A community is fighting back over the loss of history
© 2012 Janine Mack
By Janine Mack SYRACUSE (NCC NEWS) – Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church merged with St. John the Baptist in August of 2004. The Holy Trinity Church building needs $115,000 for a roof replacement, $24,000 for interior wall and ceiling repairs, and $18,000 for electrical repairs. St. John the Baptist, the new owners, cannot afford the repairs so they decided to close and to sell the building’s 22 stained glass windows. This angered many former church members.
“When we merged, we were told that the new parish would inherit the debt and the finances and take care of both buildings. This has not happened,” Anne Angiolillo said, a church member for 35 years and the former organist.
St. John the Baptist wants to sell the stained glass windows to St. John the Baptist in Zachary, La.
“It is a locally protected site by the Holy Trinity Parish, ” said Kate Auwaerter, preservation planner with the City of Syracuse.
The city denied the request once before, and St. John the Baptist appealed. The final decision on it was delayed until November 15, said the city of Syracuse.
How the church doors closed
Anne Angiolillo said the parish began to weaken in 2005. At the time the parishioners did not know what was happening, but little things started to make a difference in the church attendance and donations.
courtesy Anne Angiolillo
“They don’t seem to care. All they are worried about now is how much money can they get,” Angiolillo said.
She went on to say that she went to services at other churches in the neighborhood since Holy Trinity’s closing. It was not the same. She has never been to St. John the Baptist for service.
Many of the former parishioners still do not know why their church was closed and why communication between St. John the Baptist and the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse just stopped.
“We have never gotten to speak with the Bishop,” Angiolillo said. Bishop Robert Cunningham is the head of the Catholic church in Syracuse.
History of Holy Trinity Church
courtesy of Anne Angiolillo
Holy Trinity Parish was founded in 1891. The church building is located on 501 Park Street in the north side of Syracuse and was dedicated in 1912. In 1890, Mrs. Frederick Schneider petitioned Bishop Ludden to provide a more accessible religious school, because at the time the nearest parish was four miles away. Holy Trinity Parish was bound together by their German heritage and strong Catholic faith.
Holy Trinity Parish built a school in 1959. Holy Trinity School offered classes for grades Kindergarten to 8th. The school closed in 1987, but Holy Trinity rents the school building to the City of Syracuse School District so you still see children running in and out of the parking lot during the day. The church’s parking lot is the site of the original church-school building. The cornerstone was laid by Bishop Ludden on August 7, 1912 and is located to the left of the front steps. Electronic bells were used to call people to Mass and to announce the death of a parishioner.
On the weekends, Holy Trinity Church offered weekend adult class and meeting space for church and community groups. The church had a food pantry and fed the community. A woman walked by and asked when will it open?
Holy Trinity Church has 22 stained glass windows. Ten of the windows were put in from 1916 to 1917 by Otto Andrle of Buffalo. His signature is still on some of the windows. The glass was imported for Germany and the script is in German.
One window stands out the most on the east side of the church. It is called “Storm on the Lake.” A small boat is tossed on the waves with lightning and clouds in the background. The Lord is calm, serene, oblivious to the problem. “Lord, help us! We are perishing, Matthew 8:25”. Each window has a meaning that carries on religious meaning of the church.
Another window on the west side of the church stands out. It is called the “Holy Family and Trinity”. The Holy Family with Mary and Joseph on either side of Jesus. It symbolizes the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus made to mankind.
What are the next steps?
Jon Werner is the former pastor of Holy Trinity Church and the current pastor of St. John the Baptist.
In a statement emailed to NCC News, Jon Werner said, “The beauty of the church is undisputed. What is disputed is how best to preserve its mission and purpose as expressed in undisputed artistry. Central to this discussion is the windows. The windows are a primary aspect of a consistent theology and unified architecture with one purpose — to promote the Catholic faith. We ask that you allow us to continue the contemporary Catholic mission and fulfill the mission of our ancestors by allowing the removal of the windows for relocation in another Catholic Church where they will continue on the mission of the universal Church: to preach, to teach and to sanctify.”
© 2012 Janine Mack
“Give it time and effort to find it new uses,” said Kate Auwaerter. “It’s important on the north side that this does not drag on the neighborhood.”
Anne Angiolillo and a “Group of Concerned Parishioners” took her fight to the highest court, the Vatican. The Vatican ruled in favor of the parishioners who want to re-open the church. There are at least 20 people who attend the Group of Concerned Parishioners meetings.
“It would be great if we could have a church again even it is not Roman Catholic. We could have weddings, events and get the community involved again,” Angiolillo said.
Angiolillo went onto say if it is not a church again, she hopes the building continues the Holy Trinity Church mission by giving back to the north side community.
A vote on the appeal is expected at the next Landmark and Preservation Commission meeting on November 15.
Watch more of the story and see the windows here: