Steuben churches form single parish - Catholic Courier
The 100th anniversary of St. Gabriel Church in Hammondsport was celebrated during a Mass in 2009. St. Gabriel and St. Mary Church in Bath will soon become one parish called St. John Vianney. The 100th anniversary of St. Gabriel Church in Hammondsport was celebrated during a Mass in 2009. St. Gabriel and St. Mary Church in Bath will soon become one parish called St. John Vianney.

Steuben churches form single parish

From this year on, priests celebrating Mass in Bath and Hammondsport will be guided by special saintly support.

The cluster of St. Gabriel Church in Hammondsport and St. Mary in Bath is due to soon become a single parish named after St. John Vianney, the patron saint of all priests. The new parish name, which was designated by Bishop Matthew H. Clark, was announced at May 12-13 weekend Masses by Deacon David LaFortune, pastoral administrator of St. Gabriel/St. Mary.

The title St. John Vianney Parish will officially take effect sometime within the next few months, but Deacon LaFortune said the exact timetable is uncertain due to legal procedures involving the filing of civil and canonical paperwork. Although the new parish will combines two churches’ staffs, operating expenses/revenue and councils, each church building will still be known as St. Gabriel and St. Mary, he noted.

The new parish will be the first one so named in the diocese, paying tribute to St. John Vianney (1786-1859), a French parish priest who was canonized in 1925.

This is a latest in a series of collaborative moves for the churches, which have served Steuben County Catholics since the mid-1800s. St. Gabriel and St. Mary, located nearly eight miles apart, have shared a sacramental minister since 1994 when St. Gabriel’s Sister Anne Michelle McGill, SSJ, became the first pastoral administrator in diocesan history. St. Mary was assigned its first pastoral administrator in 2003, and the two churches were clustered in 2010 with Deacon LaFortune becoming pastoral administrator of both as part of a pastoral-planning process.

St. Gabriel and St. Mary are the last two churches in Steuben County to become part of larger parishes. They have been in a five-church planning group known as Central Steuben Catholic Parishes (CSCP). In 2010, the group’s other three churches — St. Catherine of Siena in Addison, St. Stanislaus in Bradford and St. Joseph in Campbell — canonically formed a new parish under the name of Ss. Isidore and Maria Torribia.

Faith communities in all parts of the Rochester Diocese have moved toward multichurch parishes in recent years as a response to reduced clergy availability, declining church attendance and the costs of maintaining underutilized properties.

Lucy Perkins, who married her husband Luther at St. Gabriel Church in 1951 and has been an active parishioner with him there ever since, said they’ve been accepting of the recent transition.

"I know it’s necessary. We both feel it’s something that had to be done," she said. "Of course we all yearn for the good old days when we had everything going for us, but we know that the church had to downsize because it couldn’t support itself."

Al Hanning, a parishioner of St. Mary for nearly 40 years, observed that "people resist change because they feel they’re going to lose something," but said he feels the blending process is going smoothly overall.

"Basically, I think things will improve as time go on. Putting two groups of people with different identities together is like a husband and wife in marriage — they’ve got to get used to each other. And that’s what’s happening, people are getting used to each other," he said.

Deacon LaFortune said he has kept St. Gabriel and St. Mary people abreast of developments through bulletin articles, homilies, pulpit announcements and town hall meetings.

"One of the most critical parts of the whole process is the communication piece, trying to make people as informed as possible," he said.

He added that an ongoing goal is for folks in Hammondsport and Bath to feel they’re fellow parishioners by taking part in Masses and other activities at both churches. Hanning and Perkins said they have attended many liturgies at each other’s churches over the years and know numerous people who have done the same.

Deacon LaFortune noted that there will be no alterations to the Mass schedule or staffing with the launch of the new parish, noting that those adjustments were made when the cluster first formed.

Father James Jaeger serves as sacramental minister for St. Gabriel and St. Mary. Currently St. Gabriel has one weekend Mass year-round and two additional weekend liturgies between Memorial Day and Labor Day to accommodate the summer crowd that flocks to Keuka Lake. Deacon LaFortune said attendance at St. Gabriel is approximately 130 for the lone winter Mass and a combined 350 for the three summer Masses. St. Mary averages approximately 240 total for its two year-round weekend liturgies, he said.

Deacon LaFortune said both buildings will remain open "as long as we have parishioners who are willing and able to financially support both church sites." At the same time, he noted that attendance has declined at both churches in the past decade and that the best way to ensure the future of both churches is to halt and even reverse that trend.

Tags: Steuben County News
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