Western Montgomery County Catholics are dealing with disappointment after learning on the weekend that their worship sites — St. Peter & Paul in Canajoharie and St. Patrick’s in St. Johnsville — would be closing in February.
The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese had mandated that St. Peter & Paul, St. Patrick’s and St. James Catholic Church in Fort Plain merge by July 1. The three churches completed their merger in October, and the new parish was renamed Our Lady of Hope Church.
The diocese also mandated that the three churches choose by July 2010 one church where services would continue to be conducted. Parishioners at St. Peter & Paul and St. Patrick’s learned during Masses this past weekend that their churches would be closing Feb. 14.
The Rev. James Clark, who was assigned to the new Our Lady of Hope in July, said he thought closing the two worship sites and having everyone together for the start of Lent was a good idea.
The mandates from the Albany Diocese were part of the 21⁄2-year process dubbed Call to Be Church, which was designed to address the migration of Catholics from cities to suburbs and an ever-increasing priest shortage.
Clark said a pastoral council that included representatives from the three churches determined the best way to proceed was as one parish community.
He said the council reviewed each site and took into account each church’s finances, accessibility and size.
St. James in Fort Plain is newer than the other two, which were all built in the 1800s. St. James was originally built in the 1800s, but a newer site was then built in the 1950s, Clark said.
It also has the most space to expand, with three times more acreage than the other two sites, should expansion be deemed necessary in the future.
Clark said he would like to see a thriving parish community with space for various community activities, including church bazaars, quilting clubs, Bible study and senior activities.
He said about 800 families are members of the new Our Lady of Hope.
The decision to have one site was in the best interest of all three sites, Clark said, and was necessary to keep a Catholic presence in western Montgomery County.
“If all three were to stay open it would just bring us back to the table in a few years and all three would end up closing,” Clark said. “The congregations have diminished and resources and people are down.”
Clark said he was “gratefully impressed” with the reaction from parishioners upon learning of the decision to close St. Peter & Paul and St. Patrick’s.
“I think people felt it was inevitable and there was a sense of relief that, hey, it’s finally over,” he said.
C.J. Jones, one of the parish trustees and a communicant of St. Peter & Paul in Canajoharie, said he thought people had mixed emotions about the decision. Some people thought it was inevitable and accepted the fact that they would be attending Masses in Fort Plain and, for some, the change will be a bit harder.
Jones said many parishioners were still holding out hope that the diocese would allow all three sites to stay open.
Jones said it is sad that there will not be a Catholic church in the villages of St. Johnsville and Canajoharie.
However, Jones is excited about the future. “We have some good plans; it’s just going to be a bumpy road for a little while,” he said. “Once the dust settles and everyone comes to terms with this we’ll get through it.”
The three sites will remain open with four Masses split among them until Feb. 14, Clark said. Our Lady of Hope’s administrative offices have already consolidated to Fort Plain.
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