NEW YORK — Holy Name Province announced last week that it is returning the care of St. Stephen of Hungary Parish on East 82nd Street in Manhattan to the Archdiocese of New York. The decision, a painful one, according to HNP leaders, evolved from a series of studies about ministerial priorities in light of available personnel resources.
The announcement was made at parish Masses the weekend of Jan. 19. William Bried, OFM, parish administrator, read a letter from Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, and Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, that described the “heart-wrenching decision” and explained the reasons behind the Franciscans’ departure.
The Province decided to withdraw from St. Stephen’s, a parish it has staffed for 80 years, because of the declining number of available friars and resources, which made it difficult to support the Upper East Side parish, as well as the more than 40 other ministries the Province operates.
In the last two decades, the Province has been aging and growing smaller, the Provincial leaders said. At its peak in 1965, Holy Name Province had more than 1,000 friars, compared to the current 300 friars, whose average age is 68.
Founded in 1902, St. Stephen’s was created to serve the Hungarian immigrant community. Hungarian Franciscans assumed care of the parish in 1922, building the large complex on East 82nd Street that was dedicated in 1928. Faced with financial difficulties caused by the Great Depression, the Hungarian friars withdrew, and Cardinal Patrick Hayes invited Holy Name Province to assume care of the parish in 1934.
The Provincial Council chose to withdraw from St. Stephen of Hungary in light of input from the HNP Fraternal Life in Mission Directorate and discussions by friars at the Province’s spring 2013 Fraternal Gatherings. The extensive process involved the Council prioritizing the Province’s future ministerial commitments in light of the Province’s criteria for evaluating current ministries, taking into consideration friar recommendations and preference expressed at the gatherings, according to a Provincial letter distributed Jan. 17 to all HNP friars.
“We know this decision is a very painful one,” said John and Dominic in their letter to parishioners. “Still, we want to take this opportunity to thank the community of St. Stephen’s for your faithful discipleship as followers of Jesus Christ all through the 80 years we have ministered with and to you.”
The Provincial leaders said they will work with Bill, who assumed his role last month, and the archdiocese to assure a smooth transition to new leadership sometime over the summer. A farewell Mass “in which we Franciscans can fittingly celebrate our years of service to you, the people of St. Stephen’s” will be arranged.
Details about Bill’s appointment as administrator of St. Stephen’s by Bishop Gerald Walsh appeared in the Jan. 12 parish bulletin.
Less than three years ago, the Province announced departure from another New York City parish. In 2011, the Province withdrew ministerial presence from All Saints Parish in Harlem.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.