Soon, the Rochester parishes of St. Andrew and Church of the Annunciation will combine to form Light of Christ Parish. And that’s just one of several changes taking place at the churches during the next several months, according to Father Michael Mayer, pastor.
Parishioners overwhelmingly chose the name Light of Christ from a list of three potential names, Father Mayer said.
"I think it expresses what we are trying to be: a light of hope, of faith, that we are here to serve people," he said.
The parishes have received a decree to combine from Bishop Matthew H. Clark, but several additional steps must be taken to finalize the merger and the new name, according to Father Daniel Condon, diocesan chancellor and director of legal services.
The two parishes also have been in the process of selling the Church of the Annunciation building that is currently being used for services. The building, which seats more than 700, was constructed in 1967 to celebrate the parish’s golden jubilee. Services soon will move to a smaller Church of the Annunciation building, which was constructed between 1917 and 1923 and has been used in recent years as a church hall. The building is being renovated to accommodate the move.
David Giovine, the architect drawing the renovation plans for the former Annunciation church hall, is the son of parishioners, Father Mayer said. Plans include adding a lift to the building to make both floors wheelchair-accessible, renovating bathrooms, and upgrading the heating and cooling systems.
"If we move and continue to grow, and we need to expand, there’s room," Father Mayer noted.
The parish decided to sell the newer and larger Annunciation building because of maintenance costs and because there aren’t as many parishioners to fill it as in the past, he said.
"We have (potential buyers) interested in it," Father Mayer said. "The idea is to sell it to pay off debts, and still have money left over."
The move back to Annunciation’s church hall also will allow parishioners to remain present in the neighborhood, he said. The parish also will continue to use St. Andrew Church for services.
"Whatever happens, we want people to feel we are one parish," Father Mayer said. "It is still a work in progress, but both parishes have done a lot of good work in coming together."
Parishioner Carm Caruso, who previously attended St. Andrew but has been a Church of the Annunciation parishioner for nearly 40 years, compared Annunciation’s plight to that of empty nesters.
"If you have a house with five bedrooms, and only two people are living there, what are you going to do with the rest of the house?" Caruso asked. "Your expenses are the same: the taxes, the lights."
The smaller facility will accommodate those who now attend regularly, said Caruso, who noted that neighborhoods surrounding the city parishes once were predominantly Catholic, but no longer are. Many parishioners who still live near the church are homebound elderly, said Caruso, who also serves as a parish visitor and usher.
"Now people can’t even afford to go to church," he said, noting that he often sees nickels and dimes in the collection.
Annunciation was established as a mission of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on Ontario Street, the diocese’s official Italian parish, to serve a growing Italian-American population in Rochester’s Goodman-Norton area. Many immigrants originally walked to church, Caruso said. The first Mass was celebrated in 1914 in a home and barbershop. In 1917, the Chapel of Annunciation was built in the rural neighborhood, which was at the time known both as "The Lots" and as "Goat Hill," according to a 1967 history of the parish written by Father Robert F. McNamara.
That first structure was a flat-roofed cellar chapel nicknamed the Catacombs. In 1923, Father George J. Weinmann led an effort to build a wood-frame church on top of the subterranean chapel.
Church of the Annunciation was separately incorporated in 1946. In 1957, a fire broke out in the Annunciation choir loft, and caused $40,000 damage, including destruction of the vestibule and the Annunciation window over the entrance. However, parishioners rallied to restore the church, and the Catacombs were again temporarily used for worship.
The parish school, which had been under construction prior to the fire, opened in 1958 and closed in 1989. Due to growth of the number of parishioners, the Catacombs also were used for worship beginning in 1960 to provide more room for simultaneous Masses due to the burgeoning parish population. The new Church of the Annunciation opened in 1967.