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Province to Withdraw from Two Sullivan County Parishes

NEW YORK — For the second time in nearly two months, Holy Name Province has made the difficult decision to withdraw from parishes in the Archdiocese of New York. They are St. Mary Parish, Obernburg, and St. Anthony Parish, Yulan — both in rural Sullivan County.

The announcement was made during parish Masses the weekend of Feb. 23. Joseph Juracek, OFM, pastor of St. Mary’s, and Paul Osborne, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony’s, gave parishioners a letter from Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, and Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, explaining the decision to return care of the parishes to the archdiocese.

Holy Name Province has decided to withdraw from these ministries, because of the declining number of available friars. This has proved difficult to support these as well as the more than 40 others the Province operates. The number of friars in the United States has declined sharply during the past few decades. In the early 1970s, Holy Name Province had nearly 1,000 friars; now there are 320, whose average age is 68.

“It is impossible for us to maintain the ministerial commitments we once did,” wrote John and Dominic. “Over the past two decades, we have had to withdraw from a number of our parishes, a heart-wrenching decision for us and the people we have served for years.”

To put a human face on the situation, John and Dominic said in their letter, “Since we took office in 2005, we have buried 112 of our friars, while only 27 have made final vows. This is a decline of 85 men in just nine years.”

This was a painful decision for the Franciscans to make as both parishes hold a strong place in Provincial history. More than 100 friars have ministered in Western Sullivan County since the late 1800s. Founded in 1852 to serve a German immigrant community, St. Mary’s was the pioneer Catholic church in the region. The archdiocese asked the Franciscans to assume care of the parish 40 years later.

German Franciscan friars had settled in Paterson, N.J., in 1876. The bishop who welcomed them at that time, Michael Corrigan, was made archbishop of New York a decade later. When he saw the needs of rural Sullivan County, he thought religious order priests might be better at ministering in what at the time was essentially missionary territory. He turned to the German friars in Paterson, and the Franciscans arrived in Obernburg in 1892. The first 18 pastors of the parish were German born, and Mass was celebrated in that language, until several years before the appointment in 1937 of Godfrey Doyle, OFM, St. Mary’s first Irish-born pastor.

Sullivan County became more of a hub for Franciscans, when the newly-founded Holy Name Province opened St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in nearby Callicoon, N.Y., in 1901. Three years later, friars serving at the seminary recognized the need to organize a separate church for the people of Yulan and the hundreds of Catholics who came to the area on vacation. In response to that need, St. Anthony Parish was founded in 1907.

“Since then, we have worked with you to build up small but dynamic parish communities of which you can be proud,” John and Dominic wrote.

Holy Name Province will work with the pastors, parish councils and the archdiocese to assure a smooth transition to new leadership this summer. Farewell Masses will be arranged to enable parishioners and the Franciscans to celebrate the friars’ years of service to both parishes.

In January, the Provincial Administration announced the decision to return care of St. Stephen of Hungary Parish in New York City to the archdiocese due to the declining number of friars. The leadership transition will take place later this year.

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. The image above was taken by Ocatvio Duran, OFM, during St. Anthony Parish’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2007.