Three Gates parishes merge
GATES -- Parishioners of the new Parish of the Holy Family, which unites Holy Ghost, St. Jude and St. Helen churches, have faith that the merger will be good for the community. The parish officially assumed its new name July 1, said Father Michael Schramel, pastor.
Yet they admit that the journey has not been easy since the three parishes clustered as the Gates Catholic Community about five years ago.
"It's hard," parishioner Ray Contrino said of the merger. "Eventually, (the community) all comes together. But it just takes time for everybody to adjust."
"It's a big change," noted his wife, Linda Contrino. "(But) it's good that we're all working together."
The Contrinos were among more than 100 people who attended a July 13 organ concert at Holy Ghost featuring the Holy Family Festival Choir and Stephen Donohue, who was a classmate of Father Schramel's at the former St. Andrew's Seminary/Kings Prep.
Choir director Lisa Lancia said the concert allowed parishioners to hear Holy Ghost's pipe organ, which she called a hidden treasure of the churches on Rochester's west side.
The concert was the first of three special events -- one at each worship site -- to celebrate the new parish, Father Schramel added.
Barbara Miller of Chili, who had been a Holy Ghost parishioner since childhood, said it has been difficult to adjust to the combined parish, but that she also sees the benefits.
"We also meet new people, have new experiences," she added after the concert. "It's (the merger) going well."
A few parishioners said it will take a bit longer to get used to Mass-schedule changes, which also were part of the merger. Father Schramel said he can appreciate that fact, but noted attendance has been good thus far, even for the new Sunday 5 p.m. Mass at St. Helen Church, which is intended to draw younger Catholics.
"We had to change the Mass schedule," he said. "Our demographics are changing. Our needs are changing. As an inner-ring suburb, we're becoming older, and we need to look for ways to reach out."
As part of the scheduling changes, the parish's Vietnamese community has moved its Masses from St. Helen to St. Jude. The larger space at St. Jude allowed the parish to consolidate its faith-formation programs, which now will incorporate faith formation for children of the Vietnamese community, since many of them speak English as their first language, Father Schramel said.
The parish had begun consolidating activities even before the merger officially took place, the pastor noted. When the parishes clustered five years ago, they began combining their parish councils, staff and ministries, he said. The youth group was one of the first ministries to start working together with teenagers from all three worship sites, Father Schramel said.
Initially, some youth-group members feared the combined group would become too big, but they talked through their negative and positive feelings, said Rose Dunning, faith-formation administrator and youth minister.
"Positive ideas (about combining) were making new friends, (and meeting) more people who are on a faith journey," she said.
Once members of the youth group -- which calls itself TSWAG (Two Saints with a Ghost) -- embraced the consolidation, Dunning said they designed a logo for the group's apparel. The design combines the TSWAG acronym with the group's new mission statement: "Like the Trinity: 3 parts untied and powerful connected through God." Senior-high members of the group also created a retreat for junior-high members, she added.
"Watching them come together helped me," Dunning said of her personal transition to the parishes' merger.
Other ministries, such as the men's groups and the Sisters of Christ women's group, did not combine and will remain in the respective churches where they began, noted Father Schramel.
"What we really wanted to do when we first started was to ensure that all three parishes in all three churches remained vibrant and maintained their unique little flavors," he said. "Each place had differences, and that was all right; not everybody had to do things the same way. But we also realized we had a lot more in common in places than differences."
Over the last six months, meetings of parishioners at all three sites enabled them to offer input during the final transition period, Father Schramel said, adding that these discussions included ideas for a new parish name. Three name suggestions were provided to Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, and the bishop chose Holy Family, Father Schramel said. The name reflects the roots of many parishioners who moved decades ago from the city to Gates, he added.
"Lots of thought went into (the name)," Father Schramel said. "So we're happy to be the Parish of the Holy Family. We've got the roots. We've got the parishioners. It's been a productive journey."