Reverend Thomas Fenlon said the closing of his church, St. Augustine, located in Morrisania, was like going to the wake of a loved one.
“Of course, I was sad,” he said. “But, you know, things fall apart, that is sort of the story of life.”
The 162-year old parish has merged with another parish, Our Lady of Victory, located at 1512 Webster Avenue. The new combined church is called St. Augustine-Our Lady of Victory.
The pastor proposed the merger of the two churches in spring of 2011, when the Archdiocese decided to combine churches which they felt needed extensive repairs, had declining membership and were becoming too expensive to maintain.
St. Augustine, which was located on Franklin Avenue, closed three years ago in July of 2009, due to leaks and damage to its structure.
According to Fr. Fenlon, services were then moved to the church’s school, which the archdiocese closed in spring of last year.
The parish’s old school building now houses the Harriet Tubman Charter School.
The church, the second oldest Catholic church in the Bronx, was built in 1849, but in the past several years, has experienced declining membership due to deaths and parishioners moving away from the parish, according to Fr. Fenlon.
Another reason for the decline in members is the struggle to attract a youth to the church.
Fr. Fenlon said he knew the church was in danger of closing, as it received a $250,000 annual subsidy from the Archdiocese.
“Our Lady of Victory needed a pastor at the time, and I thought I could work towards putting the two congregations together,” he said. “Our Lady of Victory was also in danger of closing.”
Fr. Fenlon said for seven months he was pastor of both churches, until the final Mass was held on the weekend on January 28-29.
An afternoon Mass was held at St. Augustine in the auditorium of it’s former school.
Following the Mass, parishioners of the church processed about a mile to Our Lady of Victory Church, where Auxiliary Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, vicar general, led a Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament to mark the merger of the two churches.
According the Fr. Fenlon, parishioners were very reluctant to the merge at first.
“Some people have been with the church for 60 to 80 years,” he said. “People made their First Communions there, they got married there. had their children baptized there. Having to leave that was a wrenching experience. After a period of about nine months, people came to realize we didn’t have any alternative, and they just accepted it.”
Although the school and the church have closed, there is still some limited activity that goes on at St. Augustine Church, such as the food pantry.
“We haven’t just abandoned St. Augustine,” said Fr. Fenlon. “The food pantry, which serves up to 500 people a week is still operated there, but that is probably going to be moved to a garage on Fulton Street, once enough money is raised.”
Fr. Fenlon said he has tried to stay positive, but the experience has been tough.
“Things happen for a reason,” he said.