By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — Catholics from four congregations will be united under a single parish name to forge a shared vision, strengthen their bonds and invigorate their faith.
Malone Catholic Parishes will combine St. John Bosco (est. 1935), Notre Dame (est. 1869) and St. Joseph’s (est. 1867) in Malone as well as St. Helen’s (est. 1877) in Chasm Falls into St. Andre Bessette Roman Catholic Parish.
But each church and congregation will retain its own buildings and identities, said the Rev. Joseph Giroux, who will host a listening session for parishioners at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, at the St. John Bosco Parish Hall.
He said mostly behind-the-scenes changes, such as being able to pay expenses as a single bill instead of issuing four separate checks for services or maintaining four separate bank accounts, will be made for now.
“We’re working as four instead of one, and it can get to be clumsy,” he said. “We will all be a community versus fragmented. We’re transitioning from four into one cohesive unit.”
Malone Catholic Parishes formed in 2003 to streamline operations at the churches, which were served by a pastor and two parochial vicars until 2007 when one vicar position was cut by the Diocese of Ogdensburg.
“The number of pastors won’t change now, but the number of clergy is not decided locally,” he said. “It’s decided by the diocese, and we can’t predict what will happen.”
“Ten years ago, all the staffs were reduced to one, so there is no paring left to do,” he said.
During the 2003 transition, the Sunday Mass schedule went from 12 services to nine, and that was further reduced to six in 2007. Services at mission churches in Owls Head and Lake Titus were eliminated six years ago.
Some reduction can be attributed to fewer priests and fewer active Catholics, Giroux said.
There are 700 fewer people attending weekly Mass in Malone than 10 years ago, and half of those still attending are 65 and older.
The diocese predicts that in the next 10 years, there will be just 52 active pastors to serve its 99 parishes compared to the 62 pastors employed now.
As the St. Andre parish works to bring more people to church, more attempts will be made to bring congregations together, Giroux said.
“I was surprised at the number of people who don’t know other parishioners in their own church or from neighboring parishes,” he said. “The churches may have been together for 10 years, but the parishioners don’t know each other.
“We’re still working out the details, but we can all rally behind our patron saint, and that will bring people together.”
That patron saint is St. Andre Bessette, “Brother Andre” (1845-1937), who visited Malone a number of times and was known as “the miracle man of Montreal.”
In a message to parishioners explaining the transition on his blog, “From Empty Hands” (http://fromemptyhands.blogspot.com), Giroux praised Brother Andre as “a humble man, whose life was marked by so many miracles.
“If there’s anybody who can help bring us closer together and closer to Christ, it’s Brother Andre,” Giroux wrote.
Thousands of miraculous healings have been attributed to him, and he was declared venerable in 1978, beatified in 1982 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 17, 2010.
Under the new alignment, the congregations of St. Andre Bessette Roman Catholic Parish can become stronger, Giroux said.
“We can make better decisions on how we see our future in Malone by bringing families together from four parishes into one,” he said.
“It will be a lot of work, but nothing stays the same forever. This is the next step, and it’s just the beginning.”
Email Denise A. Raymo:firstname.lastname@example.org
Malone Catholic Parishes are hosting the fifth-annual Holy Harvest Festival on Sunday, Sept. 15.
Events begin at 11 a.m. with Sunday Mass under the tent in Homestead Park at Holy Family School.
Services will be followed from noon to 3 p.m. by a harvest dinner and a variety of activities at the school, including a cake walk, children's games, a raffle with a first prize of $1,000, a harvest table sale and music by the Old Timers Band.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $6 for children ages 6 to 12. Children ages 5 and under are admitted free, and take-out orders are available.
For information, call 483-1300.