Final Mass celebrated at St. Brigid & St. Joseph: ‘Life has changed, not ended,’ Bishop Cunningham tells parish

Hundreds of people attended the final Mass at St. Brigid & St. Joseph Church on Herkimer Street in Syracuse. Providing the music was the St. Brigid’s Choir, directed by Liz Gould. (Sun photo | Chuck Wainwright)

By Tom Maguire, Associate editor

The Offertory Procession this time took a few minutes. There was much to offer at the final Mass Oct. 1 at St. Brigid & St. Joseph Church on the west side of Syracuse.

In addition to the bread and wine, parishioners presented Bishop Robert J. Cunningham with symbols of the many fine ministries of St. Brigid & St. Joseph over the years.

As Kevin Murphy, lector and Eucharistic minister, read their names, the parish stalwarts presented items including altar linens lovingly cared for by the Altar & Rosary Society; a copy of the Sacred melodies, symbolizing the choir; coffee and doughnuts, representing the efforts of the hospitality crew; and bags of food, emblematic of the food pantry.

“Today with heavy hearts we gather to celebrate faith and friendship,” Bishop Cunningham told the hundreds of people in the congregation. “St. Brigid & St. Joseph’s Parish has a rich history.”

He added: “Our primary sentiments today … are sentiments of praise and thanks to God for all that he has done for us, and all that he has given to us through this blessed parish.”

St. Brigid & St. Joseph is merging into St. Patrick, and that combination will be known as St. Patrick-St. Brigid Church.

The process is part of the longstanding diocesan pastoral planning process, said Msgr. James P. Lang, diocesan vicar for parishes. He said the combination was envisioned in the plan approved by Bishop James M. Moynihan in 2007. It was reaffirmed by the Priest Presbyteral Council and Bishop Cunningham in 2013. The merger has also been the subject of conversation within the pastoral care area planning group, Msgr. Lang said.

“A parish merger could be likened to a marriage,” he said, “because we’re talking about bringing two faith communities together.”

A new pastoral council will be constituted of members from both St. Patrick’s and St. Brigid’s, he said, and they will plan ways to continue bringing the community together.

At the final Mass at the Herkimer Street church, Bishop Cunningham urged the congregation to “do what God wants.” He added, “God does not waver in his mercy. His compassion and love are enduring. …

“We mourn today. But we rejoice too for the blessings and graces that have emanated from this parish.”

The bishop noted what St. Brigid and St. Joseph taught us: “a deep love of God, a concern for fellow human beings, and love and loyalty to the Church. … Just as in death, life has changed, not ended; so too for the parishioners of St. Patrick’s and St. Brigid & St. Joseph Parish today.”

The pastor, Father Kevin P. Maloney, concelebrated the Mass. He said that regarding the merger, it is not something he learned about in the seminary: “You learn as you go.” He thanked the parish and praised the choir, which drew applause.

After the Mass, Father Maloney joined those who gathered for a feast in the basement of the church. “St. Brigid really has a strong tradition, history, of service,” he said, “and even though it’s the final Mass here at St. Brigid’s, that spirit of service will continue, whether it’s at St. Patrick’s, or somewhere else.”

He noted that the “very great food pantry … does wonderful work, serving 150 families a month. Some way, somehow, we have to continue to be able to serve those people in some particular way; we just don’t know how we’re going to do that just yet.”

Father Maloney has been dubbed “pastor of the West End,” because he will be serving as the pastor of St. Patrick-St. Brigid Church and St. Charles-St. Ann Church. The linkage between those churches is soon to be effective, Msgr. Lang said.

“Right now it’s a little daunting,” Father Maloney said, “but the good thing is that the staff here at St. Brigid’s are wonderful … and I know the staff at St. Charles-St. Ann’s is similarly gifted, and love helping people and serving people … and they’re going to be great.”

He said the Masses will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday at St. Patrick-St. Brigid; 5:15 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Charles; and 8 a.m. Sunday at St. Ann’s.

“We have been a beacon of hope in our changing neighborhood,” said St. Brigid & St. Joseph Trustee Jim Jackson. “We have answered the call to feed the hungry and take care of the needy. We have provided a place where young children get a head start on their education.

“Special thanks go out to Eileen Deckert, director of our food pantry, and all of the wonderful volunteers; to the awesome parish staff and our wonderful pastor, Father Kevin Maloney, for helping us through this process.

“Thanks also to our friends and neighbors at St. Patrick’s for their prayers and concern and to all of the parishes in the pastoral care area — St. Charles-St. Ann, St. Cecilia-Our Lady of Peace, and Sacred Heart Basilica — for their support.”

He added: “Just as our patron saints, St. Patrick and St. Brigid, lived their lives of sanctity in perfect harmony and friendship, each depending upon and serving the other, so will we. Someone said it’s like the West End is united again!”

Ralph Taylor, of St. Patrick’s, attended the final St. Brigid & St. Joseph Mass with his wife, Margaret, and their four grandchildren. “It’s pretty sad; it’s a great old church,” Ralph said of St. Brigid’s, which dates to 1926.

“I live in Cato,” Ralph said. “I come in because we love Father Kevin. … He’s a great priest.”

Miles Bottrill, president of the parish council for St. Brigid & St. Joseph, said he would echo Bishop Cunningham’s comments that the church has been “a great source of community and spiritual enrichment for the area. … It’s just a wonderfully spiritual and humble group.”

He said he will be “very, very honored” to be one of the readers, along with his mother, Delores Bottrill, this weekend at St. Patrick-St. Brigid.

Mary and Joseph McCarthy are the Family Life ministers for the parish. Mary said, “I think it’s true that life is always changing and we have to adapt. And we’re not surprised; we knew that with the shortage of priests, churches would be affected by that.”

She said that right now, the food pantry is working out of the rectory, “and we wish we had some help and maybe some notion on how to pursue getting another place to have it.”

There are various steps to the food pantry: storing the food, packing the bags, having recipients sign in, and distributing the food. “So that’s a big concern of ours. … We’ve always been a presence in the neighborhood,” she said.

Kevin Murphy, the lector and Eucharistic minister who introduced the gift-bearers for the Offertory Procession, said he saw “an awful lot of crying eyes” in the church. His father, John Murphy, is a parish trustee and the facilities manager.

Kevin remembers being an altar server at Christmas Masses at St. Brigid. A lot of today’s Altar & Rosary Society members “are the same faces that were there when I was a kid,” Kevin said.

“It’s such a family atmosphere here and it has been for a very long time,” he added.

“Even in our sadness,” Bishop Cunningham told the congregation, “if we remember the Church is the holy mother, the unique mother, the immaculate mother, the great mother, … the sole true mother of all the living, then St. Brigid-St. Joseph will have fulfilled its mission, and St. Patrick-St. Brigid will truly be a light shining in the darkness.

“I am confident that our Blessed Mother, accompanied by Brigid, a saint noted for her devotion to prayer, and Joseph, as the patron of families and the universal Church, will continue to watch over you. Turn to them often, invoke their intercessions, and be faithful disciples.”

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