December 1, 2005

Realignment: To Better Serve the Lord’s People

Throughout its almost 200 years of responding to the spiritual needs of the Catholic community, the Diocese and, since 1850, the Archdiocese of New York has been continually adapting itself to new situations. Just a few examples will illustrate the phenomenon.

In 1868, St. Bernard’s parish on West 14th Street in lower Manhattan was established to serve immigrants, especially from Ireland, who were flooding into New York by the tens of thousands. In due course, the parish boasted a large and splendid church with a school and rectory to match. In 1902, Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, scarcely a block away, was established to serve a small community of new arrivals from Latin America. Its church and parish facilities were modest at best.

After World War II, the Irish community began to leave lower Manhattan for the Bronx and the so-called "Upper Counties" (Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster, Sullivan, Orange and Rockland), leaving behind at St. Bernard’s an extensive parish plant to serve and be sustained by an ever-diminishing number of parishioners. In the meantime, the relatively small parish plant at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish could not handle the influx of Latin Americans who, like the Irish of the mid 1860s, were pouring into New York and attending Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The situation was carefully studied, and it soon became clear what had to be done. The two parishes were united in the fall of 2002 into what is today a large and growing community of faith, thanks in no small measure to the full usage of the facilities of the former St. Bernard’s parish and the conversion of the facilities of the former Our Lady of Guadalupe parish into a catechetical center. A needed change had been planned and implemented and, happily, achieved its desired effects.

Similar adjustments have been taking place as regards archdiocesan schools. Again, an example will be helpful. Up until the late 1960s, the lower half of the Murray Hill community in Manhattan was served by two parish elementary schools, one in St. Stephen’s parish and the other in Epiphany parish. The number of parishioners at St. Stephen’s was declining, as was the number of Carmelite priests available to staff and administer both parish and school. Epiphany parish, on the other hand, was thriving; and its school was counted among the best in the archdiocese. The situation was studied, and again what was needed became quite clear. The two schools were united under one administration at Epiphany parish; and the result was, and is, excellent Catholic education on two campuses with increasing enrollments and effective administration.

For the past two years, neighborhood after neighborhood within the archdiocese has been carefully studied, first, under the direction of Bishop Timothy J. McDonnell, and now, after Bishop McDonnell’s appointment to the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts, under the direction of Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, in ongoing consultation with the clergy of the archdiocese, the secretary for education and Catholic school administrators, and the executive director and staff of Catholic Charities. Where indicated, proposals for adjustments were put together and examined from every point of view. Some deal with areas of the archdiocese where Catholic presence has greatly diminished, often because of the commercialization of neighborhoods, while others address areas where Catholic presence is skyrocketing and steps need to be taken so as to serve the faithful as the Lord would have them served. The recent history of a sector of Dutchess County will be useful in illustrating the latter situation.

In 1992, St. Denis parish in Hopewell Junction with over 5,000 families (not individuals, families) was divided; and a new parish, St. Columba’s, was established with around 3,500 families. In 2002, St. Columba’s parish was divided; and a new parish, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, was established with around 1,500 families. In the meantime, St. Columba’s has grown to over 5,000 families, and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to around 2,000. And the numbers continue to climb, not only in Dutchess County but throughout this ever-expanding archdiocese of ours.

Thus, changes are clearly needed so as to serve all of our people as well as we can. Where there is growth, our parishes, schools and charitable institutions will have to grow as well; and where there is decline in the number of faithful to be cared for, parishes, schools and charitable institutions will have to be brought into line.

Very likely, some of the adjustments called for in the various realignments will not be applauded in all quarters, because of emotional attachments to familiar buildings and institutions and a multitude of other reasons of various kinds. Still, the Archdiocese of New York must serve the Lord’s People as effectively as it can with the resources and personnel it has at its disposal and can expect to have at its disposal in the future.

Accordingly, we are moving ahead with an urgently needed realignment as thoughtfully and efficiently as possible, seeking the best of advice and counsel at every step along the way. We are hearing from our priests and our deacons. We are hearing from our territorial vicars. We are hearing from our offices for education and charity and our offices for finance and development as well. And to all of this we have added the Archdiocesan Realignment Advisory Panel, composed of clergy, religious and lay men and lay women from every community of the archdiocese who bring with them extraordinary expertise in a variety of fields along with a deep love of the Church. With such a team, what we are striving to do cannot help but be a blessing for the followers of the Lord in this splendid sector of the Catholic world.

In November I was in the City of Piacenza in northern Italy to deliver an address on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of a former Bishop of Piacenza, Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, the founder of the Missionaries of St. Charles, who came to New York in the late 1800s and early l900s, along with the Pallottine priests and sisters, the Salesian priests and sisters, the Cabrini sisters, and so many others, to assist the archdiocese in meeting the spiritual and social needs of the immigrants from Italy who were flowing into New York at that time in large numbers.

In the course of my remarks to the hundreds assembled in the aula of the University of the Sacred Heart, I mentioned that one of the parishes founded for the Italian immigrants by the Missionaries of St. Charles now serves a community that is 60 percent Latin American and 40 percent Chinese. Surprise was clearly to be found on the faces of most of the audience; and when the talk was concluded, the first question was from a professor who wanted to know what happened to the Italians who were the original members of the parish. I replied that they had moved to other areas of the archdiocese, as other ethnic groups have done in the past and still others will do in the future.

"But how can a diocese adjust to such a thing?" he insisted.

"With patience, the collaboration of a great clergy, the support of devoted laity and much prayer," I answered. "And we call it ‘reallineamento.’ "

Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York