By Deacon Tom Picciano
Sun contributing writer
JOHNSON CITY —Tony Miller walked out of Blessed Sacrament Church for the last time with a camel resting in his arms. Miller has memories of one of the larger figures of the parish nativity set.
“I’ve had a special affinity for that camel. He’s been my favorite piece of the entire nativity scene. I only get to see him at Epiphany because he doesn’t come out until then with the three kings,” Miller said.
Other parishioners brought the rest of figures out the front door on Saturday, Dec. 10. The sun was shining brightly on the calm Susquehanna River, just a stone‘s throw from the parking lot. The scene was much different in September when several days of rain pushed the raging river out of its banks into the rectory, former convent and school as well as the church basement.
The afternoon began as Father Edward Zandy, pastor, removed the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle. Then he celebrated Benediction which included a short reflection. Father Zandy eyed a large figure of the risen Christ on the wall, wondering out loud if there’d be room to take it along. He pointed to the nativity set and urged people to spend few minutes in the building before they left.
“When I blow out the candles, it will not be a church,” Zandy said. “A church is the people of God who come together to worship as a family.”
Tony Miller, a parishioner for 22 years, accepted those words. “When the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is gone and the relics are removed from the altar and the ground is deconsecrated, it’s real estate. The church is the community.”
Miller said the closing will be more difficult for his wife, who has been a member of Blessed Sacrament for decades. But he noted that St. Vincent’s parishioners were very welcoming, and he’d already been taking part in the choir and attended Mass there many times.
Parish Trustee Debbie Grassi, a life-long member of Blessed Sacrament, called the day “very emotional.”
“I think it was the right decision to move on since the flood. But certainly there was a certain sadness,” Grassi said. “We never expected this to happen. You look back on all the memories, all the sacraments and all the people you see come and go and it’s certainly like a family breaking up going our way.”
Another trustee, life-long Blessed Sacrament parishioner Greg Hrostowski, said that the flood of 2011 was devastating, much worse than the flood of 2006. Hrostowski added that it was a hard decision to close the church. Many parishioners experienced the flooding in their own homes as well. He said it was hard not to get choked up. “I went kindergarten through 8th grade here,” he said. “It was our community and it’s sad to have to see it close down.”
Hrostowski looked to the future. “It’s a blessing to have a church to go to and it’s a blessing to be able to continue with St. Vincent De Paul/Blessed Sacrament Church.”
After leaving the church grounds, Blessed Sacrament parishioners processed in a line of cars across the bridge. They journeyed down the Vestal Parkway, and up a hill to the newly formed St. Vincent De Paul/Blessed Sacrament Parish at the former St. Vincent’s Church in Vestal.
Nine-year-old Matthew Calenzo carefully carried a small lamb statue that someone had entrusted to him for the ride. He placed it beside other figures under a Christmas tree in the church vestibule. He had been baptized at Blessed Sacrament and received his first Holy Communion there. Matthew’s mom, Laurie, appreciated the welcome by the St. Vincent’s community. She added that it’s been a learning process too.
“I thought it was a good lesson for the children to learn to accept change,” she said. “Life changes, for as much as we’d like it to stay the way it is, it will always be changing.”