For the last time, parishioners of St. John the Evangelist looked around at the beautiful stained glass windows, the soaring arches, the flowers, statues and candles during the church’s final Mass on June 27.
But it was the choir performing songs in beautifully lilting Vietnamese that was among the most awe-inspiring features of the day.
This living aspect of the church was the focus of Bishop Robert Cunningham’s homily during the Mass.
Beginning with the story of the Irish immigrants who built the church after laboring on the Erie canal through six generations to the Vietnamese immigrants who came to call the church home, Bishop Cunningham spoke of the shared sacraments marking the lives of the parishioners of St. John the Evangelist.
“Thirty-one years before the establishment of the Diocese of Syracuse, poor Irish immigrants desiring their own parish and with the permission of the Diocese of Albany established this parish,” he said. When the Syracuse Diocese was established in 1886, St. John the Evangelist was the first cathedral. Seven other parishes in the diocese, he said, can trace their roots to this parish.
Just as the church has a rich history, it also has a long tradition of serving as the site of the celebration of sacraments such as baptisms, First Communions, weddings and funerals.
“Although today we recognize and celebrate the rich history and tradition of this parish, we acknowledge as well our sadness, our sense of loss,” Bishop Cunningham said. “The closing of a church is a moment we would prefer not to face but nonetheless must accept.”
Bishop Cunningham reminded those gathered that their parish life has changed, not ended. Just as there is spring after winter and resurrection after death, he said the church continues to be a source of life and hope even after a beloved parish closes.
“You, the living stones of this parish, will join another parish community where all of this is available. But this does not diminish your sense of loss and your need to mourn its passing,” Bishop Cunningham said. “In the Eucharist, we remember all of you gathered here, all of your loved ones and all who have gone before you marked in the faith.”
At the Mass’s close, Anthony Phan, president of the Vietnamese Catholic community, expressed his thanks to the bishop for being with the parish at such a painful time. “I also wanted to pick this special moment to express our sincere appreciation to each and every one of the people of St. John’s,” he said. Without the parishioners’ support, charity and friendship, he said, “the Vietnamese community would not have what it has today.”
He said that he believed the people of St. John’s would go on to live a long time in the kind acts and community they shared. “It’s never enough to say ‘thank you,’” he said, “but thank you millions, and may God bless you, the people of St. John’s.”
After the Mass, Diana Nguyen, a parishioner of St. John’s for 17 years, took photographs of the church. Asked about the church closing, she shrugged with a sad smile. “It really was sad because this is a beautiful church,” she said. Her family will now be attending Mass at Our Lady of Pompei.
One good part of the day was that her entire family, including children who will soon be leaving for college, were able to come together for the last Mass. They were among the throng of people who poured onto the sidewalk after the Mass to talk and take pictures. “Luckily, all of my kids are here,” she said. “We’re all here, and that’s good.”