Mass attendance is creeping back up to normal levels at Holy Trinity parish in Johnstown.
A March liturgy attracted 508 congregants, up by about 100 from two months ago. Attendance had dwindled a bit in recent years, a side effect of the merger of three of the city's parishes and the closing of two of the worship sites, St. Anthony's and Immaculate Conception Churches.
Some Johnstown Catholics attribute the recent upswing to several factors: the fresh ideas of a new pastor, a team effort to reach out to parishioners on hiatus and the use of liturgical items from former worship sites.
"People are finally seeing that part of their churches are in the 'new church,'" said Jeannie Popp, pastoral associate for administration.
She was referring to objects like statues, stands, vestments, chalices, candlesticks and even furniture, including a deacon's bench. The parish will also re-plate a chalice from the earlier part of the 20th century formerly used at the St. Anthony's worship site, a traditionally Slovak church.
"I think it's a gathering together instead of a tearing apart," Mrs. Popp said, complimenting the efforts of Rev. Thomas Morrette as pastor. "I think he's tried very hard to accomplish that."
Though parish committees have addressed potential relocation to a new site for space and parking purposes, Father Morrette's current focus lies on uniting the community at the Glebe Street worship site (the former St. Patrick's).
"Closing churches is very painful," Mrs. Popp said. "We've been trying to heal, but there's been so much controversy that it's hard to heal. Hopefully, he'll be a huge influence on the healing, but it will take some people a lot of time."
The parish may stand to benefit from the mental health background of Father Morrette, a second-career priest who worked in private practice as a family therapist in addition to teaching and administrating at the elementary and high school levels.
After his ordination in 2005, he spent five years as pastor of St. Joseph's parish in Broadalbin and St. Francis of Assisi in Northville.
"Psychology and social work give you a good opportunity to learn how to listen," Father Morrette told The Evangelist. "The future is not going to be determined by me. I don't come here with the answers, but I certainly have the experience, and I hope that helps."
He plans to embrace Holy Trinity's strong faith formation program, which attracts 200 children, and develop more ways to draw children and young families. He says the parish's biggest assets are the talent of the staff and lay ministers and the variety of ethnic heritages represented in Johnstown: Italian, Slovak, French, Irish and German.
Father Morrette rolled out a program called "the Wanderers List" at the start of Lent to encourage parishioners to compile the names of friends or neighbors who felt alienated by the community changes. He will call them to invite them back during the Easter season.
"It's so gratifying that we're nicely coming together," he said.
Parish secretary Mary Pradelski agreed: "With Father Tom coming, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I just like his manners and how he wants to run the shop. A lot of parishioners will probably want to come back."
Mrs. Popp said Father Morrette preaches about forgiveness, evangelization and clearing oneself of grudges and hostility.
"There's more hope now," she observed. "He's warm and he's open and he makes himself available. If people feel like they can go to someone, they will."