Church of the Holy Agony


The New York Times reports…

“There were gasps and tears at Holy Rosary Church in East Harlem. At Sacred Heart in Mount Vernon, congregants shared mournful embraces. And at Our Lady of Peace on the East Side, parishioners pledged a fight.

Across the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, a day of reckoning arrived on Sunday, as Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan announced how scores of parishes would be affected by the largest reorganization in the history of the archdiocese.

From Staten Island to the Catskills, there was anguish for congregations that learned that their churches would be effectively shuttered and relief among those whose parishes were spared.

And at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and in interviews, Cardinal Dolan, the executor of the changes, sought to explain what they would mean for the 368 parishes he oversees and the 2.8 million Catholics living in communities served by those churches.

“I can well understand the frustration, the anger, the confusion of our people, and I apologize for it, because I am the agent of it,” he said in an interview on Sunday afternoon. “But this is about the future, this is about strength and renewal, and we will get through this.”

In all, 112 parishes will be merged to create 55 new parishes, the archdiocese announced. In 31 of those new parishes, one of the churches will no longer be used for regular services, meaning those churches will be effectively closed by August.

In the remaining mergers, both churches in the combined parish will remain open, a decision that was met with hopeful cheers at some of those churches on Sunday. The savings from such consolidations will come primarily through shared administrative costs.

The Brooklyn Diocese, which includes Queens, faced similar challenges and undertook a similar process, reducing its total number of parishes to 187 today from 199 in 2009.

The reorganization announced on Sunday has been long in coming, reflecting demographic trends that have plagued Roman Catholic dioceses across much of the nation for decades. The number of priests has fallen each year, as retirements outpace ordinations. And attendance has been declining; as of 2013, only about 12 percent of the New York archdiocese’s 2.8 million Catholics regularly attended Sunday Mass, according to the archdiocese.

Meanwhile, expenses continue to rise, for everything from utility bills to the upkeep of church buildings that can be over 150 years old. Neighborhoods in Manhattan that were once teeming with Italian, Irish and other Catholic immigrants have been overtaken by office buildings and pied-à-terre for the wealthy, leaving those parishes with fewer faithful, while some churches north of the city are bursting at the seams.

Of the churches that will essentially be closed for regular worship, nine are in Manhattan. Six are in Westchester, six in the Bronx, four on Staten Island and six in Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, or Dutchess Counties.

The parish mergers will not affect Catholic schools, which were separated from the parishes over the last several years and are managed by regional boards.

East Harlem, which has been home to successive waves of Catholic immigrants for generations, was among the most affected neighborhoods, with three of its seven Catholic churches slated for effective closing. A gasp came from the pews at the Church of the Holy Rosary on East 119th Street on Sunday morning when a lay leader, Dominick DiCerto, informed his fellow worshipers at the end of Mass that the church had lost its fight to remain an independent parish. A woman wiped tears from her eyes in the back row.

“I feel very sad; I was baptized here,” said Sonia Cintron, 75, who added: “Here we’re family; we loved each other.”

“We have to pray,” said Haydee Feliciano, 71, a parishioner at the Church of the Holy Agony, an East Harlem church on East 101st Street that was built in the 1950s by donations from Puerto Ricans. “There can always be a miracle, only God knows.”

In Mount Vernon in Westchester County, three of the six parish churches will essentially close. Before more than 100 congregants at the Church of St. Ursula, the Rev. Robert J. Verrigni read the news from a letter from Cardinal Dolan. “This will be a trying and testing time for you,” Father Verrigni said.

Some parishioners groaned, while others sighed, bit their knuckles and touched palms to their foreheads. “It’s like mourning the death of the parish,” Father Verrigni said.”



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