Closing churches recommended

Richard Lape has been attending St. Anna’s Roman Catholic Church in Summit for most of the 54 years

Richard Lape has been attending St. Anna’s Roman Catholic Church in Summit for most of the 54 years of his life.

Now, like several other churches around the region, the small, rural church might be closed next year because of declining attendance and a shortage of priests.

St. Anna’s, as well as St. Joseph’s in Schoharie and St. Mary’s in the Otsego County community of Schenevus, have been recommended for closure by a committee of local church members.

Parishioners at St. Anna’s heard the news Sunday.

Similar committees have been making similar recommendations throughout the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, but the final decisions likely won’t be made until this fall by Bishop Howard Hubbard, according to diocesan spokesman Kenneth Goldfarb.

The bishop’s decisions about which churches to close would be implemented starting next January, according to a diocesan schedule.

St. Anna’s parish now includes about 150 people, according to the Rev. Edward Golding, who celebrates Mass at the church.

Although some information aired Sunday, indicated that it comprised about 80 families, Golding said Monday there are not that many families in St. Anna’s parish.

Golding, based in Worcester in Otsego County, also conducts services at Camp Summit correctional facility, his own St. Joseph’s parish in Worcester and its mission church, St. Mary’s in Schenevus.

Lape, chairman of St. Anna’s Parish Council and a Richmondville town councilman, said Monday that even though summer residents still fill the Summit church from May to fall, the diocese has long been wrestling with a shortage of priests.

Golding said the nature of the population in the Summit area has changed since he started working in the area in 1992.

“The summer people used to make up a substantial part of the church population,” he said. “People used to come up for the whole summer; now they come up for a few weeks.”

Instead of summerlong vacationers, “you have downstaters who came up and built a summer home,” he said.

At the same time, Golding stressed that the closure recommendations are not final.

“This was a collaborative effort from the parishioners of eastern Otsego and [most of] Schoharie counties,” he said.

“It’s a recommendation. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” Golding said.

According to Sister Joan, administrator of St. Joseph’s in Schoharie, the Rev. Thomas Holmes, celebrates Masses in the Schoharie Church, as well as St. Catherine’s in Middleburgh.

Sister Joan declined to discuss the closure recommendations Monday, and Holmes could not be reached.

“You hate to see it happen,” Lape said of the possibility of the Summit church closing. “The church is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, but there’s just not enough people around.”

Lape remembers his mother, Margaret “Peggy” Lape, bringing him and his four brothers and sister to church from his early childhood days.

His grandfather, Thomas Kearney, was the first person buried in the little church cemetery, he said. Lape’s brother William was the first person baptized in the church shortly after it was built in 1948.

If the church is closed, the diocese would decide what to do with the building, according to Lape.

The Summit church draws parishioners from a large geographic area from Richmondville to Gilboa and Jefferson. That geography combined with the need for a priest to also handle the Otsego County churches, makes it tough to keep up, Lape believes.

If Hubbard accepts the local recommendations, St. Joseph’s Church in Schoharie might merge with St. Catherine’s in Middleburgh.

Whether that would mean the Schoharie church would close, was unclear Monday.

People attending St. Anna’s would be left to attend the most convenient nearby parish.

Since he lives about midway between Cobleskill and Summit, Lape said he’ll probably attend St. Vincent’s Church in Cobleskill, if the Summit church is closed.

The latest recommendation are part of a scheduled plan to involve lay members of churches in the Albany Diocese in deciding how best to adapt to declining attendance in some churches and a shortfall of men entering the priesthood.

The “Called to Be Church” two-year initiative was announced by the diocese in June 2006.

According to the Albany Diocese’s Web site, discussions by local groups from regional parishes were scheduled to evaluate their situations from January 2007 to June 2008, followed by a diocese review of their recommendations.

Hubbard would then begin announcing his decisions this fall, followed by implementation actions beginning in January 2009.

Categories: Schenectady County

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