The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Schenectady, established in 1904, will celebrate its final Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday, then close its doors for good.
The Bellevue church is being shuttered as part of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese’s Called to BE Church process, in which 33 worship sites are being closed over a period of three years because of declining attendance.
For many Immaculate Conception parishioners, the Closing Liturgy will mark a period of sadness and emotional upheaval, as dozens have called the church home for decades, and will now need to find a new place to worship. Some still chafe at the decision by the diocese to close it.
Vince Riggi, 64, said he’s been attending Immaculate Conception for nearly his entire life. “This is my neighborhood church. I was 2 years old when we moved to Bellevue.” The former parish council member said of the closing: “It’s a sad day for the church and a sad day for the neighborhood. A lot of people are upset.”
Riggi denies that Immaculate Conception was the stereotypical urban church that was losing parishioners to the suburbs. “Attendance was not a factor” in the decision to close the parish, he said. “We had three Masses. Between 400 and 500 showed up for our final church picnic last weekend. I personally don’t understand it.”
“Parishioners were not included in the Called to BE Church process,” Riggi continued. There wasn’t enough transparency. Parishioners did not have input.”
The emotional bonds to Immaculate Conception run deep for Riggi. It was there he celebrated his First Communion, Confirmation, and marriage to his wife, Donna, his high school sweetheart. “Our congregation was a nice parish family. It’s like losing your parents,” he said. He’s also concerned the closing will further “destabilize” Bellevue.
Parishioner Lucille DeSimone says she’s been attending Immaculate Conception for about a dozen years. The former choir singer agreed with Riggi’s contention that attendance was not in decline.
“We did not have low numbers. The income was there. The upkeep was there. We had a new roof, new furnace, and new windows,” DeSimone said.
DiSimone added that she will sorely miss the pastor, the Rev. Robert DeMartinis, or “Father Bob” as he’s known to most parishioners.
DiSimone calls him “A priest’s priest.” She said DeMartinis “speaks from his heart in the readings of the Gospel and in his homilies. He feeds our souls, our minds and our hearts. He guides his parish family to the teachings of the Catholic faith. He has credibility and integrity.”
Riggi said DeMartinis is “a great priest. He’s great at bringing people together.”
Both also said they were disappointed that DeMartinis was not named the new pastor of the parish that is absorbing Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Assumption. The parish, located a mile and a half away on Princetown Road in Rotterdam, will be known as Our Lady, Queen of Peace after holding its final Mass under the original name today at 4 p.m. No Sunday Mass will be held there, in deference to Immaculate Conception. Riggi said the Diocese decided it was best for a priest from outside the two churches to lead Our Lady, Queen of Peace into a new era. The Rev. Vincent Ciotoli was named pastor this spring. DeMartinis was given his new assignment by the Diocese this week, and will announce it to parishioners Sunday.
Riggi and DiSimone both said they aren’t sure if they’ll attend the final Mass at Immaculate Conception over concerns they might get too emotional.
Parishioners will have the opportunity to kiss the altar prior to the closing prayer at the end of Mass. After the congregation exits the church for the last time, the oldest parishioner will be given a key to lock the doors, ending an era that lasted 106 years.