Archdiocese to Shut 21 N.Y. Parishes

By Michael Luo
New York Times [New York]
January 19, 2007

Members of Mary Help of Christians in Manhattan react to the decision.
Photo by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York announced today that it is closing 21 parishes as part of a far-reaching reorganization plan, bringing to an end a decision-making process that has dragged on for more than five years and trapped many parishioners in uncertainty.

Ten of the parishes will be closed completely and parishioners obliged to go elsewhere. Of the other 11, some will establish new chapels to serve the community, and others will become missions attached to other parishes. But that would mean they would lose many services, like having a priest on site.Mary Help of Christians in Manhattan and St. Mary in the Bronx are among those that will be closed, according to the list issued today. Nine parishes and six missions originally recommended to be closed or to be merged with other parishes will retain their current status. These include St. Rita of Cascia parish in the Bronx, Guardian Angel parish in Manhattan, Saint Benedict the Moor mission in Manhattan and Blessed Sacrament mission in Orange County.

"The process was complicated," Cardinal Edward M. Egan said at a news conference to announce the changes. "It could have been simplified. We could simply have gotten the numbers — how many people are in the parish, how many come to Mass on Sunday, how many baptisms there are, how many weddings, how many funerals and all of that — sat down and, studying the calculations, drawn conclusions.

"But we didn't do it that way," he said. "We sought an in-depth understanding of what our people needed and we achieved that understanding by visits, by consultations with experts and above all by conversations with everyone concerned."

Bishop Dennis Sullivan, the co-vicar general of the archdiocese, said no church properties would be sold off.

"There will be no massive closings, no abandoning nor selling of properties," he said. "Yes, there will be changes and these changes will be felt in the parishes that are affected. But the new parishes that emerge will quickly be organized so that our people will experience Christ in their new spiritual home."

One priest who spoke of the changes on Thursday characterized the final list as much less draconian than had been feared by many across the archdiocese, which stretches from Staten Island to the Catskills. He said that Cardinal Egan appeared to have backed away from taking drastic steps to address the problems that spurred the reorganization, including a shrinking corps of priests and demographic changes that had left many parishes struggling to fill pews while others overflowed.

The other parishes to be closed completely are Our Lady Queen of Angels in Manhattan; St. John the Baptist de LaSalle in Staten Island; Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Margaret of Hungary, both in Yonkers; St. Stanislaus in Hastings; Holy Cross in Sleepy Hollow; Most Sacred Heart in Port Jervis; and St. John the Baptist in Poughkeepsie.

The complete list of parishes to be closed or merged are on the archdiocese's website at

The news was disappointing to many parishioners throughout the archdiocese.

At Mary Help of Christians, some members vowed to fight the decision to close their parish.

"There will be battles," said Josephine Gaglio, who was been a parishioner for 20 years. "We will do whatever we have to do.

"They ripped our hearts out because it's so unjust," she said. "This is not a failing church. It's an active church."

The pastors of the affected parishes were notified during a meeting on Wednesday with Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, the archdiocese's vicar general, who has been overseeing the reorganization process since early 2005.

The pastors were asked to keep the decisions secret until the official announcement today during a news conference at Cathedral Girls High School in Manhattan.

Msgr. Gerald Murray, the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, said on Thursday that he was grateful the announcement was finally coming.

"We welcome the announcement because January marks five years since our parish was first contacted about being subject to possible closure," he said. "It's been five years that we've been waiting."

Several parishioners appeared surprised on Thursday that the process was actually coming to an end.

"I thought it was a long-drawn-out process that was never going to conclude," said Chuck Van Buren, a parishioner at Nativity Church in Manhattan, which was on the preliminary list.

The reorganization, which will include the creation of several new parishes and the construction of new church buildings in some areas, has long been a delicate task for archdiocesan officials.

Churchgoers are fiercely protective of their parishes, often forming attachments that endure for generations. Many of these churches have also been stalwarts in their neighborhoods for decades. Similar overhauls in other dioceses around the country have resulted in ugly public battles between parishioners and church officials, something archdiocesan officials hope to avoid in New York.

Cardinal Egan originally intended to plunge into the redrawing of parish lines soon after he became archbishop in 2000, but the scandal over sexual abuse by priests made him put it off.

Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell was initially put in charge of "realignment," as it came to be called by archdiocesan officials, but he left to become the bishop of Springfield, Mass., in April 2004, leading to another long delay.

The process got started again in earnest in early 2005, when Bishop Sullivan took over. Cardinal Egan indicated then that the reorganization would be completed by September 2005. But a preliminary list of recommendations for 31 parishes and 14 schools to be closed was not released until March 2006.

After hearing appeals from school officials and parents, archdiocesan officials reduced the list of school closings in April to nine, and then turned to the parishes.

Many endangered parishes were vocal in fighting back, holding vigils and enlisting the help of politicians and the surrounding community. The parish appeal meetings, often emotional, were wrapped up by midsummer.

In August, Bishop Sullivan presented his recommendations to the archdiocese priests' council, and an announcement appeared imminent at that point. But Cardinal Egan's knee operation in the fall further delayed the process.

Meanwhile, parishioners did their best to divine their future. At St. Augustine's in the Bronx, parishioners were heartened in recent weeks when scaffolding went up for repairs to the interior of their church, suggesting that the archdiocese would not take the time to fix up their building if it was going to be closed.

"Some people said, 'Wow, that's really good,' " said Claire Harris, a parishioner.

Today's announcement confirmed that St. Augustine's will be spared, with no change in its status.


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