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Province Announces Withdrawal from Callicoon Parish

Charles O’Connor and Lawrence Hayes after Mass at Holy Cross Church (Photo courtesy of Eileen Crum)

CALLICOON, N.Y. — Holy Name Province announced to the community of Holy Cross Parish and St. Patrick Parish in nearby Long Eddy, N.Y., last weekend that this summer the friars will be returning their ministerial care and administrative operation to the Archdiocese of New York. Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, delivered the news during his homily at Masses on May 20 and 21.

“It is with great sadness and despite our deep fondness for the good people of Holy Cross Parish, that we must announce the departure of the Franciscan friars from your midst after serving in this community since 1895,” wrote Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, in a letter that was inserted into the weekly bulletin. “This is in no way an easy announcement to share; however, it is a necessary decision for us.” The friars’ withdrawal from Callicoon, roughly 100 miles northwest from New York City, also means their departure from St. Patrick Church, a mission of Holy Cross.

Kevin’s letter described the two reasons for the friars’ departure: decline in personnel and the preservation of their Franciscan charism.

“In 1985, we had 708 friars actively working in ministry,” he wrote. “In 2001, we were down to 443 friars in active ministry. Today in 2017, we are around 280. Simply stated, we no longer have sufficient friars to staff all the ministries where we have served in the past.”

“Secondly, the charism of our Franciscans life and vocation calls us to live as brothers in community,” Kevin said. “Our fraternal life together is a central priority for us – it is the core component of who we are and profess to be, namely, lesser brothers. Yet, this is something that is not possible in a small parish like Holy Cross, where one friar lives alone. In the past, friars lived nearby to each other as they served in neighboring parishes in Sullivan County, and thus could gather as a regional fraternity. This, however, is no longer the case.”

The Archdiocese of New York was notified of the Province’s need to withdraw and “they have assured us that they will be informing you very soon about their plans for the ongoing pastoral care of the parishioners of Holy Cross,” wrote Kevin. “I am appreciative of the support and collaboration the parishioners of Holy Cross have extended to us during our 122 years with you.”

The church in Callicoon where the Franciscans served (Photo courtesy of Holy Cross Church)

More than 100 Years of Ministry
Sunday’s announcement did not take many by surprise, according to Lawrence, who said the mood at the Masses was one of understanding and “gracious acceptance” amidst sadness. “I can’t say that I’m surprised; we knew it was coming” said one parishioner who then added “but we will miss the Franciscans dearly — we love you since you have been such a part of us for so long.”

The friars of Holy Name Province have staffed Holy Cross Parish for 122 years. They began their ministry in Callicoon when then-New York Bishop Michael Corrigan asked them to minister to the area not far from northern New Jersey, where German Franciscans had settled in 1876. The Franciscans arrived at St. Mary Church in Obernburg, N.Y., in 1892. According to Joseph M. White’s book “Peace and Good in America: A History of Holy Name Province Order of Friars Minor,” the friars first offered Sunday Mass in homes and school houses, rotating among several outlying missions.

The friars began serving at Holy Cross Parish in 1895, and six years later, in 1901 – the same year that Holy Name Province was founded – the friars dramatically increased what would become more than a century and a quarter presence in Sullivan County by establishing St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary. It served as a minor seminary, offering education and spiritual formation, until 1972. When the building was sold in 1977, parishioners held services at the local Episcopal church, according to White, while a new building for Holy Cross Church was being constructed. The current church building – on Route 97— opened in 1980.

The mission church of Long Eddy goes back to 1904, according to the Holy Cross/St. Patrick website. In 1930, the church was moved from a nearby hillside to its present-day site and in 2001, it celebrated its centenary.

Closing of a Chapter
Since the late 1800s, more than 100 friars have ministered in western Sullivan County. Charles O’Connor, OFM, pastor since 2012, will leave the parish in the summer. His last Mass will “probably be in July, depending on when the new pastor can join Charles and be introduced to the parish,” said Kevin.

“This is the closing of the chapter on Sullivan County,” said Charles, who said that the Holy Cross community, with St. Patrick, includes 300 to 350 parishioners. “Friars have been here for more than a century. It feels like the end of an era. This area, because of the establishment of the minor seminary, is one of the birthplaces of the Province.

“When I first came to the parish, there were other friars in the area,” he added. “I think it is important to realize that there is nostalgia. People here were devastated when we closed the minor seminary in the mid-1970s.”

In the past few years, the Province has needed to withdraw from other parishes in the diocese — in 2015 from St. Francis Xavier, not far from Callicoon, and also from St. Stephen of Hungary Parish on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; in 2014 from two Sullivan County parishes – St. Mary Parish in Obernburg and St. Anthony Parish in Yulan; and in 2011 from All Saints Parish in Harlem.

“Leave-takings are indeed difficult,” said Kevin in his letter. “Even though they have been part of the life of the Church from the beginning, that doesn’t make them any easier today than they were in the times of Paul.

“In the Acts of the Apostles, there is a moving scene when St. Paul, after three years of missionary work with the Christian community of Ephesus, must say goodbye to the Christians there whom he loves. His farewell concludes as follows: ‘When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down and prayed with them all. They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him, for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship.’”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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