OLCOTT -- Niagara County Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein has a lot more control over county law enforcement than he does over the future of his church.
St. Charles Borromeo Parish is closing, and there's little he and other parishioners can do but deal with change decided upon by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
"I guess it's something that you accept," Beilein said last week. "I was married in that church, my children were baptized in that church. My mom and dad were buried in that church. It's heartbreaking, is what it is."
The diocese handed down a recent decision to merge St. Charles with St. Bridget Parish in Newfane and Our Lady of the Rosary in Wilson.
The new, single parish -- which will get a new name -- will have two regular worship sites: St. Bridget's and Our Lady of the Rosary, and each will have two Masses on weekends.
Rectory and office space will be located at St. Bridget's, and the rectories in Olcott and Wilson will be sold.
St. Charles Borromeo church will become an oratory, where one Saturday Vigil Mass will be celebrated each weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Beilein said he saw the change coming after attending a Saturday Mass at St. Charles in May that only drew about 25 parishioners.
"It was a luxury, I think, that the people in Olcott had for a number of years to have that church here," he said. "You move on and you're going to have to make other plans. . . . Your building is secondary to what your faith is."
Beilein also said he doubts the plan to hold one Saturday Vigil Mass during the summer will work. "They're going to get hopefully acclimated to their new parishes," he said of members moving to other churches.
Anthony W. McKenna of Olcott is another member of St. Charles. He said he is not really sure what his family will do about attending Mass in a new church. He said the leaders of the churches made it a little easier for members to accept because the proposal was first made by a local leadership group.
James C. Masters, a member of St. Bridget's and a lay member on the Journey in Faith and Grace consolidation team, said he could not give any date for when the consolidation will happen, just that it will be soon.
Masters said he did not have a new name for the consolidated parish, either, because leaders have not yet chosen it.
"To me, that's really a minor, minor thing," he said.
Members of the churches already have organized a new combined youth group called "NOW," which stands for Newfane, Olcott and Wilson, McKenna said. The new group should make it a little easier for church members to combine.
The Rev. John Leising, pastor of St. Bridget's, is leaving for another assignment. He declined to comment for this story.
McKenna, a lector and Eucharistic minister, said he'd like to see who the new pastor is going to be before he and his family make any decisions on a new parish.
"We don't want to separate," he said. "If the right pastor comes along, and that's what we're hoping for, we'll just go with the flow."
Masters said he feels that the members of all the Catholic churches being downsized in the area had good representation on the local consolidation team. He said he believes the transition has gone well, and will continue to do so.
"I think it's a needed thing," he said. "For our group, we didn't have any difficulties. . . . It worked for us."
The bottom line with all the consolidations around Western New York, Masters said, is the lack of priests to serve the churches.
Diocese of Buffalo spokesman Kevin A. Keenan said sometimes parishioners have an easier time moving into new churches or accepting new members because their leaders have done a great job acclimating them.
"In some areas it's harder than others . . .," Keenan said. "It's really encouraging to see parishioners accepting the Journey in Faith and Grace. . . . You're going to have different people on different steps going on a journey."
Items needed for pantry
In other church-related news, a woman is asking for donations of clean and gently used clothing and shoes of all sizes to benefit needy area families.
Denise Noble of Newfane is asking for clothing such as hats, coats, boots, gloves, snow pants, snow suits, scarves and socks. Anyone can drop them off at First Baptist Church, 6047 East Ave., just off of Route 78 in Newfane.
Donors can drop the goods off from 1 to 3 p.m. or 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, or call Noble at 940-8286 for a more convenient time.
The clothes closet and food pantry at the church is open during those times. Families can look through the clothing and food and take home what is needed.