First, a multichurch liturgy and picnic. Then, a school festival just a few days later. The middle of September spawned a distinct party atmosphere among Catholics in the Tioga County area.
The six churches of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes held their annual Mass and picnic on Sept. 14 at Apalachin’s St. Margaret Mary Church. Nearly 300 people attended the gathering, although a forecast for bad weather prompted a switch indoors to St. Margaret Mary from the originally planned site of Hickories Park in Owego. Father William Moorby, pastor, remarked that the storms never materialized.
"It was gorgeous — blue skies and 90 degrees, one of the hottest Sundays of the year," he said with a laugh. "But it worked out well. I think people enjoyed themselves."
Father Moorby noted that the celebration took place on the fifth anniversary of when Bishop Matthew H. Clark presided over a liturgy that marked the official launch of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick.
Member churches in the configuration are St. Margaret Mary along with St. Patrick, Owego; St. Francis of Assisi, Catatonk; St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; St. James, Waverly; and St. Pius X, Van Etten. Along with the Mass and picnic, Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick has promoted unity among the six churches via a "passport" initiative, by which parishioners have been encouraged to worship at different sites — particularly those they had never previously visited. Each site stop earned a sticker on one’s passport, and people who got to all six churches became eligible for prizes.
In addition, Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick plans to recognize all six churches throughout the year by holding a special liturgy and meal on the feast day of each church’s patron saint. For instance, a vigil Mass and dish-to-pass supper took place Aug. 20 at St. Pius X Church. The other saint observances are St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4; St. Margaret Mary, Oct. 16; St. John the Evangelist, Dec. 27; St. Patrick, March 17; and St. James the Apostle, July 25.
Along with these parish celebrations, another significant event was the annual festival that helped kick off the 150th-anniversary year of St. Patrick School in Owego. It took place Sept. 19-20 on school grounds, serving as the school’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
According to a Sept. 14 parish bulletin article by Paula Smith, first-year principal, St. Patrick’s sesquicentennial also will be marked during 2008-09 by special Masses, suppers, alumni-recognition events, open houses and a 150th-birthday celebration. Smith noted that a special area in the school has been designated to create a display highlighting its history, which began in 1859 in the form of a wooden schoolhouse erected behind St. Patrick Church.
These festive gatherings took place as Tioga’s parishes and school continued dealing with challenges related to their futures.
One key issue is the priest shortage in the Diocese of Rochester. Parish officials announced this past spring that when their full-time priest availability drops from three to two, St. Francis and St. Pius X churches will both close. Currently, Blessed Trinity and St. Patrick are staffed full time by Father Moorby and two parochial vicars, Father John DeSocio and Father John Yaw Afoakwah of Ghana. Father Moorby said he doesn’t know a specific timetable as to when three priests will no longer be available. But since the futures of St. Francis and St. Pius X apparently are limited, the pastor said it’s especially important to have celebrations now at those churches "to celebrate their history and presence in the community."
St. Patrick School, meanwhile, nearly didn’t open for its 150th year. It faced closure last spring due to low numbers, but a spirited enrollment campaign brought the 2008-09 student body just past the set quota for the school’s continuation. Smith noted that the current enrollment totals 56 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as 31 youths in kindergarten.
As for the potential years ahead, Father Moorby said that "the entering class every year is the important one," stating that he’d like to see at least 15 children register for kindergarten in 2009-10.
Despite its enrollment struggles, Father Moorby said St. Patrick School is strongly supported in the community, observing that "some families have been a part of it for five generations."