St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua joined with St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield in late June to form the new St. Benedict Parish.
The merger was the culmination of 12 years of cooperation between the two parishes, noted Father Thomas Mull, pastor of the new parish. When Father Mull became pastor at St. Mary in 2000, he began collaborating with Sister Diane Dennie, SSJ, who was pastoral administrator at St. Bridget/St. Joseph. The two parishes worked together informally until 2007, when they clustered under Father Mull’s pastoral leadership.
"Within the last five years we have combined our pastoral council, our liturgy committee, our parish life committee. We have been sharing buildings," Father Mull said. "In the last year and a half to two years we’ve really been considered more as one since everything we do has been together."
The two parishes officially merged with a June 21 decree from Bishop Matthew H. Clark, and the transition went relatively smoothly, according to Father Mull. When parishioners first heard the two parishes eventually would combine, they wondered whether the church buildings would be closed and what the new parish would be like. Father Mull and his staff made sure to keep open lines of communication with parishioners and held town meetings to address these concerns. They assured parishioners that both churches would remain open as long as there were enough priests in the area to cover the sacramental needs at both sites.
"Once we answered the questions and went along, there’s been a sort of confidence that develops," Father Mull said.
Even before talk of a merger surfaced, there were quite a few connections between parishioners in Canandaigua and their counterparts in East Bloomfield, he added. Many people who live in the Bloomfield area come to Canandaigua to do their shopping, while people who live in Canandaigua sometimes go the Bloomfield area to participate in outdoor recreational activities.
"There’s a lot of connection-sharing people have been doing outside of church. We have tremendous cooperation," Father Mull said.
Parishioners from both worship sites also have a lot of common traits, noted Jean Mercandetti, president of St. Benedict’s pastoral council and a teacher at St. Mary School in Canandaigua. Parishioners from both St. Bridget/St. Joseph and St. Mary are hardworking people who are proud of their respective communities and are eager to serve the Lord however they can, she said.
"We have faith in God, and that’s what brings us together. I personally believe that it doesn’t matter what the name of the (worship) site is, or where the site is. We’re here to worship God. If we remember that we’re here to worship and serve the Lord, I think everything should fall into place," Mercandetti said.
Many parishioners are excited about the opportunities they’ll have for further cooperation now that the East Bloomfield and Canandaigua parishes have merged, added parishioner Jim Weisbeck, who chairs the Northwest Ontario Planning Group, of which St. Benedict is a part. Now that they’ve become one, parishioners from both St. Mary and St. Bridget/St. Joseph will have more resources — both in terms of finances and volunteers — and will be able to offer more ministries and services, said Weisbeck, who also is executive director of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester.
"It does ensure viability more," he said, noting that members of both former parishes already have begun working together on joint fundraisers.
Many parishioners from St. Bridget/St. Joseph also are excited to now belong to a parish that has a school, he said. Each church building has retained its original name, and many parishioners will continue to identify with their original churches, but quite a few parishioners are comfortable attending Mass at either church, Weisbeck added.
"People have accepted the changes, I think. Really it’s been a gradual process," Mercandetti said.
The combined parish is planning a few things to help parishioners come together, including the production of a new parish pictorial directory and a new parish census. A Unity Mass also has been scheduled for Sept. 16 at St. Bridget Church, she said.
"We will light a unity candle, signifying our light together," Mercandetti said.
The parish also plans to purchase new icons of St. Benedict to be installed in each worship site, as well as at the school, Father Mull said.
"We’re looking forward to a great future as St. Benedict Parish," Weisbeck remarked.