Is nothing less than a miracle...
Saturday night I offered Mass for the new parish of St. John Bosco in Port Chester. Sure, every Mass is a miracle, but that’s not the one I want to write about now.
A little background...Remember about six years ago we began the Making All Things New strategic pastoral planning? It was clear to everybody that we no longer required four hundred parishes in the Archdiocese of New York. People had moved; some areas had parishes only blocks apart; we needed much better use of our priests, deacons, staff, religious women and men; and we were suffocating trying to maintain aging buildings, which were less than half-filled on Sundays.
So the process started. It is estimated that over 12,000 people came to town-hall meetings throughout the archdiocese, where Bishop Dennis Sullivan—now in the Diocese of Camden—spoke of the process and listened closely to the people.
Then, more than 2,000 people actually met to get serious about which parishes should merge to share clergy, buildings, and staffs, while better coordinating common pastoral initiatives in a given area (called a “cluster”).
One such area was historic Port Chester. Within a square mile, there were four parishes: Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of the Rosary, Sacred Heart, and Corpus Christi.
Each of these proud parishes were teeming a century ago, welcoming immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Poland; but each was, five years ago, struggling, and making valiant efforts to welcome the new arrivals, mostly from Latin America and the Caribbean.
While it was logical to unite them all into one parish, with one pastor and his associates to serve, along with deacons, religious women, a common staff and parish organizations, utilizing different sites, it was very difficult to do so. I received a lot of bitter letters, and some people left parishes in a huff. But, led by Father Pat Angelucci, S.D.B., and the Salesian community of priests, the people kept at it. I was told it would take a miracle to make it work...
...and Saturday evening, Laetare—“Rejoice!” Sunday—we thanked God for the miracle! We gathered at what had been Our Lady of Mercy parish, the oldest and largest of the four churches, which was jam-packed, and which is now the central site for the unified new parish of St. John Bosco!
The Mass began with a procession of flags, led by the stars-and-stripes, representing all the countries from which the parishioners or their ancestors had come—and there were two dozen of them!
Languages used at the Eucharist were English, Italian, Spanish, Creole, Portuguese, and Latin. A couple from each of the four former sites came to receive a candle to represent the four former parishes now one under Christ, the Light of the World.
Father Pat was cheered as he spoke of the vitality of the unified parish, with each of the sites now used for the impressive array of parish ministries, including a regional Catholic school, a program of religious education—including adults—an acclaimed youth apostolate, an outreach to immigrant workers (who had made the chair Pope Francis used at Mass in Madison Square Garden), a food bank and lunch line for the poor and homeless, and Eucharistic Adoration.
Father Pat and the parish leaders thanked the archdiocese (!) for Making All Things New, admitting there had been skepticism and resistance, but it had all turned out well.
Over the past recent weeks I’ve had similar experiences at St. Francis Xavier Cabrini on Roosevelt Island, where I blessed their new chapel (part of St. John Nepomucene Parish now), and the newly merged St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena Parish, where they gave me an icon of the two Dominican patron saints.
A lot of work, thanks to these priests, deacons, sisters, staffs, and people; and to Bishop John O’Hara and Mrs. Eileen Mulcahy of the Office for Strategic Pastoral Planning in the archdiocese.
It’s not over yet, as so many other merged parishes are still working hard. But, it’s working...and it’s a miracle!