106-year-old church may close its doors

Parishioners at St. Mary’s Church in Schenectady may have to find another place to worship starting

Parishioners at St. Mary’s Church may have to find another place to worship starting in the coming year if a recommendation by the local planning committee to discontinue masses at the 106-year-old Polish parish is approved.

According to the Rev. Richard Carlino, the pastor at St. Mary’s, the local planning committee will recommend to the Albany Diocese that St. Mary’s remain open as a catechetical center and oratory for religious instruction and study. There would be no official masses at the church, but it would remain a sacred space that could be used for funerals, weddings and other special events.

As part of the Albany Catholic Diocese’s new program “Called To Be Church,” planning committees throughout the diocese have been meeting for the past 18 months to determine how parishes can share services and consolidate.

No church is allowed to stand alone: they either have to merge, link or close.

The purpose behind “Called To Be Church” is to deal with the rapidly decreasing number of priests within the diocese, Calino said.

Currently, there are 131 active priests within the diocese serving about 160 parishes; by 2020, there are only projected to be 36 priests left.

There are about 20 members of the planning committee set to determine the future of the St. Mary’s, St. John the Evangelist, St. Anthony’s and St. John the Baptist churches. There are about six other planning groups in the city.

St. Mary’s, a small neighborhood parish on Eastern Avenue, was created by Polish immigrants in 1892. Its attendance has shrunk as the city and neighborhood demographics have changed. Currently, about 180 parishioners worship weekly inside the church’s Gothic walls in a space designed for 700. Financially, the church is more than $200,000 in debt.

Carlino said the church’s financial condition was a secondary aspect of the planning committee’s recommendation. He said the main reason is its proximity to St. John the Evangelist a few blocks away, which is a larger church with more than 2,200 families.

“It’s a very painful time for the people of St. Mary’s, and understandably so,” Carlino said. “I’ve been with them for six years, and I feel their pain. It’s a loss, and my heart aches for them, literally.”

The planning committee is also considering the closure and possible sale of St. John the Baptist, which is the oldest Roman Catholic church in the Mohawk Valley.

The planning committee’s final proposal is not due to the diocese until the end of June. At that time, a review committee will look at the proposal. Bishop Howard Hubbard is expected to announce final decisions about the fate of churches throughout the 14-county diocese in January.

If accepted by the Albany Diocese, the changes to St. Mary’s would take effect sometime after July 2009.

Categories: Schenectady County

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