Summer Vacations Bring Influx to Province Churches

HNP Communications Features

CALLICOON, N.Y. — For the faithful, getting away from the daily grind in the summer has never been a reason to take a break from the Church. In fact, some Province parishes and ministries say they welcome many vacationers to their Masses from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 

Rural New York
Holy Cross Church, in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains on the Delaware River in scenic Upstate New York, held its annual summer picnic last weekend, welcoming approximately 500 people for a potluck meal and cookout, games, pony rides, a petting zoo and, of course, fellowship. 

Ignatius Smith, OFM, pastor, said that the church experiences an influx of worshippers in the summer, as people flock to the resort area for camping, water sports and summers homes in the Delaware River Valley. 

“On July Fourth, we had 500 people,” he said, “200 more than we usually have.” Ignatius estimates that, in general, attendance on a Sunday in the summer is up 100 to 150 people at the four Masses.

“Vacationers bring their spiritual fervor,” he added. “People who are into their faith bring new life to the church in the summer.” 

Ignatius enjoys the summer, especially the warm weather, the beauty of the season and the opportunity to meet new people. He recently met travelers from Brazil, where the Province has missions. “It’s amazing who you meet here,” he said.

Anthony Moore, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in nearby Yulan, also welcomes more summer worshippers. He adds an additional Mass in the summer to accommodate the approximate 175 worshippers the church might get at each of its three services. It is often standing-room-only in the small 13-pew church, according to Anthony. 

This is a big change from the two Masses during the remainder of the year, when attendance is approximately 80. Anthony also tends the church’s mission parish in Pond Eddy and says Saturday Mass at Aquehonga Boy Scout Camp. 

Does trekking between the two churches and Boy Scout Camp keep Anthony on his toes? You bet, said the nearly 84-year-old friar. “I’m fit as a fiddle with a few broken strings.”

The spiritual needs of summer worshippers, he said, are no different than during the year. “Their needs are universal,” he said, and so the church has confession on Saturday afternoons. 

“I get phone calls every weekend, sometimes late at night or early in the morning, asking, ‘What time is Mass?’ I’m pleased to get those calls.”

New England
The situation is similar at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, but unlike the Upstate New York churches that draw vacationers mostly from New York City and the tri-state area, the shrine attracts tourists from around the world.

Guardian David Convertino, OFM, said vacationers and tourists introduce themselves to him at weekend Masses. 

“We welcome everyone,” he said. The shrine does not add Masses in the summer, since it already offers three Vigil Masses and nine services on Sunday. 

Part of the reason the shrine is so busy in the summer, according to David, is because the ministry has a solid relationship with Boston’s hotels.

“We send bulletins and Mass schedules to the hotels that are kept by the concierge for guests who ask about Catholic churches.” Some hotels, he said, will provide transportation to the shrine. Other tourists will go online to research a church to attend while in Boston. 

David said most summer worshippers are impressed with the shrine’s liturgy and ministry. “They usually say, ‘Is it always like this?’ ‘Is the music always this way?’ And, ‘The liturgy is great.’” 

He said he finds that if people have Franciscans back at home, they will seek out a Franciscan place to worship while on vacation.

New Jersey Shore
St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island (LBI) in New Jersey is one of the Franciscan communities greatly affected by increased vacation traffic. In the summer months, the Province community keeps all four island churches open, offering 18 Sunday Masses in four towns: Loveladies, Surf City, Brant Beach and Beach Haven. In the off-season, one church remains open. 

In the summer, there are more than 200,000 people on Long Beach Island, while in the winter, guardian and pastor Stephen Kluge, OFM, said the number drops to approximately 20,000.

It is not uncommon on the weekends in the summer to welcome more than 10,000 to the church, according to Stephen. He estimates that Catholics and Protestants alike come to worship at the four churches, and the non-traditional music and liturgy are well received. 

“We have open arms for all, and we try to live by that.”

While attendance at the 81-year-old parish is clearly up in the summer, Stephen said this year the number of people visiting LBI is down, mostly because of fewer vacationers due to the poor economy. 

However, with 18 Masses, Stephen relies on the help of other friars to assist at worship during the summer. The friars on staff at the parish — Thomas Conway, OFM, James Scullion, OFM, and John Ullrich, OFM — welcome the help of Francis Di Spigno, OFM, James Sabak, OFM, Claude Lenehan, OFM, Dennis Tamburello, OFM, Allen Weber, OFM, and others, who travel to LBI to celebrate some of the Masses. 

Stephen said in February he sends a letter of invitation to friars who have helped at the parish in past summers, asking them for continued support. “We’ve been doing this for years,” he said, “and it’s been working.”

St. Joseph Church in Wilmington, Del., has the opposite problem. Many parishioners leave the city for summer. To address the shrinking summer attendance, pastor John Frambes, OFM, reduces the number of Sunday Masses from two to one. 

The 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses become one Mass at 10 a.m. in the summer, as parishioners leave the city to go to family reunions, visit children and travel to Upstate New York or down South. 

John said the Unity Mass, as it is called, is embraced by the congregation, which enjoys worshipping together. “People are enthusiastic; it’s very cheerful. They see people they don’t get to see at Mass during the year.”

As many friars and staff members of Province ministries take their vacation time in August before the arrival of the busy autumn season, they plan for the launch of new programs and prepare for commemorations of the Oct. 4 feast of St. Francis and other annual events.

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.