Rochester parishes merge to form Our Lady of the Angels - Catholic Courier

Rochester parishes merge to form Our Lady of the Angels

ROCHESTER — The merger of St. Michael and Our Lady of Perpetual Help churches has some parishioners still adjusting to changes, but officials said the approximately four-year process is helping to bring them together.

Although Bishop Matthew H. Clark decreed a year ago that the two churches were now Our Lady of the Angels Parish, it took the intervening time for people to become familiar with the change, and stationery and bulletins did not reflect the changeover until last fall, said Deacon Daniel Hurley, the parish’s pastoral administrator.

Deacon Hurley said parishioners have helped with the difficult tasks of scaling back the parishes’ various groups to form one parish council, one finance council, one religious-education program and one youth group.

"That’s the first step to putting everything together to create one parish with two sites," he said.

After months of struggling to develop a list of name options for the new parish, the parish council presented their ideas to parishioners, and Deacon Hurley told them he would be open to any other suggestions. Parishioners at the two churches came up with Our Lady of the Angels, combining Our Lady with the angel of St. Michael.

"We thought it’d be a nice marriage of the two (parishes)," Deacon Hurley added, noting that parishioners agreed and overwhelmingly supported the name.

As part of the consolidation, the Mass schedule also was reduced, he said, and one of the difficult decisions was eliminating the bilingual Saturday Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

"Some people may agree, some may vehemently oppose (the decision)," he said. "But a bilingual (Mass) may be difficult unless you’re truly bilingual yourself."

He noted that attendance has doubled since the former bilingual Mass began being celebrated in Spanish only. Now, he said, one English Mass and one Spanish Mass are offered at each site every weekend. The Masses are said by Father Laurence Tracy and various retired priests.

Father Tracy said his family has been involved with both churches for more than a century. And both churches have been mainstays for immigrants since their inceptions, a pattern in the central business districts of cities throughout the northeast, he observed.

His own great-great-grandfather lived in the area near St. Michael Church, which originally was a German church, on North Clinton Avenue for more than 50 years and never learned English, he remarked.

"Things change, they don’t change," he added. "St. Michael’s has always been a bilingual church."

In fact, 95 percent of St. Michael parishioners now are Hispanic, Deacon Hurley noted, while Hispanics constitute about 60 percent of OLPH parishioners. The parish has a total of approximately 700 families, he added.

While Deacon Hurley said most of the changes have gone smoothly, Father Tracy said he has heard from some Hispanic parishioners about feelings of hurt and disappointment about all the recent church closings throughout the city.

"They need to bring people together to deal with that," he said.

Juan Luis Pacheco, who has been a St. Michael parishioner since 1972, said the transition has not been easy for the two parish communities. The process of melding distinct populations — Anglo and Hispanic — has been uncomfortable at times, he added, noting that change is never easy.

"We have accepted (the changes), we have no other choice," he said. "We haven’t reached a level of total agreement with all that has happened."

"The two parish communities are getting closer," however, Pacheco added. "We’re almost there."

Deacon Hurley noted that he has received mostly positive feedback regarding the merger. And many of the resulting changes will benefit the community as a whole, he said, including the establishment of free organ concerts at St. Michael through a partnership with Eastman School of Music and the hiring of a part-time youth minister. The new youth minister is working on plans to raise funds to send parish youths to the National Catholic Youth Conference and do mission work in other cities.

"I’m proud of how folks have worked together," Deacon Hurley said of the two parishes coming together. "There are lots of good things going on."

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