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What will happen to Syracuse's retired Catholic churches?

Three years into the reconfiguration process of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, eight churches in Onondaga County have been shuttered, most recently St. John the Evangelist on North State Street. The church celebrated its last mass June 27.

The closing of the church, which largely served Vietnamese refugees, will not be the last according to diocesan leaders.

When will the church closings come to an end?

"Never," said the Rev. James P. Lang, vicar of parishes for the Syracuse Catholic Diocese.

Presently, there are 161 working priests in the diocese. Some 55 of them are over 75 years old, serving beyond the retirement age for priests.

"We have over 90 [fully] retired priests," Lang said. "It's getting to the point where the number of assignable priests and the number of retired priests are running alongside each other."

At a pace with the decline in priest ranks, the number of Catholics attending weekly mass has steadily diminished.

A single priest was ordained in the last year, he said.

Father Lang, a thoughtful person with a reassuring presence, remembers a better time. He lived on Cleveland Avenue, not far from Holy Trinity Church, which held its last mass this year on Valentine's Day. His family moved to Galeville in Liverpool while he was still a young boy, and they became involved with Immaculate Heart of Mary. The suburban church still thrives today.

The reconfiguration process that then Bishop James Moynihan initiated in 2007 has led to the closing of a total of 40 churches in the seven-county diocese.

"We're not closing [churches] because we want to close," Lang said. "We're closing because we're in a situation where we must."

Currently, the largest parish in the city of Syracuse is Most Holy Rosary on Roberts Avenue. Weekly masses there attract about 800 people, Lang said.

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