BY MAUREEN MCGUINNESSWhen St. Monica's Church in Johnsonville merged with St. John the Baptist, Schaghticoke, and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Valley Falls to form the Church of the Holy Trinity in Schaghicoke, parishioners from each parish wanted to bring a part of their home parish with them.
"When we had our final mass at St. Monica's, we asked the people of St. John's to accept our tabernacle, our Stations of the Cross and a table," said Alice Tate, a parishioner of Holy Trinity. "We became a part of them."
In addition to those items, the bell from St. Monica's sits at the entrance to the front of the church and is known as "St. Monica's bell."
Having the items from the closed parishes helped ease the transition, Mrs. Tate said. The 85-year-old parishioner said she was baptized, made her First Communion and was confirmed in St. Monica's, so the closure of the church was difficult.
"It helped people to feel that part of St. Monica's was there [at Holy Trinity]," she said.
Ann Rehder, a parishioner of the former St. John the Baptist, recalled the merger in 2001 as being a challenging time. "It was extremely difficult," she said.
There will be many more such transitions under the Called to be Church pastoral plan, announced last weekend. In a "Manual for Closing and Merging of Parishes" (also see page 12), prepared with guidance from other dioceses and being distributed to pastors and administrators, parishes are directed on how to dispose of sacred items.
First priority goes to the merged or succeeding parish; next, all parishes from the Albany Diocese can take necessary items. All remaining items will be sold under the direction of the Chancellor for Pastoral Services.
Each parish involved in the Holy Trinity merger met to decide which sacred items and artifacts to bring to the newly formed parish, said Mrs. Rehder.
She said she is grateful to the parishioners of the former St. Monica's for their gift of the Stations of the Cross. St. Monica's Stations of the Cross were hand-carved and imported from Italy. "When I see the beauty of the Stations of the Cross and I see the lovely tabernacle that were given with such generosity I am moved," she said.
After the parishes decided on what items would be used in the newly formed parish, a team of parishioners worked with the parish staff on inventorying items, Mrs. Rehder said.
"We looked at what was left," she recalled. "We offered it to other parishes and we got in touch with the Diocese."
Some items were returned to priests; for example, there were chalices with priests' names engraved. Other items went into storage.
Rev. George Fleming, pastor of Holy Trinity, said having sacred items and traditions from each building helped in the transition.
"It shows the tradition and history are being respected," he said. "The sacred items provided a part of home."
Rev. Arthur Becker, pastor of Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes, said it is important to include sacred items from each community during a merger. Holy Trinity was formed in 1998 when St. Marie's and St. Agnes/St. Patrick's merged.
"We made sure there was something from every parish," he said.
At the time of the merger, parishioners from each parish played an active role in determining which sacred items would be a part of the new entity, Father Becker said. Members of the prayer and worship teams from each parish were involved in the selection process.
"Everything in our chapel is from St. Agnes/St. Patrick's," he said.
Father Becker said Holy Trinity had a unique opportunity to create new items from old ones: "St. Agnes/St. Patrick's had a huge paschal candle stand. We had it remade and it turned out great."
At the time of the merger, having sacred items from each parish was important, Father Becker said. As time has gone on, the items have become a part of the new entity. "After 11 years I'm not sure anyone can tell you what's come from St. Marie's and what's from St. Agnes/St. Patrick's," he said.