Ending of an era

Bishop Hubbard releases closing list, one Granville church named

The word became official Saturday; the last mass would be said at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Middle Granville in April.

Father Tom Zelker said in an interview with the Sentinel less than a year ago that he expected a number of changes to come from the Church’s examination of how to do more with less in light of declining numbers of priests and parishioners.

Zelker said at the time his recommendation was going to be to contract the multiple area Catholic churches into one central location at St. Mary’s Church on Bulkley Avenue.

Instead of separate masses celebrated at different churches at different times, Zelker said the St. Mary’s location could become a focal point because it is central to the area, is the largest structure and has all of the amenities including the food pantry and rectory.

Although the news was met with sadness at the time of the announcement, Zelker said the congregation understood, perhaps better than parishioners in a more ethnically separated urban areas.

The days of ethnic divides between the various Catholic Churches within Granville were largely artifacts of the past, Zelker said, and parishioners were much more willing to understand the reality of the church’s situation and accept the contraction along with fellow Catholics.

“Very sad”

John and Noreen Norton said they had been attending mass at Mount Carmel for more than four decades.  

“We’ve been going there ever since we first moved to North Granville; it’s a very sad day for all of us that go there,” Noreen said. “It’s very sad of anyone who has gone to a church for their whole lives.”

“I guess we have to accept it though,” she said. 

Asked for his reaction John Norton said he was also saddened by the news.

“Oh god I don’t know… I’m disappointed, terribly. I’ve put in a lot of work in up there,” John said.

“It’s my church so I have mixed emotions (about the closing). I still think it could be a viable parish,” he said.

Norton said he also recalled regularly attending the church for over four decades as well as helping out with the historic structure 

Norton said he had initially been uncertain of what he would do but thought he would end up attending mass at St. Mary’s.

“I’ll probably go to St. Mary’s, but my first reaction was to say ‘the (heck) with it’ but, I’ll still keep going to mass,” he said.

After attending Our Lady of Mount Carmel for so long Norton said the idea of worshipping somewhere else would, “Take a little getting used to.” 

“I don’t know what they’re going to do for mass, I haven’t heard, probably have a third mass,” he said. 

“It’s just a big disappointment to a lot of people who have been going there for years,” he said. 

 “I’m sorry that it’s going to close,” Alice Baker of Raceville said.

Baker said she had been associated with the church for just over eight decades, but she had a sunny outlook on the situation.

“I’m sorry it’s going to close, but I guess there’s nothing we can do,” she said. “I’m just devastated, but I’m sure it’s probably for the best.” 

Baker said she had been born in Middle Granville near the site of the church on Dayton Hill, had been baptized at Mount Carmel, received first communion and later been married and saw all four of her children baptized at the church.

“It’s been my home base for 81 years; that’s a long time to go to a church,” Baker said. 

Taking the news in stride, however, she said she had seen a great deal of change over her eight decades and ultimately knew that she would come to accept the change.

Baker said the church was scheduled to close on April 13, the day after Easter. 

“We’ll have one last holiday service; I thought it would be Christmas, but we’ve got one more,” Baker said. 

Thinking forward to the days when Catholics from around the area would gather together in the village, Baker said, “We’ll all fit in St. Mary’s, at least we hope to.”

Ed Lobo said he had been going to both St. Mary’s and Mount Carmel for most of his 62 years.

“I used to go with my father all the time when I was small,” Lobo said.

The closure didn’t bother him too much because he already attended both churches, varying where he attends by which service he can attend. The costs associated with maintaining all of the buildings were a factor Lobo said he completely understood looking to other area churches that have combined congregations and closed, at least for the winter, the doors to some churches.

“I can see it happening,” he said.

“I’ve already accepted it, that’s progress, I guess,” he said. “I’m just glad that we’re not losing Father Zelker,” Lobo said.

Lobo said the real blow would have been losing a man who does so much for the community between the Ecumenical Council activities and youth groups.

“An opportunity”

While churchgoers were saddened by the news, Zelker said they also recognized it for what it was: a reality and an opportunity.

Because Granville was a smaller area full of people that know one another, he said he thought that made the parishioners and the practitioners more open to change.

Dwindling numbers of priests and parishioners had the church studying what to do for the future.

The consideration took more than two years of study with input from several sources including priests and members of the local planning groups.

Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard, as expected, called for the closure or consolidation of approximately 20 percent of the 190 churches in the diocese with a message released Saturday and communicated to Granville parishioners Sunday.

Aging population.

Zelker said the Albany Diocese, which consists of 14 counties, has 130 active priests, a number that is not projected to rise any time soon. In the same diocese, there are nearly 200 parishes.

Of the active priests, the single largest group falls between the ages of 60 to 69 years of age – the diocese has 58 priests in this age bracket.

The next largest group of priests, 39, range from 50 to 59 years of age with 13 between the ages of 40 to 49 and only six between 30 to 39 years of age.

More priests, 15, are between the ages of 70 to 79 years of age.

The Albany Diocese has no priests under the age of 30, he said.

Officials said the church would be selling the closed churches, possibly to no-profit organizations.

The letter:

Dear Father Zelker and My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

For more than thirty months, our entire diocesan family has been deeply involved in our pastoral planning effort entitled, “Called to BE Church”. From the first days of the “Loosening the Soil” Town Hall conversations through the tough challenges of eighteen months of Local Planning Group meetings, the goal has been the same, namely, to ensure the continuation of the life and presence of Jesus Christ within and among us thus enabling us to fulfill the Gospel mandate to, “Go forth and proclaim the Good News to all nations.”

By this communication I am announcing my decisions which are rooted in a massive consultation effort, involving countless meetings and hundreds of people who have labored tirelessly throughout our Called to BE Church planning process. They have my deepest appreciation for their dedicated service.

For those who will
hear the words “close” or “merge”, I know from first hand experience, the hurt, pain, anger and grief such a decision may elicit. Given the emotional bonds and memories associated with one’s spiritual home, such reactions are understandable and, perhaps inevitable.

Although the closing of a parish can be a wrenching experience, we, as Catholics, must always be mindful that Eucharist, the sacraments and other pastoral programs, services and activities of the Church continue whenever and wherever the members of the Body of Christ gather as one. Whether your parish is closing, merging or linking, the focus for all parishes within your Local Planning Group must be to deepen your intercommunity relationships. For parishes merging, both parishes must blend into a new community wherein customs and traditions are honored and new ways of being a Catholic faith community and developed.

As you now hear the decisions for your own parish and the parishes within your Local Planning Group, I ask for your understanding, support and cooperation.

Decision 1: Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Mary’s, Granville. Close Our Lady of Mount Carmel by April 13, 2009

Decision 2: All parishes continue to develop deeper linkages in Local Planning Group.

As we forge ahead over these coming transitional months, I pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten our hearts and strengthen our resolve to establish new relationships and structures within this Local Planning Group so that the mission of Jesus and the vitality of his church can be sustained for ourselves and those who will follow us.

While I bear ultimate responsibility for the decisions this weekend, I take heart in knowing that my decisions have been shaped and informed primarily by the insights and wisdom of parishioners at the grassroots level.

Let us go forward, then, bearing in our minds and hearts the words of that popular hymm… “Do not be afraid, I go before you always.” With this divine inspiration and our own good will, all things can work unto good.

With every best wish, I am

Faithfully yours in Christ, Howard J. Hubbard, Bishop of Albany

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