Close to Home

In May, the Diocese of Buffalo announced plans to merge 1/3 of its parishes.  As of this morning (6/18/24) a banner on its website says “Rightsizing and Reshaping.”  In the business world “rightsizing” is a good thing.  It is seen as necessary to keep the business open and viable.  The need for “reshaping” should not been seen as a big surprise given the declining attendance.

When “reshaping” means merging parishes, it is received with mixed reviews.  If it means sharing resources to keep churches open, it may not be desired but people are not generally against it.  I say generally.  Some may be against it if they think it changes the way things are in their parish, most especially if it changes the time of the Mass they attend.  Then people are upset.  When reshaping means some churches will close, then people get really upset.

People should get upset.  The closing of churches is not something to be desired.  God does not want us to be closing churches.  God wants us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  We should be growing, building churches in order to have space for everyone.

Unfortunately, that is not the reality of church life presently.  There are far less people attending church than in decades past.  The Diocese of Buffalo is not the only diocese going through major restricting.  A search on of “parish mergers” shows several other dioceses that are undergoing similar processes.

I entitled this article “Close to Home.”  That’s because most of the regular readers of this blog are parishioners in the Diocese of Rochester, which shares its western border with the Diocese of Buffalo.  In fact, one couple who are readers of this blog are parishioners of a parish in the Buffalo diocese that is being merged with half of the churches involved in the merger being closed.  Pray for them and their parish!

In the Diocese of Rochester there is no diocesan-wide process underway to merge and close parishes nor is there any plan to begin such a process.  Readers from the Diocese of Rochester may remember the major planning effort known as “Pastoral Planning for the New Millenium” that began in the late 1990’s.  From this some parishes were closed and many merged.  Individual parishes continue to evaluate their viability.  Some parishes are merging and some churches are closing.

Over the years, Corning, NY has gone from four churches to one.  This was spread over twenty years.  It is based on population shifts and fewer people coming to church.  It is sad that the churches are not needed.  Actually, they are needed in the broad perspective of bringing everyone to God.  It is only in the present number of people coming to church, that they are not needed.

In Corning, the last church to close was St. Vincent’s.  It closed when a significant portion of the ceiling fell and it was no longer safe to use.  The parish did not have the resources to fix it.  Why?  Because there were not enough parishioners.

Just yesterday it was announced that Holy Family Church in Auburn is closing because of building issues estimated to cost $2.5 million. 

When churches close it is a sad day.  People think of sacraments received in those churches.  They think of all the memories they have of going to church there.  Closing a church is always emotional.  Some people see the “need” for it but when it is their church being closed, they object.  Don’t close my church.

Why do churches close?

The most common answer given by people is that there are fewer priests.  It is true there are fewer priests.  There are not enough priests to keep all the churches open.  However, the number of fewer priests is not the real reason churches close.

Churches also close when there is not enough money to pay the bills.  However, not having enough money is not the underlying reason why churches close.

Churches close when the church building needs more repairs than the parish can afford.  Why can’t they afford the repairs?

All of these have the same underlying reason. 

A significant reason there are fewer priests is that fewer people are going to church.  The main reason churches do not have enough money to pay their bills and/or properly maintain their churches is that there are fewer parishioners to contribute. 

Bishop Fisher is receiving a lot of the blame for announcing the merging/closing of parishes.  Bishop Fisher did not cause this problem.  The problem existed in Buffalo long before he was part of the Diocese of Buffalo.  He came from the Archdiocese of Washington.  The process that led to the announcement in May that 1/3 of the parishes would be merged started in 2019 before he was the Bishop of Buffalo.

So, who should be blamed?


Yes, all of us should be willing to accept some blame.  We are part of the church.

In some cases, one could say each bishop should have been responding to the issues sooner.  Who says they weren’t trying? 

Some people say they have stopped coming because of the clergy abuse scandal.  The abuse should have been better dealt with.  It never should have happened.  The bishops should have responded better.  Instead of hiding our problems, we need to confront them.    

Some people stopped coming because they were not taught the faith well.  It is hard to appreciate what God offers in the Mass if we are not taught well.

It would be easy to blame the church for all of this.  The church could have done things differently.

Who is the Church?

The Church is not simply the pope, bishops, or the clergy.  The church is the people of God.  We should have done better.

How much effort did you put into learning about our Catholic faith when you were young?  How much effort do you put into learning about our Catholic faith now?

How much effort do you put into making your Catholic faith a priority in your life?

How do you contribute to your local parish?  This is not just a question of how much money you give.  Do you volunteer to help in your parish, giving of your time and talent?  The priests are not trained to or supposed to do everything.

Do you pray for your parish?  Do you ask God what you can do to help?

Do you even know how your parish is doing?  It is easy to look around at Mass and know that there are fewer people coming to church.  Have you invited people you know who used to come to church to come now?

Do you know anything about your parish’s finances?  I admit in some parishes the information may not be shared with the parishioners as it should be.  However, there are parishes like where I serve that publish an annual report.  Do you read it?  (St. Mary’s of the Lake and St. Benedict’s parishioners can read last year’s annual report online at

At St. Mary’s of the Lake and St. Benedict’s we are trying to do better.  It is not easy.  Are you willing to help?  What gifts (abilities) can you offer?  Whatever parish you belong to, how is God calling you to help make a better church for tomorrow and for today?


Fr. Jeff

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