Two cathedrals

Sept 8 – 14, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 30
Two cathedrals
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. John the Evangelist and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to merge

The reality of fewer priests has now hit home even for Bishop James Moynihan as the Cathedral begins the process of merging with the diocese’s first cathedral, St. John the Evangelist Church which is located at 215 N. State St. in the city of Syracuse. The wave of the future is clear and was outlined in the diocese a few years ago in Bishop Moynihan’s pastoral letter, “Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry.”

Newly named rector at the Cathedral, Father Neal Quartier, serves as pastor of St. John’s as well as director of the Personal Resource Center and director of Seminarian Formation. It is not uncommon these days for a priest to serve at more than one parish or to hold more than one position within the diocese. However, it is less common to have the diocese’s cathedral be included in combining parish plans.

“We’ve been talking about it at St. John’s for a long time,” Father Quartier explained. “The people here are educated as to the shortage of priests and the number of parishes on the city’s north side. They’ve gotten the message that they are vulnerable and need to do something creative to survive.”

Father Quartier put together a transition team made up of people representing both parishes. He also needed to revise the Mass schedule at each parish so that either he or newly-ordained parochial vicar Father Thienan Tran could celebrate Mass at the parishes. The 5:10 daily Mass at the Cathedral was eliminated because it was the least attended, Father Quartier said. While most pastors hesitate to make too many changes during their first year at a new parish, Father Quartier’s circumstances necessitated the new schedule.

Because so many parishes have faced combining programs, Masses and services over the past few years, the parishioners at Cathedral and St. John’s seem to be adjusting to their new parish life well.

Alicia Calagiovanni has been a parishioner at the Cathedral for more than 15 years and said she rarely goes to any other church. She’s serving on the transition committee and now says she’s looking forward to attending Mass and other events at St. John’s. “It’s like acquiring a new family member,” Calagiovanni said. “The people from St. John’s that I’ve met through the committee are great. They are very welcoming.”

Sister Judith Howley, CSJ, and Sister Maureen D’Onofrio, CSJ, are both also on the committee. Sister Judith is the director of the diocese’s Asian Apostolate and she works daily with the Asian community at St. John’s. Sister Maureen works at the Cathedral. “Our sisters have always been at St. John’s,” Sister Maureen said. “I think it’s a very exciting time for both parishes. We’re making the most of what we have to work with and the people have to take ownership of the church. I really feel the Holy Spirit is returning the church back to the people.”

Sister Judith is happy to be working with a member of her religious community as they go through the process of combining the parishes. “What we’re looking at right now is, ‘How can we do a few things together?’” Sister Judith said. She explained that the senior citizen’s group from Cathedral may begin gathering with the group at St. John’s because parking is more accommodating at that location. The directors of religious education for the two parishes will meet, Sister Judith said, and work on ways to combine some of their programs. “We’re trying to do this in a productive way,” Sister Judith said. “We’re doing it gradually and we’ll see what unfolds. We all have to look at the shortage of priests and how we can work together so priests aren’t overburdened.”

Bob Burke is president of the parish council at St. John’s and he said most people seem very positive about the idea of working together. He drives from Liverpool to attend St. John’s. “It’s one of the friendliest places I know of. When my wife and I first married we shopped around for a church and this was a great fit.”

He credits the parishioners’ ability to work together and to be open and accepting as the key to the success of the parishes merging. “It’s not easy to go through a transition,” Burke said. “People feel they are losing their identity but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Father Quartier said the people in both parishes have been extremely supportive. “Everything is under discussion,” he said. “Both parish councils are going on retreat in September. We’ll be working together. The staff will be sharing ideas. We’ll have common liturgies on holy days. We’ll take it slow the first year and hopefully combine bulletins and come together for religious education.” Father Quartier said that the work will take place “from the bottom up.”

“Really, I’m letting the people do all the work. Certainly the Asian community at St. John’s is very important. We have a representative from the Vietnamese community on the transition team. As more younger people become more involved, it will be easier,” he said. “They’ve already been displaced once from their country. St. John’s has become their home and we don’t want to displace them again.”

More and more people are witnessing parishes coming together so that priests’ schedules can be managed. Calagiovanni said that people want to know how the changes will impact their lives and the best way to deal with the parish communities combining is through communication and getting information out to the people. “We need to get the word out to let people know this isn’t going to change or that isn’t going to change. I feel that having no information spreads fear. I haven’t heard anyone complaining and I think most practicing Catholics see this as a way of life,” Calagiovanni said.

Father Quartier maintains that both parishes will keep their identity through the transition process. “Within two or three years we hope to be one parish, two churches each maintaining their own identity but merging programs,” he said.

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