BUFFALO, N.Y. — St. Clare Parish merged this month with St. Teresa Parish after it was determined that the decreasing number of people and increasing costs made operating St. Clare prohibitive.
To conclude its history and to begin the congregation’s new chapter, a Mass of Transition was celebrated at St. Clare Church on Elk Street on June 5 and the following week, a Reception Mass was celebrated at St. Teresa for the St. Clare parishioners to be welcomed by St. Teresa parishioners, said Steven Pavignano, OFM, pastor of St. Clare since 2011. Steve celebrated the Mass of Transition and Fr. James Cunningham, pastor of St. Teresa, presided at the June 12 liturgy.
The transition has gone smoothly, according to Steven. “The decision to close the parish was made through a series of meetings over the past few years,” he said. “It has been an open process.”
“The parish’s finance council started to realize in 2013 that the parish was not financially secure,” he said. “This information was shared with the pastoral council and parishioners. From then, it became more obvious that we would not be able to sustain the parish. The parish was down to about 102 families.”
Steven began preparing the parishioners in 2014 for the merger, he said.
“In early 2015, a recommendation was made to me and the trustees by the finance and pastoral councils that we needed to formally request a merger,” Steve said. This was presented to parishioners with follow-up surveys.
“The trustees and members of the finance and pastoral councils met with a member of the Diocese of Buffalo’s planning department to review all parishes with which we could consider merging. Bishop Richard Malone accepted our recommendation to merge into St. Teresa Parish.”
Letters and surveys were sent to parishioners keeping them informed of the progress of the situation, Steve said. St. Clare’s Parish used prayers developed by its worship committee at its weekend Masses, he said.
Over the last year, several socials and prayer services for both congregations were held “to get to know one another so that at merger, there would be some familiarity,” said Steve. “An invitation was extended to St. Clare parishioners to participate in activities and to join St. Teresa’s committees and to serve as liturgical ministers.”
During the past few months, parish items such as vestments, furniture, and statues were offered to parishes and religious organizations within the Diocese of Buffalo. “Roughly 24 parishes and organizations have benefited,” said Steve, adding that rather than setting a specific price, “we asked for a fair donation.”
St. Clare was established in December 2007 by the merging of five parishes, one of which was Sts. Rita and Patrick Parish, which had been staffed by the friars for many years. It was formed in 1981 by the merging of St. Patrick’s Parish, which the Province had served since 1858, with St. Rita’s Parish, previously served by Slovak Franciscans.
Throughout their more than 150 years in Buffalo, the friars have served people in a variety of ways — through prison ministry, a food pantry, thrift shop, and by organizing a day camp for neighborhood children. The friars have also offered prayer services and assisted at schools and other ministries.
Like many in the United States, the Diocese of Buffalo has undergone a process of reconfiguration over recent years. All parish recommendations were carefully evaluated by the diocese “in terms of demographic information, Catholic population analysis, sacramental and fiscal data, and pastoral planning,” according to a story published in July 2007 in HNP Today.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.