The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

When a church closes: “I went all my life, and then they threw me out”

posted by deacon greg kandra

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

Comments read comments(14)
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posted November 26, 2007 at 5:48 pm

This is what happens when there are no priests to lead these small congregations.But look on the bright side. For every boy who didn’t become a priest, we have a doctor, lawyer, or C.P.A in the family!Smile proudly every time you hear the term “lay priesthood!”

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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted November 26, 2007 at 7:01 pm

There is no reason a small Catholic community cannot be administered by a deacon. This was the case in the early church when bishops and priests were concentrated in the big cities and deacons were in charge of many small Christian communities in rural areas (with consecrated hosts brought from the bishop’s altar to the rural community for communion services). In our city two small ethnic parishes shrank to unfeasible membership and financial size and there was not a ripple of complaint when the diocese merged them with nearby larger parishes. But recently–in what was called “reconfiguration” parishes of economic and membership viability were closed. Big mistake. Priests and bishops bounce around like billiard balls in assignments. Thus they have little or no “gut” understanding of the attachment people who have lived in the same parish their whole lives have for both their community and their House of God. Thus if there is any sign of viability in the local parish, parishoners will fight like Hell to keep their community and House of God functioning. The bishops are, very unfortunately, following the Methodist model of retrenchment: close the smaller parishes, send the refugees to a nearby Methodist parish and thereby strengthen the receiving parish. Well, this has been a disaster for Methodists in our city (don’t our Catholic leaders do ANY research to see what does or doesn’t work??) In a few decades Methodists are almost extinct in our large city because few moved on to other Methodist parishes. In fact, if the policy followed in many northern dioceses were followed across the Bible belt with the tiny Catholic parishes there, there would be no Catholic parishes whatsover in large section of the South, Rocky Mountain, and Great Plains states.

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Brian F.

posted November 26, 2007 at 8:12 pm

Fair enough but I have to question the faith of someone who refuses to worship God unless it is on their own terms.

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posted November 26, 2007 at 8:17 pm

Fair enough but I have to question the faith of someone who refuses to worship God unless it is on their own terms.Where does anyone in the article say that?

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Brian F.

posted November 26, 2007 at 8:41 pm

Some of the people said that they’re going to stop going to mass because their parish is closing. To me, that says I will only go to mass (i.e. worship God) if I can go to a certain church.

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Maggie in Manhattan

posted November 26, 2007 at 11:47 pm

You know, none of this is new. If you look at the history of any large diocese (New York, for instance) you will see that many churches have been closed over the years (and I don’t mean the last 20or 30 either). Take a look at the list on the New York Guild of Organists website for a sampling ( Sometimes the closing was outside the control of the diocese, sometimes it was the choice of the diocese. I’m sure people were just as upset by those closings. However, there was probably a lot less of this “my way or the highway” that we see now.

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Brendan McGrath

posted November 27, 2007 at 1:21 am

Shouldn’t we have some system where the members of the parish have some ownership of the parish, in conjuction with that of the Bishop, so that only the parish itself could decide whether to close, or fight to raise the money to stay open, etc.? The same with diocesan and parish schools (i.e., non-private Catholic schools).Isn’t it the laity who gave their hard-earned money in ages past to build these parishes in the first place?

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posted November 27, 2007 at 7:35 am

Brian, one person in particular (others were alluded to) said he would not be able to go to mass at the new parish because he had no way of getting there. Others said they would not join a new parish, but nowhere did they say they would stop going to mass. You’re misreading the article.

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posted November 27, 2007 at 8:38 am

Brendan,The Catholic Church is not a democracy, nor will She ever be one. What you are describing can be found in many Protestant communities.

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Brendan McGrath

posted November 27, 2007 at 3:35 pm

Joseph,Issues such as who owns the parish, who can decide to sell it or close it down, etc., issues of governance like that, are not matters of doctrine. It is true that the Church is not a democracy when it comes to matters of doctrine, but there is no reason that we could not revise canon law to allow for some structure like the one I suggested. I’m not saying the bishop would have no authority over parishes, etc. I suppose the analogy would be that at least in SOME aspects (i.e., whether to close or not), the parishes would be like private Catholic schools rather than diocesan Catholic schools.The Church may not now be a democracy and may never be a democracy, but it in fact USED to be more of a democracy. (And actually, I would argue that even now it still does have a great deal of democracy, at least in some senses — e.g., the Pope is elected by the cardinals; you see democracy in religious orders; etc.) I don’t know exact historical details, but bishops used to be chosen by the people and then approved or whatever. Now, I’m not sure I’d want to return to something like that, given how horrible politics can be, and all the problems that led us to give up the more democratic system in the first place, but perhaps there’d be some way to take into account the voice of the laity and priests in the selection of bishops, thus returning to an earlier practice. Now, obviously, one does not become a bishop by popular acclaim; one becomes a bishop through ordination, etc. But there’s no reason that, in deciding WHO to make bishop, the voice of the laity and priests could not be taken into account. That’s what used to be done. Christ established the episcopacy, not the method for choosing bishops.Also, about who owns the parishes, haven’t some bishops, in dealing with financial issues, bankruptcy, etc. arising from the sex abuse cases, been arguing that they DON’T own the parishes?

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posted November 27, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Brendan,There are parishes where lay management has created an atmosphere where they believe they are part or complete owners of the parish. It just so happens that in most of those particular types of parishes, the priest is relegated to the altar… and that’s it. There are pleasant events such as Yoga, Reiki, and centering prayer. There is usually a music group with no respect for tradition. There is usually an RCIA group that is free to teach whatever it wants. There are usually unusual and innovative liturgical abuses because the parish liturgist has free reign. Give the “lay priesthood” an inch and they take a mile. There are way too many examples of that. The Church is to be run by the clergy.

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posted November 27, 2007 at 5:59 pm

Joseph, Do you understand the epoch you’re living in? This is the age of Aquarius. Get used to it! If you’ll just read the previous posts, you’ll learn that priests are unnecessary for anything but consecrating hosts, that the problem Catholicism faces is a financial one, not a spiritual one. Stop worrying about the clergy, they only get in the way. Stop disparaging free-thinking liturgists – They’re not hung up on prejudices and proprieties. Don’t badmouth Reiki or Yoga, because, apparently, paganism is not anathema to Catholicism anymore.

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Brendan McGrath

posted November 27, 2007 at 9:44 pm

Joseph,Obviously there would be dangers, just as there are dangers — as we’ve seen in abundance — with having everything run by the bishops. Again, I’m not advocating complete autonomy by the laity — just at least a bit more sharing of authority; at the VERY LEAST protection against having the parish (or school) shut down against the parishioners’ wills.

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posted December 2, 2007 at 12:07 pm

Brendan,Perhaps having the schools shut down are the best scenarios for true Catholicism. God has a way of working.Many “Catholic” schools today place alot of stress on truly Catholic parents. After learning heresy after heresy taught to them by Protestant, Atheist, or dissenter homosexual/lesbian nominal Catholics, Catholic parents have the daunting task of re-educating their children in the faith… night after night.If you don’t see that you are blinded by your desire to leave tradition in the past and modernize everything into chaos.

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