Visitors swell Mass attendance - Catholic Courier

Visitors swell Mass attendance

As far as Mass attendance goes, the phrase “Christmas in July” would be apt for Southern Tier parishes located near popular lakes.

Even with extra weekend Masses during the summer, certain churches fill up in ways that other places only approach at holiday time. A good example is St. Stanislaus in Bradford, where Father Gerald O’Connor, pastor, said 700 to 750 worshipers pass through per weekend at this time of year.

“Attendance at least triples,” Father O’Connor said, adding that “the church only seats 230” — meaning that stragglers may find the pew openings slim at best. This crowding occurs despite the addition of a Sunday 8 a.m. Mass from May 1 to Oct. 31, which supplements the Saturday 7 p.m. and Sunday 12:15 p.m. liturgies held year-round.

Father O’Connor said the influx of worshipers is due to St. Stanislaus’ proximity to Lamoka Lake and Waneta Lake, which lie near the Steuben-Schuyler county border. In addition, the church is only a few miles from the east side of Keuka Lake. Father O’Connor, who is also pastor of St. Joseph’s in Campbell and St. Catherine of Siena in Addison, said those central Steuben County parishes also see a moderate spike in summer attendance due to nearby camping and small lakes.

St. Gabriel’s in Hammondsport, meanwhile, is near Keuka Lake’s southern tip. The church welcomes approximately 550 Mass-goers per weekend during the summer, compared to 150 to 175 the rest of year, according to Sister of St. Joseph Ann Michelle McGill, pastoral administrator. Her church adds an 8 a.m. Mass that runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends along with the regular Saturday 5:30 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. Masses.

“It’s a wonderful lake. That’s why so many people come here,” Sister McGill said.

Lakeside recreation, camping and auto racing fuel a sharp summer attendance increase at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen. Not only is St. Mary’s situated only a few blocks from the south end of Seneca Lake, it’s also less than five miles from Watkins Glen International Speedway.

“The track is probably the biggest impetus. The summertime, especially on race weekends, we are a community that triples or quadruples. It is unbelievable,” said Deacon David LaFortune, pastoral associate.

He added that this spillover also affects St. Benedict’s Church in Odessa, which forms Schuyler Catholic Community with St. Mary of the Lake. St. Benedict’s has the cluster’s only Saturday-evening Mass, at 5 p.m., attracting many folks who have all-day Sunday recreational plans.

Deacon LaFortune said Seneca Lake features a number of summer cottages that bring in people from as far away as Florida. Even though temporary residents and weekend visitors share pew space with year-round parishioners, he observed that they all mesh together well.

“(Parishioners) realize the lifeline of this community are the tourists. The tradition of this community is that it’s been very welcoming, and people pick up on that. We tend to go out of our way,” Deacon LaFortune said.

St. Stanislaus and St. Gabriel’s, also, are surrounded by summer cottages. Father O’Connor and Sister McGill said residents of these places fit in smoothly at their parishes, even though many aren’t officially registered.

“They know they’re welcome. We refer to them as our summer parishioners,” Father O’Connor said. “It’s a very friendly, easygoing crowd that we have all year, in fact — but especially in the summer.”

“When they get here, we certainly recognize and welcome them to the community. We also open up possibilities for them to be lectors, eucharistic ministers or serve in any way. Many of them sign up to work on our festival,” Sister McGill said, adding that these people are kept on the parish mailing list after they return to their main residences.

Sister McGill also said the part-timers are excellent supporters when the collection basket comes around. Father O’Connor reported a similar trend in Bradford.

“Our summer parishioners are very generous with us,” he said.

However, not all Southern Tier lake communities experience these seasonal ebbs and flows. All Saints Church in Lansing — located a mere mile from Cayuga Lake — has fairly steady attendance all year long, said David Lippert, administrative assistant.

“There are very few cottages on this lake, and at least on this side,” he explained. “They’re either private homes or rental properties for students during the school year.”

Lippert added that many parishioners go away for the summer, actually resulting in a slight drop in attendance.

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