What's in a name? A lot of discussion, when parishes that
are merging choose a new name for their combined community.
In dioceses across the U.S., more and more "Holy
Family" and "Holy Trinity" parishes are cropping up as merged
parishes look for all-inclusive names.
The Albany Diocese does have some rules around how parishes
choose new names; but, ultimately, it's up to parishioners to decide what
name best suits their newly formed parish -- and the choices they make vary
as widely as the parishes themselves.
"We did it about two years ago," said Rev. Anthony
Kall, OFM Conv., recalling the committee of parishioners formed to tally
votes on a new name when three Albany parishes merged: Our Lady of Angels,
St. Casimir's and St. Patrick's.
Catholics in the three churches voted through ballots in the
pews at weekend Masses, writing in whatever names they thought appropriate.
The only rules were that they had to choose the name of
either a canonized saint, someone in the process of being canonized (for
instance, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha), or "one of the accepted
representations of one of the mysteries of Christ or the Blessed
Mother" (for instance, Corpus Christi or Our Lady of Angels).
The Diocese's only document that mentions renaming parishes
is "Suggested Rituals for the Closing or Merger of
Parishes/Missions." It simply asks that "a new patron not be a
combination of the older names, since a new entity is being formed."
However, some parishes have chosen that route anyway, and
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard generally approves the choice made by the parish.
In the case of the Albany churches, then-chancellor Sister
Kathleen Turley, RSM, asked that they not choose Holy Trinity as a new name,
because the Diocese already has three: Cohoes, Johnstown and Schaghticoke.
Coming to name
The mostly Hispanic parishioners of St. Patrick's initially
objected to changing their parish's name, feeling drawn to the Irish saint,
but it wasn't an option to name the merged community using any of the
original parishes' names.
A second vote on the dozen or so most popular suggestions
resulted in a clear favorite for everyone, Hispanic and Anglo: Holy Family.
Father Kall, who is administrator of the merged parish, was
surprised that Our Lady of Guadalupe didn't make the final cut, since many
Hispanics are devoted to her. But he said he was happy with whatever name
everyone chose together.
Next month, Holy Family parish is planning a bilingual
celebration to mark its patrons' feast day.
As six parishes in Watervliet and Green Island went through
the painful process last year of merging into one parish community (using
several churches as worship sites), they chose a different path to a new
Three of the churches involved were slated to be the worship
sites: St. Joseph's in Green Island, and St. Brigid's and St. Patrick's in
Watervliet. The other three -- Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Immaculate Conception
and Sacred Heart of Mary -- would close.
Even in the midst of such a massive change, said parish life
director Carol Pickel, parishioners were able to look beyond their grief to
see that some were losing more than others.
Parishioners of the churches that would not become worship
sites "wouldn't even have their building," Mrs. Pickel explained.
"The churches that were closing were Marian [named] churches, so they
chose to go with that" in choosing a new name.
The final choice combined all three of the closed churches'
names: Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was chosen after each parish generated
ideas and a list of ten was submitted to all parishioners for a vote.
Settling on a new name "is very personal," Mrs.
Pickel pointed out. "Any church has a great deal of devotion to the
name they've lived with for so long. But a large percentage of our
population now will say, 'I belong to Immaculate Heart of Mary.' That makes
a statement that they're making the jump."
Sacred Heart parish in Philmont and Holy Cross Church in
West Taghkanic mulled over Church of the Transfiguration as their new name
when they merged last year, since they were undergoing a sort of
transfiguration in merging: Both churches would close, and a new church and
rectory would be built in Claverack, midway between the two.
Then Rev. Raymond Ethier, pastor, mentioned that St. John
Vianney was the patron saint of priests and a personal patron for him. He
had been praying to the French saint for guidance since his seminary days.
Parishioners in the rural area latched onto the fact that
St. John Vianney was born to a large family on a farm and that he was noted
for being a reconciler, since some parishioners struggled to accept the
merger. (St. John Vianney is also known as the "Cure d'Ars" for
his fame as a sympathetic confessor in Ars, France, where people would
travel from miles around to see him.)
"The first weekend, I asked people to give me a sense
of what they would like [in a name], and the majority said St. John Vianney,"
said Father Ethier. "It was important to get everyone's feedback, so we
took a vote the next weekend. Eighty to 90 percent voted for St. John
Father Ethier believes that the parish's new patron saint
can also be a patron for all Church ministries. Parishioners in the combined
parish now pray that St. John Vianney will intercede for them in creating
more Church vocations and that all Catholics will respond to the call to
The pastor recently went to Boston to pray before relics of
the saint, including his heart. Father Ethier said that as the parish looks
toward breaking ground for their new church in the spring, parishioners hope
their patron will help the process along.
"It is a brand-new start, but the community hasn't
changed," he added. "It's the same people, the same parish. Both
parishes are winners."
Besides, it's nice being the only parish in the Diocese with
that name. "When people hear the name, there's some enthusiasm,"
he said. "They acknowledge that it is nice."
WHAT SOME CHOICES HAVE BEEN
Merged parishes in the Albany Diocese have chosen a host of
* Holy Family: Albany (Our Lady of Angels, St. Patrick's,
St. Casimir's); and Little Falls (St. Joseph's, St. Mary's and Sacred Heart)
* Holy Trinity: Cohoes (St. Marie's, St. Agnes, St.
Patrick's); Johnstown (Immaculate Conception, St. Anthony of Padua and St.
Patrick's); and Schaghticoke (St. John the Baptist in Schaghticoke, Our Lady
of Good Counsel in Valley Falls and St. Monica's in Johnsonville)
* Roman Catholic Community of Hudson Falls/Kingsbury (St.
* Our Lady Queen of Apostles, Frankfort (St. Mary's and Ss.
Peter and Paul)
* St. John Vianney, Claverack (Sacred Heart, Philmont and
Holy Cross, West Taghkanic)
* St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Gloversville (St. Mary's and Our
Lady of Mount Carmel)
* Immaculate Heart of Mary, Watervliet/Green Island (St.
Joseph's in Green Island and St. Brigid's, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady
of Mount Carmel, St. Patrick's and Sacred Heart of Mary, Watervliet)
* Our Lady of Hope, Whitehall (Notre Dame des Victoires and
Our Lady of Angels)
Many parishes have chosen to simply combine their names,
including: St. John/St. Ann's, Albany; St. Joseph/St. Michael the
Archangel/Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Amsterdam; St. Rita/Sacred Heart, Cohoes;
Ss. Anthony and Joseph, Herkimer; Assumption/St. Paul, Mechanicville; Sacred
Heart/St. Columba, Schenectady; Notre Dame/Visitation, Schuylerville; and
Nativity/St. Mary's, Stuyvesant Falls.
(Elizabeth Simcoe, diocesan chancellor for pastoral
services, told The Evangelist that if parishes have to merge in the future,
they will consider choosing the name of a North American or more recently
canonized saint, like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton or St. Isaac Jogues. "I'd
like to hope that people will begin, through the 'Called to be Church'
process, to think of their ministry and mission" as serving more than
one town's community," she said, giving as an example "parishes
along the Mohawk [River] might take Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha as their