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Syracuse Diocese rules on Oswego parish merger; plans for restarting mass being discussed

Jason Smith
WRVO News (file photo)

Following a yearlong review, plans to merge five Catholic churches into one parish in Oswego will move ahead. But an historic church in the city Oswego will also continue to operate under different rules.

Bishop Douglas Lucia has led the Syracuse Catholic Diocese for just under of a year. Much of his time has been spent undertaking a reexamination of a decision to combine the five churches in Oswego into the Christ the Good Shepherd Parish at the former St. Paul's Church. Many parishioners opposed that move, and the church's hierarchy asked Lucia to review the options. Lucia said he's spent the last several months listening to concerns for parishioners, and has decided that the initial decision to merge the parishes, because of a dwindling number of parishioners and increasing costs, was the right one.

But there is one change. St. Mary's, the almost century-old gothic church on the city's west side will become St. Mary's Oratory, used for parishioners who want to hear mass in Latin, something the diocese has been asked to establish.

Many parishioners wanted St. Mary's to be the home of Christ the Good Shepherd, but Lucia, in a letter to parishioners, said there was concern that upkeep of the church and grounds would impact the parish's finances.

"I was trying to balance between what Good Shepherd was saying about not being able to keep it up, the building and everything as well, and the needs of the diocese. That's why I determined it would be a good place for a Latin Mass worshiping community," Lucia said.

For the time being, things like funerals or weddings and the occasional mass may take place at the other three churches that will be out of commission. Ultimately, the local church community will decide what to do with those properties. Lucia said he feels his decision takes everyone's concerns into account. The decision goes into effect May 31.

Mass restarting soon?

Lucia said he is hopefully finishing up protocols that could let local parishes perform masses in central New York the weekend of May 31. He said this follows Gov. Andrew Cuomo's announcement this week that religious gatherings of up to 10 people, or those in an outdoor setting, will be allowed.

"If all things continue to proceed, I have said to our pastors that probably masses at least, depending what they allow, at least outdoor masses next week in parking lots, and maybe even in our churches," Lucia said.

As far as holding masses inside churches, Lucia said that depends whether the diocese follows the 10 person recommendation, which isn't realistic, or one from the Central New York Control Room that would allow churches to be filled to 25% capacity.

Lucia said his understanding is that bishops will make decisions locally instead of statewide, because different parts of the state are in different stages of reopening.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.