On March 23, the gymnasium at St. Catherine of Siena parish in Albany was filled with tables, chairs and a buffet of cold cuts, sausage and peppers - a Lenten supper for lay ministers from both St. Catherine's and St. Teresa of Avila parish in Albany.

The event was an effort to welcome parishioners of St. Teresa's, which will be merging with St. Catherine's in the fall.

St. Teresa's parish, which opened in 1920, was one of the many churches designated through the Called to Be Church process to close or merge with another parish. St. Teresa of Avila School will also merge with Holy Cross School in Albany.

Though the parish merger will not take place until October, Sister Margery Halpin, RSM, pastoral associate at St. Catherine's, recognized the importance of making everyone feel welcome as early as possible. 

She was very pleased with the results of the dinner.

"We had a great turnout," she told The Evangelist. "I think it's a good thing. This has been a wonderful response from both sides."

Of the approximately 125 lay ministers at the event who were from St. Catherine's, all were there in hopes to support the new parishioners and welcome them with open arms.

"I think it's great," said Al Knapp of St. Catherine's. "They're very welcome here and we look forward to merging with them."

While the group looked at the merger as a new beginning, many St. Teresa's parishioners were also grieving their loss.

"I'm really sad about the closing," said Marie Page of St. Teresa's; "but it's not necessarily the building - it's the friends we're losing."

Raymond and Mary Grace Dansereau viewed the merger optimistically. 

"We're not really losing our parish; we're joining a new community," said Mrs. Dansereau.

Travel time
In fact, the main complaint seemed to be the increased travel that parishioners will face to reach their new community.

"I don't drive, so it's going to be a much longer walk," Ms. Page explained.

"It's going to take me an extra ten minutes to walk to church now," said Mr. Dansereau.

Kim Migliozzi is a teacher at St. Teresa's School, but volunteers at St. Catherine's and attends Mass there. According to her, the students at St. Teresa's seem to be taking the change well.

"It's difficult, but they're making the best of it," she said. "To them, it's just a new school."

Sister Marge hoped that events such as the supper would help members of St. Catherine's and St. Teresa's become more comfortable with each other and create new bonds.

"It definitely breaks the ice and helps to ease the effort on both sides," she said. "Also, I think the leadership on both sides with Father [Kenneth] Doyle [of St. Catherine's] and Father [Vincent] Ciotoli [of St. Teresa's] will help facilitate the situation."

Boost for both
Father Doyle believes that the merging of both parishes will benefit the community.
"It strengthens our parish programs," he explained, pointing to the already-teamed religious education program and the social ministry.

Nonetheless, both Sister Marge and Father Doyle understood the grief St. Teresa's parishioners felt. 

"I understand and sympathize with their sadness," said Father Doyle, though he hoped they would not "want to give up the sacraments just because they'd be in a different building."

"Naturally, people have heavy hearts," Sister Marge added. "But I would hope that doesn't bring them away from us. Just try it; you'll like it! Everyone is certainly welcome!"