Editor’s note: The following is a letter from Oswego native John Allen to Diocese of Syracuse Bishop Robert Cunningham. It is republished here with Mr. Clark’s permission.
The Diocese is implementing its decision to close all of the Catholic Churches in Oswego except for St. Paul’s on July 1, 2019. The reasons stated were dwindling membership and attendance at Mass and the shortage of priests.
The Diocese mandated that only one church would be allowed Oswegonians. This is a shame. The Catholics of Oswego were not given a chance to save their churches by the Diocese setting membership and attendance minimums to keep a Church open and setting a deadline for compliance. Similarly, the Diocese did not set financial minimums to be met for a parish to keep open its Church. I submit Catholics of Oswego should have had those opportunities. Instead, the Diocese decided that only one church was sustainable. It chose the most modern church, namely St. Paul’s. That was easy but, I submit, a bad decision. I believe the result will be even lower membership, attendance and financial support.
This is not to say that St. Paul’s should not be saved. It should be. It is the major Catholic church on the city’s east side and the only Catholic school in Oswego is affiliated with and located by it.
I submit that at a minimum, one church on the city’s west side, namely St. Mary’s, also should be given a chance. St. Mary’s is approaching its 100th anniversary of the building of the present church by its parishioners. It has particularly beautiful architectural features of a type which in Europe are celebrated and visited by tourists. This has been recognized by the Diocese. St. Mary’s, only a few short years ago, was designated by the Diocese as one of its alternative basilicas.
It’s astounding that the Diocese would abandon this church, a designated basilica and architectural treasure for all Oswegonians, not only Oswego Catholics.
This church should be celebrated and preserved.
It is older, and maintenance will be required that probably will be more expensive than a modern building. But is that the appropriate criteria to decide if the church should be saved?
In Paris, after the recent terrible fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Church, the people of Paris and of the world, didn’t say close it, tear it down or sell it to a developer. Instead, they rallied to repair and restore this ecclesiastic and architectural treasure. Millions of dollars have been pledged for this.
I suggest and respectfully ask the Diocese to allow the Catholics of St. Mary’s and people in Oswego to save this church and establish that they can maintain a church membership, Mass attendance and financial status that the Diocese sets. I ask that the Diocese give the Catholics of St. Mary’s and the people of Oswego until St. Mary’s centennial in 2025 to demonstrate this.
There is no question that there is a shortage of priests. In my opinion, this can be addressed by the Diocese and Church allowing priests to be married, promoting deacons to the priesthood, and opening the priesthood to females who represent more than one-half the population.
I recognize that these reforms will take time to consider and, hopefully, implement. It would be a tragedy, however, to lose St. Mary’s while these common-sense remedies are being considered.
For now, however, there are staffing alternatives to keep St. Mary’s operating. Oswego is fortunate to have two active retired priests who are from St. Mary’s who could help along with one Deacon from St. Mary’s and one Deacon who was stationed at St. Mary’s for many years.
Please give the Catholics and people of Oswego a chance to save St. Mary’s—this special church and architectural treasure, by keeping it open at least through the 2025 centennial.
If the choice is given, I think the response will be like that for Notre Dame in Paris.
John D. Allen