‘Wherever we’re going to be, we’re going to be the church’
OSWEGO — As early autumn gives way to a season of gratitude, the Catholic community of Oswego remains productive, though sad, in its efforts to consolidate.
"We’re aggressively moving along," Father John Hogan, priest of St. Mary of the Assumption in Oswego, told the Palladium-Times on Wednesday. "The committees have been meeting.”
After a July announcement that all Oswego parishes, including St. Paul, St. Mary, St. Peter, St. Stephen and St. Joseph, would consolidate over the coming year, community shock and some dismay set in. Hogan says that Oswego’s faithful are looking forward to the future and being prayerful in their steps forward. The Diocese, with input from parishioners, chose “Christ the Good Shepherd” as their consolidated name in August.
“I think people are rolling with it pretty well,” Hogan said. “There’s always an underlying sense of sadness. With any death, there’s a grief experience. And this is a death experience. But for Christians, any death leads to new life, as is the experience with any change. Our committees are trying to find ways be positive about this change.”
Hogan says he and other clergy have been and will continue working together with parishioners to usher in the transition. Several committees have been congregating and addressing immediate and long-term needs of the new Catholic community.
The Steering Committee is comprised of the pastors of St. Mary and St. Paul's, as well as Deacon Nick Alvaro, administrator of St. Joseph & St. Stephen the King. Two trustees from each parish are also on the steering committee.
“Wherever we’re going to be,” Hogan said, “we’re going to be the church. The church is the people of God, so we’re trying to emphasize those kinds of things.”
Hogan says meetings have been underway with all parish Council members, who are laity typically selected or elected by parishioners that serve as an advisory body to the pastor of each church.
“The six pastoral planning committees are making good progress in their envisioning the life of Christ the Good Shepherd Parish,” said Reverend Monsignor James Lang, Vicar for Parishes and head of Pastoral Planning for the Syracuse Diocese, which oversees all of Oswego’s Catholic churches. “The Facilities and Real Estate Committee is making excellent progress in their professional study of all parish facilities. The Committees will share their work to date in town meetings for parishioners after mid-January.”
Although neither Hogan nor Diocesan officials will say which building has been chosen as home base for the eventual consolidation efforts, several signs would point to St. Mary’s at the corner of West Seneca and Seventh Streets.
The church has been consecrated through a Catholic rite, whereas other buildings in Oswego have merely been blessed by clergy. Catholic canonical law as reported by Roman Catholic press Zenit states "that it is important to remember that a sold sacred object loses any blessing or consecration it may have had." There is an appeals process to grant exceptions to many canonical laws on a case-by-case basis.
"Right now it could be any of the four," said Deacon Nick Alvaro. "There is no designation as a consecrated church in code of canon law. The committee is having independent reviews, and come up with criteria to make choices.”
“No Catholic church here in the city has everything you need for the new parish,” was Hogan’s only comment on the matter. “All of the churches are going to be fairly looked at as part of an extensive study on the Facilities Committee. They will look at all angles of future use and past use. Everybody is given a fair look.”
Regardless of where the faithful physically end up, a Traditions and Welcoming Committee has been formed to document and consider current traditions of all Oswego Catholic churches and perhaps to form some new ones as the congregations come together as Christ the Good Shepard.
“Some of them are cultural traditions,” said Hogan. “St. Stephen’s, for example, has its annual Polish Fair, where they hand-make Polish food. And St. Mary’s has an annual festival. Then there are some things that we all do. Every year around the Feast of St. Francis, a lot of us do the Blessing of the Animals. And here at St. Mary’s we had a harvest dinner, homemade by parishioners. It’s a way for the parish to come together to celebrate the harvest.”
Hogan also said that the Traditions and Welcoming Committee is “trying to ascertain how to be a more welcoming parish.”
He hopes the community will come together and find new ways to unite the current and future faithful — “not only physically,” he said, “but emotionally and spiritually, too.”
Another consolidation group that has assembled in recent months and weeks is the Prayer and Worship Committee. This faction studies the liturgy and helps discern what types of prayer services to offer during and after consolidation.
“Bible study and adult formation are some of the experiences that we can do outside of just having mass,” Hogan said. “There’s the liturgy, and morning and evening prayer. And then there are prayer groups I know some of the parishes have.”
St. Joseph has hosted a prayer group for decades.
“They are more in touch with the charismatic movement and the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” explained Hogan.
Evangelization and Community Building is another committee in the multi-pronged approach to create one united Oswego Catholic church. This group is future focused.
“As we come together as one parish community, we will reach out to Catholics that aren’t practicing their faith all the time, and people that are interested in becoming Catholics,” Hogan said.
A Communications Committee is also working on an organized effort to help parishioners feel informed and part of the process, as well as to work with local and social media. A website for Christ the Good Shepherd is in the beginning stages.
Hogan also pointed to the many outreach efforts that each of the parishes and the combined efforts do in the community.
“Most of us do support and outreach in different ways,” he said, touting giving trees at Christmas, Catholic Charities and working with Oswego County Department of Social Services.
“I know that a lot of us collect things for Human Concerns food pantry. We try to keep people updated about what we’re doing here as a parish beyond our borders,” Hogan said. “Sometimes people forget that the churches in our community impact the greater community in a big way. Sometimes it’s known and sometimes it’s not known.”
In addition to All Saint’s Day services today, a mass for the entire city will be held on Thanksgiving Day to bring people together at St. Paul’s. Rev. Guy Baccaro will officiate. There will also be a prayer service for all on Dec. 12 at St. Mary’s.
For All Saint’s Day, also known as the Feast of All Saints, services will be held throughout Oswego today. At 9 a.m., Our Lady of Perpetual Help will host services, and St. Paul will hold them at 9:15 a.m. Just after noon, at 12:10 p.m., St. Joseph will hold celebratory services, with a final 7 p.m. service at St. Peter.