March 13, 2006

Our Future

On April 8, 2008, the Archdiocese of New York will celebrate its 200th birthday. Committees are in place and new committees are being formed to see to it that the event is properly commemorated. Indeed, plans are already underway for lectures, concerts, exhibits, a campaign to strengthen our parishes and archdiocesan institutions financially, and special anniversary liturgies from Ulster County in the north to Staten Island in the south. In addition, a distinguished scholar has been engaged to write the history of the Archdiocese; and an illustrated volume about our parishes, schools, charities and healthcare institutions is in preparation. We are, of course, at the very beginning of all of this. Still, everything is moving ahead smoothly; and all who are thus far involved are greatly encouraged.

As a preamble to this bicentennial celebration, it occurred to me that I might well dedicate a number of my Catholic New York columns to recounting the story of the splendid community of faith which is the Archdiocese of New York. I will start with our humble beginnings, move on through 200 years of growth, and-with the help of the Lord-complete the task in time for our celebration in April of 2008.

While the history of our past will hopefully be of interest, what is most important about the upcoming bicentennial celebration is, of course, our future. Thus it is that in preparation for the bicentennial, our clergy, religious and laity have been working diligently to realign the parishes and major institutions of the Archdiocese so as best to serve an ever-shifting community of faith.

Over the past 50 years, there has been an extraordinary change in where the Catholic faithful of the Archdiocese reside. For example, somewhat more than 25 percent of our parishes are located in the Borough of Manhattan, even though only around 12 percent of our people currently live there. In large numbers, Catholic families have been moving to the so-called "upper counties," such as Rockland, Orange, Dutchess and Putnam, where they clearly and urgently need to be served.

To respond to all of this change, a realignment program has been under study for well over two years. The clergy in all of the various ecclesiastical sectors of the Archdiocese, which we call "vicariates," have been meeting on their own and joined by staff from the Catholic Center in order to discuss realignment, originally under the leadership of Bishop Timothy J. McDonnell, now the Bishop of Springfield in Massachusetts, and later under the leadership of Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, one of our two Vicars General. Moreover, Bishop Sullivan and his staff, along with Dr. Catherine Hickey, secretary for education, and her staff, have been in regular consultation with the leadership of both our elementary and secondary schools. Finally, directors of the various offices of the Archdiocese having to do with such matters as administration, properties and finance have been involved at various levels in all of these discussions, as have a number of extraordinarily generous lay experts. One such expert, for example, has provided Bishop Sullivan and his staff with professional analyses and detailed maps to indicate as exactly as possible where various ethnic and religious groups within the boundaries of the Archdiocese are living now and will likely be living in the future.

One year ago, when it became clear that the realignment program was coming together as we had hoped, Bishop Sullivan contacted all of the Vicars of the Archdiocese and a large representation of pastors to assist him in selecting a committee of primarily lay leaders from every corner of the Archdiocese to whom the proposals for realignment would be presented for their insight and guidance. The committee has come to be known as the Archdiocesan Realignment Advisory Panel (ARAP) and numbers 52 members. As this edition of Catholic New York goes to press, Bishop Sullivan and his staff will be sharing with ARAP what, after two years of study, they believe needs to be done in order to provide most effectively for the spiritual needs of the faithful over the years that lie ahead.

Having received the comments and recommendations of ARAP, the Bishop will then make a report to the staff at the Catholic Center which has been intimately involved in the realignment program from its very outset. They include the Chancellor, the Secretary for Education, the Chief Financial Officer, the Director of Catholic Charities and key staff persons in the areas of finance, insurance, properties and personnel, and myself as well. As a final step, all of this will be presented to the pastors, parish leadership, principals and school leadership of those parishes or schools that stand to be affected by the realignment as a final step in making an ambitious and essential initiative both understood and embraced.

In broad strokes, here is what Bishop Sullivan will be sharing with ARAP. In the three boroughs of the City of New York, the City of Yonkers and the area served by the Vicariate of Central Westchester, approximately two dozen parishes are in line for some level of realignment. Of these, about one-third have been effectively realigned over the past years because of combinings of various kinds, and all of this needs to be canonically regularized. Likewise, of the aforementioned parishes, around one-half will be served by newly established or newly built churches, missions and chapels. Thus, there will be in the southern portion of the Archdiocese somewhere in the area of one dozen fewer places of worship.

In the northern portion of the Archdiocese, some two dozen parishes will be affected by the realignment. Half of these will be either new parishes or established parishes for which new and larger churches will be built. Of the remaining ones, most will become missions to neighboring parishes and a few will be discontinued. Accordingly, as we limit the number of places of worship in the south, we increase the number in the north by more or less the same amount; and this is exactly what was expected and forecasted when we initiated this important undertaking.

In the interest of clarity, it might be well to say a word about "missions." They are small churches or chapels attached to parishes, generally to serve communities distant from the main parish church. In the southern portion of the Archdiocese, it is anticipated that one mission that has long since been closed will be canonically recognized as such. In the northern portion, approximately a half-dozen missions will be affected. Most will become missions to other than their original parishes and only a few will be discontinued.

Again, in the interest of clarity, a word about territorial and national parishes will be in order. In the long history of the Archdiocese, a number of our parishes were brought into being to care for particular ethnic groups. They are commonly styled "national parishes," as opposed to "territorial parishes," which serve all who reside within certain well-defined boundaries. Two national parishes, one in each of the two portions of the Archdiocese, are expected to become territorial parishes inasmuch as the movement of their traditional parishioners has reduced their national character.

In the the realignment proposal, approximately a dozen schools will be closed, one of which has been in the process of closing over the past few years. Additionally, two sets of schools will be merged, one in the northern portion of the Archdiocese and the other in the southern portion. When a school is merged, both buildings remain open while the students are usually divided into upper grades for one school and lower grades for the other. Of the dozen or so schools to be closed, only one is located in the northern portion of the Archdiocese, a result which was to be expected given the movement of Catholics mentioned above.

It should be further noted that, of the around 12 schools to be closed, one is to become a Catholic academy school and another is to become a catechetical center for the surrounding community. Interestingly, the second of these is located just around the corner from another parish school.

Finally, it is important to observe that all of these arrangements concerning our schools are aimed at increasing enrollment while reducing the number of buildings in use for the education of our children. Over the past five years, there have been a few such closings each year; and happily the total enrollment of the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of New York has continued to increase-a blessing for which we all thank the Lord. Happily, too, an innovative plan is being developed to establish networks of inter-parochial schools to respond to the educational needs of particular regions.

Some of the changes resulting from realignment will be a source of disappointment for certain members of our Church, and others will be warmly applauded. All, however, have but one purpose: to preach the Gospel effectively, to make the means of salvation easily available and to provide the best of spiritual guidance for an expanding Archdiocese of New York-expanding in the number of Catholics and expanding as well beyond our historic confines into new areas, especially up north. The entire process has required, and will continue to require, immense dedication on the part of priests, deacons, religious men and women, and-above all-wise and gifted laity. Their work is the work of the Lord, and I am confident that the Lord will continue to bless it abundantly.

As this edition of Catholic New York goes to press, Bishop Sullivan and his staff will be sharing with ARAP what, after two years of study, they believe needs to be done in order to provide most effectively for the spiritual needs of the faithful over the years that lie ahead.

Finally, it is important to observe that all of these arrangements concerning our schools are aimed at increasing enrollment while reducing the number of buildings in use for the education of our children.


Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York