By Katherine Long | Editor
Following seven months of study and consultation, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia has created a plan for the Catholic community of Oswego.
The parishes of St. Joseph, St. Mary of the Assumption, St. Paul, St. Stephen the King, and St. Peter in Oswego and the mission of Sacred Heart in Scriba will merge to form Christ the Good Shepherd Parish, with its main worship site at the former St. Paul’s. St. Mary’s Church will become an oratory and a site dedicated to offering the Latin Mass.
Bishop Lucia announced the decisions in a May 20 letter to the Catholic community of Oswego. “I hope this lengthy letter illustrates the care with which I have sought to handle the situation I was presented with when I became the Bishop of Syracuse on August 8, 2019,” he wrote in the letter provided to the Catholic Sun.
Pastoral leaders of the Oswego Catholic community announced in June 2018 the parishes would begin a process to form one faith community that would worship on one church campus. They cited declining population, participation, and resources, among other factors, to explain the decision. Christ the Good Shepherd was selected as the community’s patron in August 2018. In May 2019 Bishop Robert J. Cunningham affirmed the “consensus based recommendation from the Oswego community that St. Paul’s Church should be the home of Christ the Good Shepherd Parish.” The individual parishes celebrated their final Masses June 29 and 30. On July 1, the four parishes merged, forming the new parish of Christ the Good Shepherd (CTGS).
Many voices called for a reversal of the decisions. The St. Mary of the Assumption Preservation Group in July submitted to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., an appeal asking for a review of the process, according to a report by Oswego’s Palladium-Times.
During a meeting held at St. Joseph’s Oct. 7, Bishop Lucia (who succeeded Bishop Cunningham in August) announced he would suspend the merger of the four parishes and conduct a review of the process that led to their merger. Since then, the bishop met with and received counsel from many bodies and individuals, he said in his letter, including Oswego parishioners; the pastoral planning committee; church trustees; and the procurator of and the canonical adviser for the hierarchical recourse, or appeal.
Christ the Good Shepherd Parish
In the course of his review, “the overwhelming consensus I have received is the need for the establishment of Christ the Good Shepherd Parish in Oswego for both the good of the local community and the prudent use of the limited resources available to the churches,” he wrote.
The bishop said he would issue a new decree May 21 establishing Christ the Good Shepherd Parish from the territories of St. Joseph, St. Mary, St. Paul, and St. Stephen, as well as those of St. Peter and Sacred Heart, two communities not included in the 2019 merger.
Bishop Lucia told the Sun he felt it was important to bring the communities into the process at this time to ensure that “if I created the parish of Christ the Good Shepherd for the City of Oswego, it was going to be all of the City of Oswego.”
The bishop’s decree will designate the former St. Paul Church as the “parish church” of Christ the Good Shepherd, serving as the community’s main worship site.
St. Mary’s Oratory
A second decree will establish St. Mary’s Church as a personal parish and oratory. “Personal parish” is a canonical term that means the parish will have no territory attached to it except the land on which it is built, and “oratory” designates a place of prayer, Bishop Lucia explained.
St. Mary’s Oratory will be set aside “for the purpose of establishing a Diocesan worship site for those desiring the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, more familiarly known as the Tridentine Mass or the Traditional Latin Mass,” the letter says. Bishop Lucia told the Sun he is in discussions with an order of priests based outside the diocese about bringing their ministry to St. Mary’s, but the coronavirus pandemic has stalled progress.
“Such an oratory has been a desire of mine since St. John Paul II in Ecclesia Dei and Pope Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum urged provisions be made for those desiring these centuries-old rites,” the bishop wrote. “It is my hope and prayer that this decision will foster greater unity in the Catholic family and aid the spiritual growth of all members of the Diocese of Syracuse.”
Bishop Lucia’s letter also noted that one reason St. Mary’s was not selected “as the principal church for the proposed new Oswego parish in the merger plan was the concern that its upkeep would impact the finances of the new parish…. On the flip side, even in the newly formed parish, Christ the Good Shepherd parishioners are still responsible for the upkeep not just of the parish church, but also of the secondary churches until other canonical permission is sought to change their use.”
As an oratory, St. Mary’s “will be supported by its current assets and by free-will donations. It will not be maintained by Christ the Good Shepherd Parish nor will St. Mary’s funds be used to sustain Christ the Good Shepherd Parish,” the bishop wrote. The oratory will have its own bookkeeper and the Diocesan Facilities/Construction Office will arrange maintenance. The bishop will appoint trustees for the parish and will help establish a finance council.
Church buildings and pastoral leaders
St. Joseph, St. Stephen, St. Peter, and Sacred Heart will “remain ‘subsidiary or secondary’ churches that should be open for prayer at the reasonable discretion of the Pastor” and for celebrating weddings, funerals, and Masses marking the churches’ anniversaries of dedication and patronal feasts unless or until a separate canonical process changes the buildings’ designated uses, according to the letter.
“It will be up to the pastoral leaders and parishioners of the newly formed parish to determine the future” of those churches, “considering the input of the respective church’s former parishioners,” the bishop wrote.
With his decrees, Bishop Lucia has appointed Father John Canorro as pastor of Christ the Good Shepherd and Father George Wurz, formerly administrator of St. Peter’s and Sacred Heart, as a senior priest of CTGS. “Senior priest” is a designation given to honor priests who have faithfully served their parishes but who cannot be given the title of emeritus because they did not previously have the title of pastor, the bishop told the Sun.
“The consolidation of St. Peter’s Church and Sacred Heart Church, Scriba into the new parish may occur over a period of time” under Father Canorro’s direction, according to the letter. This time “gives both Father Canorro and Father Wurz the opportunity to work out the best transition,” Bishop Lucia told the Sun.
The decrees establishing Christ the Good Shepherd Parish and St. Mary’s Oratory have been sent to the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome as the bishop’s response to the submitted appeal. (They are also linked in the story above, and will be available at syrdio.org and christthegoodshepherd.org.) “Anyone feeling aggrieved” by the decrees has until May 31 to ask the bishop in writing to revoke or amend them; after that, a period of 30 days for appeal to the Congregation of the Clergy begins.
Bishop Lucia said the review process has been in one way “the living out of my thesis — that I wrote for my licentiate in canon law — about consultation…. I’ve been able to put into practice something I wrote over 20 years ago.”
The experience has also been “a wonderful time for me to meet people and to really understand my role as trying to be a bridge builder.
“I love the people of Oswego, I love the town,” he said, and with Pentecost approaching May 31, he hopes that the decisions will bring “a new birth for them, a new beginning.”
Coverage of this story is ongoing. Reach Editor Katherine Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.