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Merged parishes face task of selecting a new name
Assistant Editor

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 name.

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 Vianney."

New patron

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 ministry.

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."


Merged parishes in the Albany Diocese have chosen a host of names:

* 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. Mary/St. Paul's)

* 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 patron saint.")



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