Celebrating the holidays often means traditions, church and family, and many Capital Region Roman Catholics whose parishes have closed this year are forming new traditions in a new church with a new religious family.
Or they are trying to.
The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese closed dozens of churches this past year as a result of the 21⁄2-year “Called to Be Church” process designed to address a population migration from cities to suburbs and a persistent priest shortage.
The Carosella family say they went from being Roman Catholics to “Roaming Catholics.”
The Scotia family of five attended St. John the Baptist Church in Schenectady. In the five months since its closure, they’ve visited different churches throughout the area to find a reasonable fit. So far, they haven’t found the right one, Joe Carosella said. “I think we like Our Lady of Fatima on Rosa Road best,” he said. “We don’t mind St. John the Evangelist, but it’s very big, which is so unlike St. John the Baptist, which was such a small family-like place.”
Carosella called it “disappointing and kind of sad” that the family doesn’t have a place to worship for the holidays where they feel comfortable.
“We really haven’t found anywhere that is a suitable replacement,” he said. “Not that you can replace a church like that.”
For 88-year-old Eve Fiminski of Niskayuna, this will be the first time in 87 years that she celebrated Christmas in a new church.
Fiminski, who formerly attended St. Mary’s Church, said she found a new home at St. Luke’s in Schenectady.
She said the priest, the Rev. Dominic Isopo, is why she eventually chose St. Luke’s parish.
“He’s not a modern priest, he’s not afraid to pray for half an hour or longer and people don’t mind at all because he makes it interesting,” she said.
Fiminski and her daughter joined the church in November after spending a few months attending different churches in the area. St. Mary’s closed in June.
“I’ll always miss St. Mary’s,” Fiminski said. “I went there for 87 years. I’ll miss it, but there is nothing I can do about it, so I’m trying to make the most out of a difficult situation.”
Alfred Lotano, of Schenectady, said he and his wife, Theresa, former members of St. John the Baptist, will miss their church this Christmas, but they easily made the transition to St. Luke’s also.
“We had done a lot of our investigating while St. John’s was still open, and we ultimately chose to go back to St. Luke’s,” Lotano said.
The couple both grew up in Schenectady and had attended St. Luke’s before. They were married in St. John the Baptist in 1986 and stayed until it closed in June.
A diverse group of people attended Mass at St. John the Baptist, Lotano said, coming from all over the Capital Region, including Colonie, Clifton Park and various Schenectady County towns and neighborhoods. Lotano said many of the friends he made at church decided to attend a parish closer to their homes.
“I can’t say I don’t miss them. I love that little church,” Lotano said.
About 60 new families have joined St. Luke’s Church at 1241 State St. in Schenectady since St. John the Baptist and St. Mary’s closed, Father Isopo said.
“The important thing is that people find a spiritual home and so we’ve been welcoming them since both parishes closed,” Isopo said.
As soon as the parishes closed, Isopo said, signs were hung at St. Luke’s that welcomed former parishioners of both churches and, during the liturgy, Isopo said he would welcome new members. The church also sent out formal invitations to members of St. John the Baptist.
As people become more comfortable in their new spiritual homes, Isopo said, the painful feelings will subside.
Both St. Anthony’s Church and St. John the Evangelist Church have been doing their best to welcome new parishioners too, the Rev. Richard Carlino, said.
For the first few months after St. John the Baptist and St. Mary’s closed, Carlino said, he would ask those attending Mass who were formerly from those churches to stand. “There was always spontaneous applause,” he said.
St. Anthony’s Church also hosted a special Polish dinner the week before Christmas for those former members of St. Mary’s Church, which was formed by Polish immigrants.
“People seemed really happy about that,” Carlino said.
Former choir members of St. Mary’s Church have also joined the choir at St. Anthony’s, Carlino said.
A DIFFERENT VIEW
Disappointment and anger still linger within former members of St. Casimir’s Church in Amsterdam, according to former church administrator Gloria Martuscello.
Former parishioners still feel closing the church was unnecessary, Martuscello said, given the church’s amenities, community and finances.
“I can’t imagine what the bishop was thinking when he decided to close this church,” she said.
Martuscello said she misses the friends she made at St. Casimir’s. Everyone has scattered around to the different parishes. She said many of the people from St. Casimir’s went to the Auriesville Shrine for Mass in the summer and are just now looking for a home parish for the holidays.
“This morning I got three calls from families wishing me happy holidays and asking where I was going to for holiday Mass,” she said. “Lots of my friends are still deciding where to go.”
Martuscello said many of the former parishioners have expressed a desire to get together and worship, maybe at a restaurant.
Martuscello went to school at St. Casimir’s, she and her husband Neil were married there, and went there for any other religious needs.
“Neil and I have come to terms with the fact that there isn’t time to create the same atmosphere we felt at St. Casimir’s somewhere else.”
Martuscello said she goes back and forth each Sunday between St. Stanislaus in the city and St. Stephen’s in Hagaman, where she said she will probably be spending the holidays.
Barbara Bell, the secretary at St. Stephen’s in Hagaman, said she has seen a lot of new faces at Mass since St. Casimir’s and St. John the Baptist in Amsterdam closed.
“It’s unfortunate that they lost their churches, but we are trying to do everything we can to make them happy here,” she said. “We’re a small church, so some people like that better than the great big ones.”
The Rev. John Medwid, pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Amsterdam, one of the biggest churches in the city with 1,600 families, said he has seen a few new faces. The church is the successor parish for St. Casimir’s, which closed in May. Medwid said there are two statues and some candlesticks from St. Casimir’s on display and St. Mary’s is using the Nativity scene from St. Casimir’s this year.
“Hopefully that will make people feel welcome to see different things that were part of St. Casimir’s Church,” he said.
Medwid said he hasn’t heard many negative comments lately.
“I think while people are hurt and disappointed, hopefully the healing process has begun and they are trying to settle into one of the parish communities,” he said.
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