Local Catholic church closes, could others follow?

By Matt Porter

June 29, 2013 Updated Jun 29, 2013 at 1:31 AM EDT

Endicott, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The Rev. Matthew Wieczorek has been delivering Mass at St. Casimir's Church for more than 30 years.

He's served has a priest for more than 50 years, and literally has worked to his last leg.

He's retiring only because he can't stand for long periods, or drive to his appointments at hospitals and homes.

He said he will always remember his service to the Endicott church.

"The memories, the memories and the attachments are here," Wieczorek said, "The people you know."

The 82-year-old priest leaves without a replacement.

Instead, his church will close and merge with St. Joseph's Church just blocks away.

"All we can do is look back and give thanks for what we've had," he said, "What the future holds, we don't know."

Ann Kurkoski raised her family in St. Casimir's Church.

"My husband and I were married here in the old church in 1961," Kurkoski said, "And we have been here, parishioners since then."

Terri Morton spent her entire life at St. Casimir's and doesn't look forward to finding a new church.

"It's home," Morton said, "And I don't know what I'm going to do when it closes."

Future of local churches uncertain

The future for many Catholic churches in America and in the Southern Tier are uncertain.

Danielle Cummings, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Syracuse, said the church is suffering from a shortage of priests and must make adjustments.

"There will be change. When there's change in our communities, we have to address that change," Cummings said.

Churches in the diocese have clustered themselves into groups known as pastoral care areas.

One pastoral care area includes five churches led by five priests: St. Patrick, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. James, Holy Trinity, and St. Cyril and Methodius churches.

Cummings said pastoral care areas will have to find the best way to serve their communities with the priests they have, and did not rule out the possibility of more closures.

"We certainly may see more links and more mergers," she said.

On July 9, the priests from the five churches in Binghamton will meet to discuss how to move forward.

The Rev. John Putano, pastor at both St. Patrick and St. Thomas Aquinas churches, said they need to discuss how to work best in the new reality.

"As we look to the future, there will be less priests serving in our diocese and our southern region," Putano said.

Putano said the meetings will look at all options, including sharing priests, limiting masses at each church and bringing more followers in church leadership and ministry to help ease the workload on priests.

"I'd like to see this as a real opportunity for parishes to look at how they can grow," he said.

Putano stresses that no specific discussion on any closure or merger has been raised.

Next month's meeting will begin an examination period for each parish, and they will have to propose a plan to the diocese later in the fall.