Vale Maria: St. Mary’s bazaar not taking place at St. Mary’s

The St. Mary’s bazaar, shown above last year, will move off the church grounds for the first time in a half-century.

OSWEGO — St. Mary of the Assumption parishioners are holding their annual bazaar at the Oswego Elks Club, breaking a 50-year tradition of holding the event at St. Mary’s Church.

The newly formed St. Mary’s Preservation Group is holding the bazaar to contribute to its preservation fund, rather than the newly formed parish, part of ongoing tension between local Catholic parishioners and church leadership.

With a raffle booth, food vendors and a pulled pork dinner this year, the St. Mary’s church bazaar is held annually to raise funds for church maintenance, but parishioners this year have another goal in mind — preserving a beloved church structure they fear is under threat of being closed down.

The bazaar is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 15, from 12-6 p.m. at the Oswego Elks Club on West Fifth Street. Event organizers said the event is free, but there are raffle tickets for purchase — for first, second and third place prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250, respectively — sold at the weekly downtown farmers market and other local businesses.

In previous years, the bazaar was organized with support of the Diocese of Syracuse to raise funds for a general church fund. However, in the wake of the four-parish unification under the name Christ the Good Shepherd, the event this year will be held as a fundraiser for St. Mary’s Preservation Group, a nonprofit formed by parishioners “who are so desperately trying to save the beautiful St. Mary’s Church,” said event organizer Michele Merritt, a member of the preservation group.

In an interview with The Palladium-Times on Monday, Merritt said she and other event organizers want it to be just like how the community remembers the more than half-century old tradition.

Merritt said without diocese approval or support from Christ the Good Shepherd, there was “no way” for organizers to get permission to hold the event in the St. Mary’s church parking lot, like in previous years.  

“We want it to mirror as close to the St. Mary’s bazaar as possible,” Merritt said in a Monday interview.  “We knew we were never getting the permission to have the event in the St. Mary’s lot.”

The group formed in the wake of the controversial decision to center Christ the Good Shepherd at St. Paul’s Church, which left the city’s three other Catholic parishes as oratory churches and especially St. Mary’s with an unclear future.

As oratory churches, St. Mary of the Assumption, St. Joseph’s and St. Stephen the King church would operate as “arms” of the newly formed parish, where baptisms, weddings, funerals and other sacramental events can take place, said Father John Canorro, newly appointed as pastor to Christ the Good Shepherd.  

Former Bishop of Syracuse Robert Cunningham’s June 20, 2019 decree transferring St. Mary’s assets to the new parish gave the diocese the power to sell the church property if it is left to neglect.

“In the event of disrepair, fiscal burden or repurposing, St. Mary of the Assumption Church will be relegated to profane not sordid use,” states the decree.

Fearing the St. Mary’s church structure will suffer the same fate as St. Louis’s Church, which collapsed on East Fourth Street in 2010, preservation group members galvanized other concerned citizens into action and pledged to raise money to show the diocese they have the means to support St. Mary’s maintenance and upkeep.

The diocese was not moved, maintaining that the bishop had full authority of decree to decide the status of the churches. On the advice of their legal counsel — which includes attorneys Brody Hale and Philip C.L. Gray — preservation society members filed their appeal to the Vatican in July to review the consolidation protocol. Hale previously said this would be long and drawn-out process

With leadership change at the diocesan level, a faction of St. Mary’s parishioners is attempting to negotiate directly with the newly appointed Syracuse Bishop, Douglas Lucia. Preservation group member and former Oswego Mayor John Sullivan, one of the parishioners spearheading this charge, said the newly appointed bishop has agreed to meet and is working out a time when they can begin talks.

“We have established a constructive dialogue with the new bishop and we are looking forward to meeting with him in the near term to talk about issues regarding St. Mary’s,” Sullivan said.

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