Holy Family Parish
   
Catholic Churches March Down Main Street

By David Robinson
Evening Telegram
Tues Sep 15, 2009, 09:41 AM EDT

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Herkimer, N.Y. - Upwards of 200 people marched through the village of Herkimer Monday to celebrate their successful transition into a shared religious community.

As the only village in Herkimer County with two Roman Catholic churches, members of surrounding parishes started at Sts. Anthony and Joseph Church on South Main Street and ended at St. Francis de Sales Church on North Bellinger Street. Singing songs of peace, the message was clear: We can all work together. The display was necessary since, just over eight months ago, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany announced it would be closing 33 of its 190 churches as part of a restructuring known as “Called to Be Church.”Dealing with a diminishing number of priests and an increasing trend of Catholics moving out of traditional parish locations, many churches were also forced to merge in order to avoid being part of the nearly 20 percent that closed their doors.

Herkimer County’s nine churches had been involved in planning efforts prior to the closings and, as a result, were asked to be part of the group forming combined parishes, sharing pastors and many services.

Mark Cunningham, pastor at St. Francis de Sales in Herkimer and blessed sacramental minister at Blessed Sacrament Church in Mohawk, said many local parishioners feared the change.
But many unexpected, and outright positive, signs have popped up since the mergers.

When Fr. Leo Potvin retired as pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Newport and St. Joseph’s Church in Dolgeville, the area pastors thought they would be called upon to pick up another parish, despite many having already taken on two each.

Because Herkimer County’s parishes were so involved in planning groups and worked hard to present a model for success, though, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the diocese decided to appoint a new priest, Fr. Bob Gorman.

“We got a priest and we weren’t expecting one,” Cunningham said, referring to the positive sign of the support from Albany.

The second, and most convincing, proof that local churches had, against all odds, thrived under the new system was their ability to collect funds.

Instead of decreasing the main fund-raising drive, as many predicted, Cunningham said eight of nine Herkimer parishes actually increased their totals. The “sense of unity and togetherness” through donation proved to be the largest increase, percentage wise, in the 14 counties in the diocese, he added.

In order to celebrate local parishes accomplishments in perseverance, Cunningham said the Herkimer Deanery is holding a week of thanksgiving each night through Thursday, Sept. 17.

Each evening at 7 p.m., the parishioners are asked to gather at a specific church for worship. And the Solemn Procession on Monday in Herkimer served as an example of the commitment.

Cunningham, however, wasn’t surprised at the local residents, which have dealt with their share of hardships, overcoming the perceived hurdles. “We have a knack for survival, a knack for making the best of things,” he said.