The day of reckoning in the Making All Things New pastoral planning process, when mergers affecting many parishes in the Archdiocese of New York officially took effect, was Aug. 1.
It followed a week’s worth of final Masses at churches where liturgies will only be celebrated on special occasions from now on. Some of the closings were marked with an air of resignation; others were met with protests by heartbroken parishioners. In the daily press, their reactions came across as might be expected when one loses something very precious. Sadness, plus notes of grief mixed with anger, for beloved parishes that were like a member of the family.
Angela Giaimo Marse, a longtime parishioner of Our Lady of Peace, which is just a short walk from our East Side offices at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan, was quoted in the Daily News as saying, “My parents were married here and I was baptized here. We have a history with this place.” Our Lady of Peace merged with St. John the Evangelist parish.
Whether or not your parish was merging, you knew what Ms. Giaimo Marse was talking about. Your parish church isn’t just a place to go on Sunday mornings. It’s a place where you learn about your faith and build your relationship with the Lord, where you bring your children and grandchildren so they can understand how we celebrate being Catholic through prayer and sacrament, and where you turn when you are in need of reconciliation and consolation.
Come to think of it, maybe we all are in need of a bit of reconciliation and consolation these days. We’ve been through a lot during the Making All Things New process, since it began more than two years ago. Before making final decisions, beginning last November, Cardinal Dolan relied upon the advice and input from every parish in the archdiocese; parishioners and pastors in 75 parish cluster committees, or groups of neighboring parishes; a 40-person advisory committee made up of clergy, religious men and women, and lay faithful from across the archdiocese; the Priests’ Council; and other close advisers and staff.
The cardinal would be the first to tell you, as he has in his column in this paper, that the process was not flawless. No effort this big and comprehensive possibly could be. When you tackle the big problems, you leave yourself open to questions and discontent. There is understandably a lot of grieving in parishes for what was lost.
As I wrote in this space when the first sets of Making All Things New decisions were announced, the Archdiocese of New York was actually late coming to this pastoral planning process, with similar restructurings having taken place in many U.S. dioceses over the past couple of decades. We were seeking to update a parish system which came into being in the 19th and 20th centuries and was not set up for the Catholic population that exists today.
Significant change was inevitable and necessary. As we look around, we’ve tried to show in recent stories like the one in this issue about the opening Mass for the community of Ghanaian Catholics at St. Luke’s Church in the Bronx some of the new directions that change is taking.
No, this isn’t solely a story about mergers or closures. It’s also about new beginnings. It’s about parishes opening their doors and becoming stronger by welcoming others into their midst, each giving something to the other so that the whole body becomes stronger.
It also seems logical that this work of planning and reorganization won’t be successfully completed without making a recommitment to making each and every parish a place where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and lived. A comprehensive program of evangelization that begins with the family and extends into the parish and community would seem to be a natural and necessary follow-up to Making All Things New.