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Hogansburg church nearly 200 years old holds closing Mass

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HOGANSBURG — Tears streamed down the faces of many parishioners and church officials Sunday afternoon at the closing service for a beloved Roman Catholic church that has been here for 179 years.

Faithful from around the north country packed the pews of St. Patrick’s Church for a final Mass at 3 p.m.

“It is heartbreaking,” said the Rev. Martin E. Cline, pastor of the church. “It’s unfortunate that times and circumstances of this area left our hands tied with what we can do.”

The parish had been struggling financially for a few years, according to Father Cline, who had several meetings with the Parish Council to discuss the future of the church, which had about 30 families that still attended regularly. “The writing’s on the wall,” Father Cline said.

Bishop Terry R. LaValley of the Diocese of Ogdensburg said the closing of the church was somewhat related to the sociodynamics of the north country. “Kids graduate from high school and leave home for their jobs, and the population has drastically decreased, and with the shortage of priests, it’s very difficult to keep the parishes open,” he said.

Bishop LaValley said he spoke with some families who have belonged to the church for multiple generations.

“A lot of the people don’t live here anymore, and that’s some of the dynamics of the north country, but it’s great to see them back, touching with their roots,” he said.

Mary G. Lacerenza, a parish trustee who has been attending the church since the 1970s, also attributed the closing to generational changes.

“We’re still strong, but times are changing,” she said. “Younger kids don’t go to church anymore, and most of the people that are here today are older.”

Mrs. Lacerenza said the closing would be an emotional experience for many because the church has been around so long. “It was the mother church of this area back in the 1800s,” she said.

In 1905, the building burned down, leaving only the outer brick walls as the foundation to rebuild, Father Cline said. When the church was rebuilt, Italian artists were brought to America for the painting and sculptures inside the church, Mrs. Lacerenza said.

“It won’t hit me until I start seeing everything emptied out, but I have such pride when I walk into this church,” she said.

For parishioner Jane A. Lantry, St. Patrick’s holds many of her life’s most cherished memories. Ms. Lantry said she was baptized at the church and was married there. “My husband died and was buried here, so I’ve been here all my life,” she said. “It’s very sad, but it has to be done.”

Father Cline said that although he is the pastor of parishes in Bombay and Fort Covington, he still has spiritual care for the people in Hogansburg. He said he hopes the people of St. Patrick’s will start attending in Bombay, Fort Covington or any other Catholic church where they will be comfortable.

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