Don Buell and Joe Keller chat before the liturgy and Amanda Torelli does the second reading. See more photos in The Evangelist's print edition. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
Don Buell and Joe Keller chat before the liturgy and Amanda Torelli does the second reading. See more photos in The Evangelist's print edition. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
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There's a fine line, says parish life director Dorothy Sokol, between merged parishes working toward togetherness and continuing to honor the unique traditions of each faith community, which bring their own spirit to the united parish.

Seven years in, St. Francis of Assisi parish in Albany is still hard at work on finding its identity. The parish was created in the 2010 merger of St. James and St. John's/St. Ann's parishes in Albany. St. James became the "Delaware Avenue worship site" and St. John's/St. Ann's is referred to as the "South End worship site."

Traditions from each are a part of St. Francis of Assisi parish. The South End's fundraising harvest festival dinners continue, as do and soup-and-bread gatherings during Lent to reflect on the season. The Delaware Avenue site still sponsors "fall frenzy" raffles and houses the parish faith formation program.

"Activities that bring us all closer to God bring everybody" along for the ride, said Mrs. Sokol. Previously PLD for St. James from 2006-2010, she returned last year to helm the merged parish. She succeeded Deacon Ray Sullivan, who retired after five years as PLD, and Rev. John Lanese, who served as administrator of the merged parish in its first year.

The pastoral council and PLD have been striving to respect parishioners' desire to maintain events and practices from each site, even as a common identity is also sought. The healing process is ongoing, said Mrs. Sokol.

One major responsibility for the parish is its responsibility for six buildings: the two churches; the Delaware Avenue parish house, where the parish offices and faith formation are based; the former St. James School, now used for both Albany Medical Center's daycare program and a parish food pantry; the former South End rectory, where two Religious of the Sacred Heart now live; and St. John's/St. Ann's Outreach Center, a Catholic Charities site that provides food assistance, furniture, clothing, school supplies, a GED program and more for people in need.

Maintenance alone is a major focus for the parish. Mrs. Sokol mentioned repairs to the church organ at the Delaware Avenue site and a new organ that was purchased for the South End site.

As the St. Francis of Assisi parish community moves forward, celebrating the feast day of its "new" patron saint has become symbolic. Last year, there was a Mass and dinner at the Delaware Avenue site; this year, the South End site took the lead in hosting the event.

It's all about "regrouping and doing things that are important to the communities," the PLD said.