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Catholic parishes celebrate their unification

By Julian Caldwell

Parishioners stir from their pews at St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church during Holy Communion on Sept. 11.


REGION — Voices from two previously separate parishes joined to belt out the entrance song “Gather Us In” during a unifying mass at St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church in Hastings last Sunday, Sept. 11, celebrating the formal merger of St. Matthew and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ardsley.

The opening liturgy, which was held at noon, was the last symbolic step in a process that began about a year ago, when the parishes of St. Matthew, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and former Hastings church St. Stanislaus Kostka were merged canonically by church law. St. Stanislaus was closed by the Archdiocese of New York in 2007, two years after storm damage forced its parishioners to nearby St. Matthew.

In 2015, with the members of St. Matthew and Our Lady of Perpetual Help fearing the worst, the Archdiocese allowed the churches to stay open, while joining as one parish and celebrating major holidays at St. Matthew. On Sept. 1, the two church corporations were civilly joined. At the end of the month, the new parish will submit three possible names for the unified body from which Cardinal Timothy Dolan will choose. Overall regular mass attendance is about 450 people at St. Matthew and 350 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

“There is a loss of identity,” said former Hastings Mayor Lee Kinnally, who’s been a member at St. Matthew for 42 years. “I was married in St. Matthew, my son was baptized here. So there’s that loss, but then the realization that the parish and masses are going to continue. The silver lining is that we still have a vibrant parish.”

For the past year, St. Matthew has also adjusted to a new priest. When Father Matthew Fernan was reassigned to St. Eugene’s in Yonkers, Father Robert Henry was brought in from Most Holy Trinity in Mamaroneck, which the Archdiocese closed.

“I’ve been here for a year, and so I took time just to get to know both communities,” Henry said after the mass on Sept. 11. “At first I thought it was overwhelming, but then slowly but surely things fell into place and now things are going along very smoothly, and I think both communities are merging nicely together.”

One of Henry’s first actions was setting up an advisory committee consisting of parishioners from St. Matthew and Our Lady of Perpetual Help and a Making Things New committee to organize closing liturgies at each church, signifying the end of their statuses as solo parishes, and the opening liturgy to celebrate their unification. Following the mass, there was a picnic at the former Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, which is now leased by the Lyceum Kennedy International School. Ferncliff Manor, a nonprofit that aids children with developmental disabilities, is the current tenant at the former St. Matthew School in Hastings, which the Archdiocese closed in 2005.

The unifying mass happened to fall on the date that, since 2001, has been associated with coming together in response to loss. Candles on the altar were lit in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Henry referenced the horror of those events throughout the mass.

“I think it was bittersweet,” Henry said at the picnic. “It was 9/11, so we had to take that into account, but it was also joyful because we’re beginning a new parish. I was in a parish before that had to close completely, so I knew how important the grieving process is. With individual people I saw a sense of loss, feeling like they lost their church, and now I think people are accepting it pretty well.”

Sheri Marchi, a Eucharistic minister who teaches religious education at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, fought to preserve the sovereignty of her church while facing the possibility of it closing. Marchi’s two sons, 16-year-old Nicholas and 14-year-old Maximus, are both altar boys. While she did feel the weight of uncertainty last year, Marchi now has a positive outlook on the future, knowing her church will remain active.

“Thankfully the grief and the loss ended when we knew that our parish was staying open,” Marchi said last Sunday. “I’m very optimistic. I feel that it’s going to work out beautifully. Father Henry is a fantastic leader, and we have a whole big support group. This was a beautiful opening. The people very much came together to make it as beautiful as it was, and St. Matthew is an absolutely extraordinary church with extraordinary people.”

Susan Kinnally, who’s been attending St. Matthew even longer than her husband, Lee, also has found relief after bracing herself for the worst.

“I think a lot of people felt very sad that they thought St. Matthew would be done and over, and it’s not, and hopefully people will process that and move on and do great things,” she said. “It’ll always be St. Matt’s to the old-timers, but it’s really a happy feeling to have both parishes together. There are some wonderful people that we’ve met from the other parish.”

The opening liturgy ended with the choir leading the parishioners in a rendition of “God Bless America,” showing solidarity with those who lost their lives and loved ones on 9/11, while also embodying solidarity.

“I think music has the power to really unify a community,” said Lynn Fusco, who has been the organist at Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the past year. “I think the fact that our two programs and the staffing from each parish come together as one is just a symbol of the unity that’s forming in the community.”

“That’s why it’s important to feel the grief, the loss, the sadness because it’s only in being able to feel the grief, the loss, the sadness, that we can begin to let go and begin new life as a new parish,” Henry explained during the mass. “It’s an important part of coming to a new identity.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


September 16, 2016

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