ROCHESTER — As people gathered to pray the rosary at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on July 16, the feast day of the church’s patroness, some asked for a miracle: They prayed that their church, part of Our Lady of the Americas Parish, would be spared closure, even though they had been told July 1 it would be closing.
After weighing whether to locate Our Lady of the Americas — which also comprises Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier and Corpus Christi churches — at Mt. Carmel, with most of the parish ministries on that campus in the future, or whether to locate the parish at Corpus Christi with ministries at all three campuses, the parish pastoral council voted 8 to 4 for the second option, Father Vincent Panepinto, pastor, told parishioners in a July 1 letter.
In explaining the decision, Father Panepinto cited thousands of dollars in repairs needed at Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier, the cost of needed parking space and repairs at Mt. Carmel, and the smaller initial expense to locate at Corpus Christi.
In a telephone interview, Father Panepinto said that in mid-August the parish will shift all regular liturgies from Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier — where parishioners from all three churches have been worshipping for the past four months — to Corpus Christi, which will become known as the Church of Our Lady of the Americas Parish on East Main Street.
Although several weddings are planned at the other churches during August, all sacraments and celebrations after Sept. 1 will take place at the East Main Street church, he said.
Closing Masses for Mt. Carmel and Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier will take place this fall, and relics from the churches will be ceremonially placed into an altar at the East Main Street site during a Mass to be held in the fall as well, Father Panepinto said.
Even though closing Masses are being scheduled, several unanswered questions still remain about what will happen to buildings being closed and to the ministries that are operating at each of the worship sites.
"Right now we’re struggling with that," Father Panepinto said. "The diocese and we are working together to find a way to continue to support the ministries."
The Mt. Carmel campus is home to St. Martin’s Place, which serves hot meals and provides other neighborhood services, and to Mt. Carmel Apartments, affordable housing that is owned by the church and managed by Providence Housing Development Corp., an affiliate of diocesan Catholic Charities.
Matthew’s Closet, a clothing ministry that had operated in the former Corpus Christi School before the building was sold to apartment developer Conifer Development, recently relocated to the basement of a child-care center at 316 Bay St. on the Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier campus. The parish has not yet determined what will happen to this ministry, Father Panepinto said.
One longtime Mt. Carmel parishioner said she hopes her fellow Mt. Carmel attendees will help Our Lady of the Americas to support its ministries.
"We cannot just walk away from our church," said Ruth Collazo, whose family has been active in the Hispanic community at Mt. Carmel. "We need to keep supporting our ministries so that they keep going. Maybe there is a miracle with them that we can come back to our church."
Other longtime Mt. Carmel parishioners said they were surprised by the decision to close their church, since they said it has long been financially stable.
"Parishioners and former parishioners have always been very generous," said Mary Ann Benincasa of Penfield, a member of the pastoral council.
Father Panepinto noted that parishioners from all three churches had the opportunity to express their opinions prior to the pastoral council’s decision to consolidate at a single site.
"Parishioners were asked to give valid reasons for whichever church should be the church, and we got responses from quite a few," he said. "They were categorized and kept in the process of deliberation of the pastoral council. We also had facts and figures which we studied."
After also studying the finances of each worship site, pastoral council members chose Corpus Christi as the site for consolidation because it is the least expensive to maintain, Father Panepinto said. The school building had been put up for sale about three years ago to help Corpus Christi stabilize its financial situation, he noted.
He said that the pastoral council’s decision was a difficult one for him personally, since Mt. Carmel was his home parish as well as the church in which he celebrated his first Mass.
The pastor also noted that some Corpus Christi parishioners may have to adjust to the move as well, since minor renovations are occurring at Corpus Christi to prepare it to accommodate the combined congregation, Father Panepinto said. He noted that side shrines will be devoted to St. Francis Xavier and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and that the Holy Redeemer also will be represented in the sanctuary.
"For people from Corpus Christi, it’s not (going to be) the same sanctuary they are used to," Father Panepinto said.
Father Panepinto said Our Lady of the Americas also is exploring whether it will be financially feasible to move to Corpus Christi the 110-year-old marble altar from St. Francis Xavier Church. The altar formerly resided at St. Patrick’s and Sacred Heart cathedrals, and was first used by the diocese’s founding Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid.
According to a 1988 parish history, St. Francis Xavier Parish was founded in 1888 by German immigrants who settled in the Bay Street area. Its territory was split off from that of Holy Redeemer Parish, which had been founded in 1867 on the corner of Hudson and Clifford avenues. In 1985, the two parishes merged at the St. Francis Xavier worship site.
Corpus Christi was founded in 1888 to minister to Irish and German immigrants who settled near East Main Street on what was then the outskirts of the city. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish was incorporated in 1904 to care for Italian immigrants living east of the Genesee River.