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Facing declining membership, Oswego Catholic churches will merge

Payne Horning

Wednesday morning mass at St. Mary's Catholic church in Oswego never garners a large crowd, but this week it's particularly small. Only six are worshipping. Attendance is much better on Sundays, but it too has dwindled over the years according to Father John Hogan Jr. - just as it has at every other Catholic parish in Oswego.

"We’ve kind of gutted the body to the bone," Hogan said. "I mean we’re all just kind of hanging on. We all just kind of fight each other for people and their gifts and talents, resources and money. We just cannot continue to go the way that we're going."

Oswego's five Catholic churches developed as a result of an influx of various European immigrants during the early 20th century. According to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, there were nearly 13,000 Catholics here in 1910. That's fallen to 1,100 practicing Catholics today.

Monsignor Jim Lang from the Syracuse Diocese says this pattern is familiar, and this consolidation is just the latest.

"Just over 20 years ago, we had 171 parishes and now we have 121 parishes as parishes have taken a look at their resources on how to best carry on their mission," Lang said. "This is a process that has been happening in every diocese in America, either because of movement out of the northeast or because the influx of people in the south and southwest."

Over the next year, the diocese will work with Oswego's priests, church leaders and parishioners on how to best merge the five churches, and ultimately where to place them.

Fran Lanigan, a lifelong member of St. Mary's, says she thinks it will make the local faith community stronger, but it will be difficult.

"It’s going to be painful," Lanigan said. "There are a lot of memories in a lot of these places, but those are places and I think that what we’re dealing with is what is our real faith and where do we go with that. And by coming together, I’m excited for it." 

That sense of optimism is shared by many involved in the process, including Father Hogan. 

"We have an opportunity to come together, to be a stronger church, to pool all of our resources," Hogan said. "With every death there is the resurrection, and certainly that is at the basis of our faith as Catholics and Christians." 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.