Worshipers bid farewell to St. Anthony Church in Elmira - Catholic Courier

Worshipers bid farewell to St. Anthony Church in Elmira

ELMIRA — As the final Mass in St. Anthony Church’s history concluded, Father Walter Wainwright invited all to come forward and kiss the altar if they so wished. Worshipers — many with moist eyes — immediately jammed the center aisle, then received keepsake medals of St. Anthony of Padua as they stepped off the altar to exit the building.
 
These moments marked a poignant end to the late-afternoon liturgy Friday, June 13, on the feast of St. Anthony. Pews were filled nearly to capacity as worshippers honored this north-side Elmira church’s legacy, extending back to the early 1900s.
 
Mary Corsi, 70, a lifelong St. Anthony parishioner who sang in the choir for the closing Mass, said she knew St. Anthony had to cease operation for practical reasons — but nonetheless, it was hard for her to hold back tears during the liturgy.
 
"Then, it hit me," she remarked.
 
"It’s a building and we certainly believe that, but a lot of our faith is tied in with that building," remarked Mary Caroscio, 60, another lifetime member who attended the June 13 event with several family members.
 
Father Wainwright presided at the Mass and was flanked by several priests with links to St. Anthony Parish. In his homily he offered a brief history of the church, located at the corner of North Main Street and West Washington Avenue: its founding by Italian immigrant families a century ago; the opening of the first church in 1911; a school and parish center that followed; and establishment of the highly popular annual parish bazaar.
 
Corsi recalled that Italian-Americans’ ties to their native land were so fierce that they lodged a protest to Bishop James E. Kearney when a non-Italian, Father William Burns, was named pastor in 1953. However, she added, Father Burns came to be greatly loved and remained in the pastorate until 1977, and the parish became more welcoming to other ethnic groups following the Second Vatican Council.
 
At a post-Mass reception in the parish center, numerous photos and other memorabilia were displayed. They included several newspaper articles describing the 1947 fire that burned St. Anthony to the ground, as well as the parish’s rallying effort that saw a new church erected less than two years later.
 
Although St. Anthony parishioners withstood that fire — as well as previous blazes in 1921 and 1933 — they were not as successful in overcoming the priest shortage, declining population and mounting maintenance expenses of recent years. In 1971 the school closed; in 1994 St. Anthony Parish was clustered with St. Patrick; and in 2006 Ss. Peter and Paul was added to the cluster. A year later the churches became a single parish, Blessed Sacrament, with the merging of staff, finances and parish pastoral councils and Father Wainwright serving as pastor of all three faith communities. St. Patrick and Ss. Peter and Paul will remain open, whereas the St. Anthony property is in the process of being sold to Elmira College and many of the church’s artifacts are being given to nearby churches.
 
Father Wainwright acknowledged that St. Anthony’s closing is tinged with sadness, but emphasized the need for parishioners to continue their journey of faith at other Catholic facilities.
 
"It will be the same worship, the same word of God proclaimed," he said. Caroscio added that losing St. Anthony Church is "hard to believe, but we’ll carry on with God’s help."

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