Schenectady County

Schenectady church nears end of a long history

One of the oldest Roman Catholic communities in the Northeast will celebrate its final days with cel
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Categories: Schenectady County

One of the oldest Roman Catholic communities in the Northeast will celebrate its final days with celebrations Sunday and Wednesday.

The history of St. John the Baptist Church, at 427 Franklin St. in downtown Schenectady, follows closely with the development and decline of its home city.

Irish workers digging the Erie Canal founded the parish in 1830. As the city grew to become a capital of industry, immigrants who poured into the area to work at various factories turned to St. John the Baptist as their place of worship.

In the 1960s as people flocked out of the city and into the suburbs, St. John the Baptist began its decline as well.

The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese is closing St. John the Baptist, along with 33 other parishes in its 14-county region, as a way of dealing with a priest shortage and shifting demographics from cities into suburbs. The closure process is part of a 21⁄2-year program of the diocese, “Call to Be Church.”

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, at 828 Eastern Ave., about two miles away from St. John the Baptist, will close July 1, along with St. Anna’s Roman Catholic Church in Summit in Schoharie County.

Marilyn Lucas of Scotia has been attending church at St. John the Baptist for the last 40 years. After this week, she said she doesn’t know where she will go but intends to find a church somewhere.

“I won’t stop going. My faith is still strong and it’s not connected to a building per se,” she said. “It’s the people that worship in the building.”

Lucas said most of the 170 families who are members of St. John the Baptist don’t know where they will go either.

“Everyone I have spoken to is extremely undecided,” Lucas said. “They tell me they’ll participate in the last closing ceremonies and then maybe shop around during the summer.”

The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese had originally told St. John the Baptist to close in February, but the parish asked for an extension so it could celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist.

Typically the parish hosts a strawberry festival of sorts on the Sunday before June 24 to celebrate the occasion, but this year will be a bit more special, Lucas said.

The parish has planned a special Mass at 1:30 p.m. Sunday with a small reception after for anyone with any connection to the church. “We expect a lot of people to come back for this,” she said. Then at 4 p.m., a dinner is planned for parish members and their families at the Ancient Order of Hibernian on State Street.

On Wednesday, the official closing date of the parish, there will be prayers, presentations of Irish folk music and a performance by the Schenectady Light Opera. There will also be an “8th Sacrament Cafe” in the parish rectory where people can come to socialize and enjoy coffee and doughnuts from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Old photos and other memorabilia will be on display.

“We’re hoping people will drop by whenever they can,” Lucas said.

St. John the Baptist doesn’t currently have a pastor of its own, but the Rev. John Hunter, a retired priest from New York City, has been with the parish since the winter. “The bishop has consented to let him be with us and we love him,” Lucas said. “He’s 84 years old and so much fun. He tells us a joke every Sunday.”

Lucas said the hardest thing will be leaving her faith community. She said it has been a comfort to her to worship in the same place with the same people and traditions for all those years. She said it’s not something you can take with you to a new place.

“You really can’t go as a group anywhere. To go to a new church you really have to combine there. You can’t bring the old with you,” she said. “People speak of community, but we really have that here. That’s what we all feel we’re going to miss.”

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