As churches close or merge due to decisions made by the Called to be Church initiative, one positive outcome is the growth of faith formation enrollment at other parishes, including Our Lady of Victory in Troy.
OLV's faith formation program has increased substantially this year, totaling 374 children and teens in Kindergarten through 11th grade, split evenly into 187 children in Kindergarten through sixth grade and 187 in grades seven through 11. Fifty teens will be confirmed by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard in early December.
"[In] the last several months, we have seen faith formation grow," affirmed Rev. Randall Patterson, pastor.
He said the increase was due to the number of families who have joined the parish due to Called to be Church changes. For example, when St. Francis de Sales parish in Troy closed in January, many of its parishioners chose OLV as their new parish.
In May, St. Paul the Apostle parish in Troy closed; OLV has been receiving new parishioners from there, as well. Some Catholics who attended the now-closed St. George's Church in Pittstown, a mission of Immaculate Conception in Hoosick Falls, also joined OLV.
"It is more convenient for them to travel to OLV from the western end of St. George's parish" than to choose a different new parish, Father Patterson explained.
As St. Patrick's and St. Mary's parishes in Troy close by the end of June 2010, OLV may see even more new faces in its pews.
"We have experienced many new parishioners who support the Church and the Roman Catholic faith," Father Patterson told The Evangelist.
However, it hasn't been easy for many Catholics to choose new parishes. Michael Bromm of Pittstown said it was an even split for the parishioners of St. George's, half going to Immaculate Conception in Hoosick Falls while the other half chose OLV.
Having chosen Immaculate Conception with his wife, Lisa, he said that their 16-year-old son, Ryan, will nevertheless be confirmed at OLV.
"Ryan has friends down there," he noted. "I am very glad to be tied to Our Lady of Victory."
Kevin Clifford, a new parishioner at OLV, told The Evangelist: "I spent 26 years at St. Paul's and 21 years at St. Peter's. Now I'm at Our Lady of Victory. As a parishioner, to have both parishes close was very traumatic."
But he noted that "the Church will continue to transition and I will continue to move with it."
In fact, OLV's pastoral associate for faith formation, Maryanne Tuite, noted that all the new families have volunteered to serve their new parish "either being catechists, lectors, or in any other way to help."
Laura Conroy, the parish's coordinator of youth ministry, was amazed by the number of youth who came to prepare food baskets for the nearby Catholic Charities food pantry.
"We asked the youth to come and spend an hour and a half preparing Thanksgiving food baskets, and between 70 to 80 kids showed up to help. In the end, we had 40 food baskets," she said. "The families also contributed both food and money towards turkeys for Thanksgiving."
According to Father Patter-son, many new families at OLV have children whose friends are already part of the faith formation program or who attended the parish school until its closure in June.
Kim Kozak of Brunswick, formerly a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales for 11 years, said she and her family made the move to OLV when Rev. Donald Ophals of St. Francis retired in June 2008.
"Our plan was to look at other parishes and decide, but a lot of my son's friends went to OLV, so we decided to go there," she explained.
She found that OLV has more younger families than St. Francis de Sales did; her 10-year-old son, Trevor, went from a faith formation class of seven children to a class of about 20.
In the end, Father Patterson doesn't believe parish boundaries are as important as Catholic unity.
"There isn't a difference between parishes. There seems to be a family of God and not of individual churches," he said, adding that even as parishioners experience losses, "they are ready to move on."