Catholics propose closure of three Allegany County churches, merger of others into Wellsville

Current Family of Parishes map for the southeastern section of the Buffalo Diocese

The Buffalo Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is proposing to merge six of its Allegany County parish sites into Wellsville and close buildings in three of those communities as part of a plan to shutter or merge half of its 160 parishes, up significantly from a little over one-third announced previously.

WIVB-TV in Buffalo and other Western New York media are reporting that SS. Brendan and Jude in Almond, Blessed Sacrament in Andover, and St. Mary’s Church in Bolivar will be merged into Immaculate Conception Church in Wellsville and their community facilities closed under a plan which is scheduled to be finalized by September 1.

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Belmont and St. Mary’s in Canaseraga also will merge with Wellsville and serve as secondary worship sites, with S.S. Brendan and Jude at Alfred to remain open, according to the report.

The action comes as the number of parishioners and priests have declined significantly, along with an announcement in October that it will take $100 million to settle nearly 900 childhood sexual abuse claims against the Diocese.

The church jurisdiction also notes that 60 percent of its parishioners are over the age of 66, nearly that same percentage of parishes are experiencing a steady decline in baptisms, and a 24 percent drop in marriages has occurred between 2020 and last year.

The average age for its priests is 76, it says, and within six years 63 percent of parish leaders will be between the ages of 65 and 70.

Parish families and the churches have until July 15 to make alternative proposals to the mergers and closures, with final actions to begin in October.

In January, the Diocese reported that it was consolidating a dozen regional vicariates to seven geographic areas, plus one for campus ministries, which placed nine Allegany County churches in the new Southern Tier East Vicariate overseen by Rev. James Hartwell, pastor of Immaculate Conception, as interim vicar forane, or the priest in charge of a subdivision of the Diocese.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher said at the time that the move, under a Road to Renewal theme, was designed to streamline how the Diocese strengthens its ministry in Western New York.

Geographic areas were divided into 36 Families of Parishes, along with campus ministries which include activities at Alfred State College, Alfred University and Houghton University.

No current indication was given that a second Family, comprised of St. Patrick’s churches in Belfast and Fillmore and Our Lady of the Angels in Cuba, or the combined county college ministries are being impacted structurally by the latest proposal.

In a related action, St. John’s Church in Olean is proposed for merger with St. Mary of the Angels in the same community, with the Catholic school there to remain open.

Immaculate Conception School in Wellsville failed to reopen last fall due to significant declines in enrollment during prior years.