The Bronx Catholic community has some challenges ahead of it.
In September, Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan will make decisions regarding the archdiocese’s pastoral planning initiative, “Making All Things New.”
The decisions to continue, merge or close parishes throughout the state come after a long and thoughtful process that took over a year, said Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling. The process included a self-evaluation of the parishes, discussions in parish “cluster” groups of three or four, and recommendations from an advisory panel.
The changes are necessary to ensure the health of churches going forward, as the population of Catholics in the city cannot sustain the large number of churches, most built between 75 and 150 years ago, said Zwilling.
“We do expect there will be a number of parishes closing and merging, especially in the Bronx and Manhattan,” he said, although there is no preconceived quota the archdiocese is trying to meet.
One local parish that might experience some changes is the St. Mary Star of the Sea parish on City Island. The parish has been recommended for a merger with Pelham Bay’s Our Lady of Assumption Church, but could retain the building as a worship center without a pastor-in-residence, The Bronx Times reported in July.
Parishioners and church leaders are not happy about that recommendation, and the City Island Civic Association wrote a letter to Cardinal Dolan opposing the possible plan.
Monsignor Anthony Marchitelli of Our Lady of Assumption, which could be merged with St. Mary’s, said he had no feelings about the recommendations until decisions are made.
“I don’t see any reason to speculate on what may or may not happen,” he said.
St. Ann’s Church in Norwood has also been recommended for a merger with nearby St. Brendan’s and parishioners are also upset.
St. Ann’s Father Frank Scanlon could not be reached for comment.
Little Italy’s icon, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, could face changes as a result of the initiative as well, Father Eric Rapaglia told The Bronx Times in June. The church has been recommended to merge with nearby Our Savior parish, and although the Mt. Carmel building would remain open under the plan, there could be a name change and a loss of the “Italian National Parish” distinction, said Rapaglia at the time.
Rapaglia said that while a handful of vocal parishioners oppose any change, he felt the majority of people are okay with changes that could strengthen the church.
“There are a good number of people that are just happy we are not closing,” he said.
Zwilling said the archdiocese would not reveal or discuss parish recommendations until Cardinal Dolan makes his decision. But after the decisions are made, the archdiocese will work close with parishes in transition to help them through the emotional time.
“We’re aware this is going to be difficult,” said Zwilling. “If we want the church to continue to thrive and continue its mission we have to take action.”