and Paul, forming what was known as Eastside Catholic Parish.
* 1994 — St. Anthony/St. Patrick and St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo each form first-time clusters.
* 2003 — Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes form. Blessed Trinity encompasses St. James, Waverly; St. Pius X, Van Etten; St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin; St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; and St. Francis, Catatonk. A sixth church, St. Patrick in Owego, is due to eventually become part of Blessed Trinity, but will remain separate until sexual-abuse lawsuits involving Albert H. Cason, a former pastor of St. Patrick, are resolved.
* 2005 — All Saints, Lansing, St. Anthony, Groton, and Holy Cross, Dryden, form a three-parish cluster. Immaculate Conception, Ithaca, St. Catherine of Siena, Ithaca, and St. James, Trumansburg, remain unclustered.
* 2005 — The chaplaincy of Ithaca College is added to the pastorate of St. Catherine of Siena, Ithaca.
* 1994 — Capuchin Franciscan priests begin staffing St. James, Trumansburg.
* 1989 — St. Mary of the Lake, Watkins Glen, and St. Benedict, Odessa become a cluster, forming what will come to be known as Schuyler Catholic Community.