The Deacon's Bench

It’s becoming a familiar story: a parish closes, and the flock can do little more than grieve. It happened again this weekend in Buffalo, and the local paper picks up the story:

The Kilgen pipe organ thundered for the last time. A rendition of “Ave Maria” echoed gloriously among the decorative oak rafters. A haze of incense hung over the pews.

And 83-year-old Florence Maziarz was reduced to tears during the closing Mass in Queen of Peace Catholic Church on Genesee Street — one of five Catholic parishes holding final liturgies Sunday.

“People’s hearts are broken,” she said. “When they sang ‘Ave Maria’ in church today, I cried like a baby.”

A deep, abiding sadness isn’t the only sentiment Catholics are expressing about church closings.

As the toll mounts, feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment and betrayal have been growing.

Some Catholics say they might never join another parish. Others insist they will have to watch Mass on television now, because, with their church closed, they won’t have transportation to a different church.

St. John Gualbert Catholic Church in Cheektowaga is prepared to accept members of Queen of Peace and Holy Name of Jesus on Bailey Avenue, an inactive worship site that also closed on Sunday.

But Morris Johnson, who served for 20 years as an usher at Queen of Peace, doubts he will go to a new parish.

“I haven’t got no way to get there,” said Johnson, who is 79 and no longer drives.

Maziarz isn’t sure where her next church will be — or even if she will find one.

Other Catholics from closed parishes say they also feel orphaned from their spiritual homes — in many cases the churches where they were baptized and from which they expected to be buried.

“I don’t think we’ll ever forget about it. It just hurt a lot of people,” said Florence Zuchlewski, 80, who had spent her entire life as a member of St. Florian Catholic Church on Hertel Avenue in Black Rock until the church closed Oct. 28.

The closing was a bitter experience for Zuchlewski, a faithful Mass attender who considered opting out of the obligatory weekend liturgy.

“I said, ‘What did it do?’ I went all my life, and then they threw me out,” she said.

Zuchlewski changed her mind, though, and now goes to Mass in All Saints Catholic Church in Riverside. But she says she doubts she ever will enroll as a member.

“I just can’t join a church. I’m afraid if I get really attached, they’re liable to end up closing that one. I don’t think I could handle it. Once is enough,” she said.

There’s a lot of hard feelings out there. Read the rest to get a sense of it.

We all know that a church is more than a building, and “being Church” is more than showing up for mass and sitting down at pancake suppers. But when generations have spent some of the most valuable and meaningful moments of their lives kneeling in those pews, praying before those statues, it’s painful. For many, that building is where they had babies baptized and daughters married and husbands buried; it’s where they received first communion, and where they spent countless midnights gathered for mass at Christmas mass. The spiritual connection is palpable. It’s in their bones.

The loss is real, and we can’t deny it or diminish it. If this is going to be happening with greater frequency — and I think it is — we need to find a way to help people cope and mourn and heal.

Photo: by Derek Gee, Buffalo News

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