As feared, several Catholic churches in Schoharie County will be closing this year as part of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese’s restructuring plan.
The news was given to parishioners beginning Saturday afternoon and will affect three churches in the county as well as several more in Otsego County.
According to the Diocese, the following churches will close:
• St. Mary’s Mission Church in Sharon Springs by December 31.
• St. Joseph’s in Schoharie by July 1 after it is merged with St. Catherine’s of Middleburgh.
• St. Anna’s in Summit by July 1.
In Otsego County, St. Mary’s Mission Church in Schenevus is to close by February 25, Blessed Sacrament Mission Church in Springfield Center is to close by October 18 and St. Thomas in Cherry Valley will become a mission church of St. Mary’s of Cooperstown by July 1, 2010 and both sites will remain open.
In all, 33 worship sites will be closed over a three-year period. About 20 percent of the worship sites in the Diocese will be closed or merged.
The local closings and mergers will force parishioners to find other churches such as Cobleskill to attend Masses.
“It’s a reality of the times,” said Father Thomas Holmes who celebrates Masses at Cobleskill, Middleburgh and Schoharie.
Though it will be difficult for some people, a major factor is that there are still places within reach to worship, he said.
Father Holmes was part of the long-range planning group that made the recommendation to the Diocese.
The decision to merge St. Joseph’s with St. Catherine’s and then close the Schoharie church was because of declining numbers in attendance and geography, Father Holmes said.
St. Joseph’s was organized around 1958.
“We have to welcome these people and make them feel they are part of this parish,” he said.
He said St. Catherine’s should become more vibrant because of “taking St. Joseph into our fold.”
He said he kept the parishioners at the churches up to date so the changes were not surprises.
There were town hall meetings to discuss the options that drew about 70 to 100 people, he said.
Bishop Howard Hubbard said the sites to be closed will be sold.
The first preference, he said, was for religious uses and then non-profit groups and lastly, to the commercial sector.
Diocese officials said there were two main factors in the closings and mergers: the flight of Catholics from the cities to the suburbs and the shortage of priests.
The number of priests in the Diocese has shrunk from around 400 in the 1960s to fewer than 100 in 132 parishes within five years.
The weekend announcement finalized a two and a half year process known as “Called to BE Church.” The process called for 38 local planning groups to be made up of leaders from two or more neighboring parishes.
The groups were given three options: to close a parish, to merge a parish with another parish or “link” it with another to share resources.
“There’s no question that the closing of parishes is a difficult and painful process for the people of the parish, for which there is a great spiritual and emotional attachment,” said Bishop Hubbard, whose own home parish of St. Patrick’s in Troy will be closing.
“All of the people involved in this process empathize with the painful adjustments that will be required…
“But we as a church must acknowledge the social and demographic changes that require change, and remember our Church must adapt, just as our ancestors’ Church adapted to rapid changes in society in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
The changes had to be made, he added.
“The Call to BE Church plan provides a blueprint for the most prudent use of the resources that have been entrusted to us.”
This process has been occurring in Dioceses throughout the Northeast, said Diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb, and other Dioceses have closed a higher percentage of sites than the Albany Diocese will close.
The Diocese covers 164 parishes in 14 counties.