Meetings set for local Catholic churches to discuss closures proposed by Diocese

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 June 2024 at 10:48 am

St. Mark’s in Kendall, St. Stephen’s in Middleport would be closed and sold; St. Rocco’s grounds in Hulberton also to be sold

Photos by Tom Rivers: St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Holley is shown in February 2020 when the parish celebrated the completion of a renovation project that included interior upgrades and a new roof, and audio and lighting improvements. The Buffalo Diocese has proposed closing St. Mark’s in Kendall and merging that church with St. Mary’s.

HOLLEY – There will be meetings this week among local Catholic churches to detail a plan to “right size” the Diocese of Buffalo. That plan includes closing the St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Kendall and the St. Stephen’s Church in Middleport.

The St. Joseph’s Catholic Church property and rectory in Lyndonville also is to be sold. The church was badly damaged in a fire on Feb. 28, 2023. The church at 36 Lake Ave. was torn down in November.

The plan from the Diocese for Orleans County and eastern Niagara churches also includes selling the St. Rocco’s festival grounds in Hulberton. That property has hosted a popular Italian Festival for 49 years. It is held the Sunday before Labor Day.

The Diocese also will move the Catholic church in Barker out of the family of the ONE Catholic community of churches Orleans, Niagara East. The Barker church will shift to a family of churches closer to Lockport.

The Diocese of Buffalo a week ago on June 10 announced its restructuring plan for churches in Orleans and Niagara counties. These are recommended changes and not final, said Joe Martone, Diocese spokesman.

Parish families have the opportunity to present alternative proposals by July 15, he said. The Diocese is expected to make a final decision on closures in September.

The plan from the Diocese of Buffalo includes selling the St. Rocco’s festival grounds in Hulberton, which has hosted a popular Italian festival for 49 years. This photo from Sept. 3, 2023 shows Richard Herzog working the grill with Italian sausage. He hands some of those off to Ellen Bissanti. The festival is held the Sunday before Labor Day. Hulberton was a very popular community for Italian immigrants more than a century ago. They were drawn to the area for work in the Medina sandstone quarries.

Father Mark Noonan, one of the priests in the ONE Catholic community, welcomes parishioners to meetings this week to discuss the proposal from the Diocese and a response to the recommendations. The meetings include:

  • Wednesday, June 19 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s in Holley
  • Thursday, June 20 at 9:30 a.m. at St. Stephen’s in Middleport
  • Thursday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Holy Family in Albion
  • Friday, June 21 at 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s in Medina
  • Saturday, June 22 at 9 a.m. at Our Lady of the Lake in Barker
  • Saturday, June 22 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Mark’s in Kendall
  • Sunday, June 23 at 1:30 p.m. at Holy Family in Albion (Spanish language meeting)

“The purpose of these gatherings will be to share our perspectives about our Family of Parishes, the recommendations the Diocese has provided, and our hopes of continuing to grow and foster our wonderful mission here at ONE Catholic,” Father Noonan said in a message to the local Catholic community. “Let’s continue to pray for one another and for all those who are in special need.”

The 8-county Diocese of Buffalo announced on May 28 it will work to reduce the number of parishes by 34 percent in the eight-county region, which includes Orleans.

“The Diocese of Buffalo is facing multiple challenges including a significant priest shortage, declining Mass attendance, aging congregations and ongoing financial pressures brought about by our Chapter 11 filing,” Bishop Michael Fisher said on May 28.

Some of the concerning data from the Diocese includes a 49 percent decline in registered households across the 8-county region, 59 percent of parishes with a negative net operating balance, 59 percent of parishes experiencing a steady decline in baptisms, 24 percent decrease in marriages from 2020 to 2023 in the Diocese, and the average age for priests is 76, with 63 percent of the priests between the ages of 65 and 70.